Puppy Biting, Nipping, Mouthing & Chewing

Biting, nipping, mouthing or chewing is your pup’s way of telling you her needs are not being met. Try to figure out why your dog is mouthing or nipping. She may need more attention, be bored or using the behavior to try to keep you from touching her. Whatever the reason, try to be proactive. Don’t wait until your dog is acting up and then try to fix it. Instead, be sure your dog has plenty of interactive food dispensing toys that she must earn with a spontaneous sit with eye contact and give to your dog on a regular basis, and make a point of playing (and chasing) your dog when she has something she is allowed to have, so she doesn’t feel the need to steal personal items to get you to play chase with her. There are many ways to deal with nipping and mouthing. Below are many different suggestions.

  • Sensitivity to body language and hands reaching for her.
  • Some pups get anxious when you reach to touch their heads, necks or collars, and then mouth you in an effort to keep you away. If this is the case for your dog, you will have to condition her to love having hands approach her.
  • Reach towards your pup from a foot or two away, don’t touch her, mark (say YEA or click), remove your hand, then treat. In this example, removing your “scary” hand is the true reinforcement, the treat is just “icing on the cake”. Gradually work your hand closer to your dog over the course of several sessions. Don’t rush this. You never want to see your dog avoiding your hand. If you see avoidance, that is information to you that you have progressed too quickly.
  • When you get to the point where you are actually touching your dog, this technique will make it easier for your dog. Present a treat to your dog but don’t release it to her. As she is licking the treat, touch her gently, mark, then remove your hand and release the treat to your dog. Repeat many times.
  • Now, touch your pup first (before letting her see the treat), mark as you are touching your dog, remove your hand, then reinforce. After doing this exercise dozens of times, your dog will love having hands approach her.
  • Mouthing during play or to get attention.
  • Puppies explore their new world with their mouths! So it’s important that they learn to have “bite inhibition.” Let them mouth your hand and say a high-pitched “ouch” or yelp like a puppy when the pressure gets too hard. Then freeze and turn your head away or try the “be a tree” method. The high-pitched “ouch” or yelp can get some pups more aroused, so try saying it in normal tone of voice for those dogs. Gradually the pup will learn that we humans are delicate flowers and they can’t mouth us like they mouth other dogs.
  • Be a Tree: This method is especially good for children. When children run and scream, it gets dogs wound up. If the pup bites them, have the kids stand still, cross their arms and avoid eye contact until your dog calms down, then move slowly away.
  • If the dog continues to mouth, say TOO BAD with the associated hand motion and leave the room and close a door between you and your dog for 10 seconds. Closing the door between you and your dog makes it very black and white to her. Poor behavior makes the resource–you–go away. Good causes you to return. After 10 seconds, return, as long as your dog is not barking or jumping on the door and try again. If the problem persists, repeat the above process. Be consistent. If you are, you will see a reduction in the bad behavior in a short amount of time. It may be necessary for you to leave a DRAGLINE on your dog as a means of controlling your dog as you leave the room.
  • Train an alternate behavior.
  • Start by just presenting your hand, and mark and reinforce your pup for not nipping.
  • Move the hand more, mark and reinforce.
  • Move hand vigorously, mark and reinforce.
  • When your pup can handle moving hands, try moving feet, breaking down the movement into small bits the dog can be successful with.
  • Teach your dog OFF.
  • This will teach your dog to voluntarily disengage from mouthing you.
  • Be PROACTIVE NOT REACTIVE.
  • Much nipping/biting behavior occurs at a specific time of day. Usually late afternoon or early evening. If that is the case for your dog, plan to do a training session prior to that witching hour and preempt the poor behavior with the following short series of steps.
  • 1.  Train your dog for 3 minutes. Get your dog to do any behavior he knows how to do – sit, down, touch, etc., reinforcing after each successfully performed behavior. This mini training session interrupts the poor behavior and substitutes appropriate behaviors that you can legitimately reinforce your dog for.
    2.  Actively play with your dog for 2-3 minutes. Play after training has been shown to increase retention of the skill the dog just learned.
    3.  Do 2-3 minutes of mental enrichment (something like FIND IT), preferably involving sniffing. Sniffing is very enriching for dogs!
    4.  Give your dog an appropriate chew toy or interactive food puzzle toy.

By following through with these 4 steps, we are trying to meet all your dog’s needs proactively — mental (training), play, enrichment (sniffing), chewing. Doing them before your dog gets wound up prevents you from reinforcing the attention seeking behaviors you don’t like.

