Puppy Nipping

Teach your pup not to treat people like her personal chew toys.


Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
3-minute read
Episode #2

In an earlier episode, I talked about one way puppies get in trouble with their teeth – they chew your stuff. I gave pointers for teaching pups to chew toys and treats instead of furniture and shoes.

Puppies also nip. A lot. Usually during play. The good news is, young puppies have weak jaws and hardly ever draw blood. The bad news is, baby-dog teeth are needle-sharp, so baby-dog nips hurt fiercely anyway. And puppies grow into dogs, with bigger bodies and strong jaws. So, best to prevent a nipping habit from settling in. Fortunately, it’s easy to teach puppies to treat human skin with care.

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How to Get Your Puppy to Stop Nipping

Teaching puppies not to nip is a two-stage process. First, spend a couple of days on tooth pressure. Let your puppy put her teeth on you, but set limits on how hard she can press. Every time you play with her, allow a little less pressure than you did the time before.

Naturally, your puppy will break the tooth-pressure limit every so often. You’ll need to convey to her what she did wrong. She also needs to know what the consequence is for this mistake.

To give your puppy this information, mark the instant she makes a mistake, and immediately deliver a short time-out. It works like this.

You and your puppy are playing – she gives a hard nip. The second you feel those teeth, say “Oops!” or “Too bad!” – that becomes your marker for mistakes. Immediately stop playing, fold your arms, and look away. For 5 or 10 seconds, ignore your pup. Once she’s settled down, you become friendly and fun again.

This method works well because the puppy learns that a hard nip predicts an “Oops!” and an “Oops!” predicts a quick social freeze-out. Hard nipping kills play and makes you be no fun at all. Most puppies want to keep that human engagement going. So they quickly learn to be careful with their teeth.

A nice feature of the time-out method is that it’s not harsh. No need to scold or pinch or shove your fingers down the puppy’s throat. All you have to do is take away the fun and company for a few seconds. Just remember,you’ll need to do this every single time you feel a nip. Otherwise you teach the lesson that sometimes, unpredictably, nipping is okay.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).