Teach your pup not to treat people like her personal chew toys.
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.
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.
From Nibbles to No Teeth at All
Once your puppy’s learned to be careful, he’s ready to learn not to use his teeth on skin or clothing at all. Now you give your puppy an “Oops” and a time-out the second his teeth touch you – even if it was an accident. That’s step 2. You might wonder why we don’t cut to the no-teeth rule in the first place. Yes, there is a reason.
Accidents happen. People close their dogs’ tails in car doors. They trip over old, arthritic dogs. They rub their dog’s ears just when a painful infection has taken hold. The nicest dog in the world can wind up delivering a bite. We teach the no-teeth rule in two steps because we hope our puppies learn that (A) they shouldn’t use their teeth on people, but also (B) human skin is super delicate. So, dog, if you’re going to bite, it won’t take much force to make your point. Trainers don’t know for sure that this lesson will stick in an emergency. But the two-step method is about as close as people can get to the way puppies learn similar lessons from other dogs.
Teach Your Puppy to Stop Biting with Toys
Now, time-outs are all very well. But the first order of business is always, always, always to show your puppy or dog what it is okay to do. Dogs often use their teeth in play – that’s normal and fine. They shouldn’t use their teeth on us or our clothes, but they can learn to bite objects instead. So, when you’re hanging out with your puppy, keep a toy or a chewy edible to hand. Look for signs that your puppy’s teeth are about to engage, and get that chewy in her face as fast as you can.
The oldest piece of dog training advice in the world is also one of the best. Teach your puppy early to behave the way you’d like to see when she’s an adult. Teach those good habits gently and carefully, and they will stick for life.