  • Leash Biting
  • Dogs usually bite leashes because they are frustrated and/or bored. For a busy adolescent dog, calmly walking is difficult to say the least. While calm walking is good because it teaches them to have some self-control, healthy active adult dogs really need to have daily aerobic exercise to burn off that excess energy. It’s important to keep them both mentally and physically stimulated. Then they will be more open to learning new things.
  • Train your dog to accept the presence of the leash.
    • Show her the leash. If she doesn’t go for it, mark and reinforce. Repeat several times.
    • Wiggle the leash in front of her. If she doesn’t go for it, mark and reinforce. Repeat several times.
    • Move the leash closer to her and wiggle it. If she doesn’t go for it, mark and reinforce. Repeat.
    • Touch her with the leash. If she doesn’t go for it, mark and reinforce. Repeat.
    • Lay the leash on her. If she doesn’t go for it, mark and reinforce. Repeat.
  • In class, the best thing to do is to sit calmly and reinforce your dog for ALL voluntarily offered good behavior. Class is a very exciting place to be. Reinforcing your dog for good, calm behavior will get them focused on you and working.
  • Don’t loom over your dog, crowd her or repeat commands. The more you lean over her and get into her space, the less she will want to interact with you. Imagine someone doing that to you. You would immediately back off and disengage from them, and that’s exactly what your dog does. So instead, step back and give her some extra space, and reinforce a few spontaneous sits and you will be able to get her back in the game again.
  • Interrupt and redirect your dog
  • If your dog is biting someone else, interrupt her, possibly with a butt scratch or just calling her name, move away from the area where the biting occurred, then try the following:
    1.  Train your dog for 3 minutes. Details above in be PROACTIVE NOT REACTIVE.
    2.  Actively play with your dog for 2-3 minutes.
    3.  Do 2-3 minutes of mental enrichment (something like FIND IT).
    4.  Give your dog an appropriate chew toy or interactive food puzzle toy.
  • No punishment for mouthing!!!!!
  • Above all, don’t punish this behavior by trying to close her mouth with your hands. That will only make her head/hand-shy and distrusting of you. All hands coming towards your dog’s head should = good things only.
  • Last resort – TIME OUTS
  • When you have truly tried to work through all the various options for amending your dog’s mouthing behaviors, as a last resort you can give your dog a time out. When your pup is overly aroused and jumping and biting, ask yourself, “is my puppy hungry or tired”. If that is a possibility, take your pup to his crate or pen and get him to do a behavior or two that you legitimately reinforce him for, by giving him an interactive food toy. Don’t think of it as a time out. It’s more of a nap with a pacifier — an opportunity to calm down.
  • DRAGLINES
    Draglines enable you to manage your dog’s behavior without confrontation. Attach a 3-4 foot drag-line to her collar. I usually recommend light clothesline, tied to the dog’s collar. I prefer this for a couple reasons:
    1. If the dog chews it off, you simply attach another length of clothesline. The rope is much less expensive than leashes. Be careful she is not ingesting chewed bits of rope.
    2. Leashes have handles that can get caught on things.
    3. It’s hard not to be irritated or upset when you need to approach her if she has something you don’t want her to have. You should never take your dog’s collar in anger. With the drag-line you can have “remote” control, with no need to grab her collar when you are upset.
    4. A dragline should never be used as punishment. It is only a management tool.
  • Never leave a drag-line on a dog when you are not present and observing the dog.
  • We don’t want your dog to think of time outs as punishment. It’s just information and a consequence for her. So above all, be calm, cool and collected when you reach to take your dog’s leash or collar for a time out. Do not ever grab your dog’s collar in anger. To accomplish this and help your dog learn that having her collar grabbed is a good thing, you must work on the Collar/Leash Pressure exercise. If you do, your dog will happily walk with you into her pen for a time out, instead of fighting it.
  • When doing time outs, I highly suggest that you use the leash or dragline only to guide your dog into the bathroom. Don’t pick her up to take her in the bathroom. Use only the leash so as to prevent the possibility of your dog becoming hand shy or begin avoiding you.
  • This is a critical piece of the puzzle: 90-95% of the time she must be reinforced for good behavior. Time outs can be abused. Time outs work best when they are used judiciously. It may be that initially you will accept, a woof or two, just not outright barking. Later in her training, you can eliminate the woofs or whining if you desire.

Collar/Leash Pressure

  • If your dog pulls hard on lead, doing this exercise will help her understand that it is more reinforcing to not pull than to pull.
  • Stand still. You will be putting gentle but constant pressure on the collar/lead, with the lead parallel to the ground. Don’t pressure up because she can’t release the pressure on the lead unless she jumps up. Always keep the lead parallel to the ground. Apply the gentle pressure on the lead until she gives (moves in to relieve the pressure) to the pressure. The second she does this, MARK and all pressure on the lead is immediately released, and she is given a treat. Don’t lure the dog with a treat. First the dog offers the behavior of moving in to release the pressure, then she gets a treat.
  • The reinforcement in this exercise is not just the treat but the release of the pressure. Apply the pressure in all directions. Repeat many times in all sorts of situations. She will get to a point where you can move her around with a string and one finger!
  • Start walking your dog around your house while holding her collar. This will prepare her for time outs that are not aversive.

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