Nipping and Mouthing
by Puppies and Dogs
When puppies play with each other,
they use their mouths a lot. When they play with you or when they are
petted, they usually want to bite or "mouth," too. This behavior is not
frankly aggressive at this stage – though it may be pre-aggressive.
There are two different life stages in which mouthiness can be an issue –
before maturity and after maturity. The pre-maturity variety, all too
often not taken seriously, and misguidedly interpreted as puppy play,
leads to the adult version.
Bear in mind that it is easier to "nip" the problem in the bud at this
stage by training youngsters what is and is not acceptable behavior. Even
if the behavior has been permitted to flourish into adult maturity, it is
still possible to take corrective measures.
When pups are raised by their mothers, there comes a time when mom starts
to set limits. Demanding youngsters often want to nurse whenever they feel
like it, but a good mom starts to rebuff some of their efforts from the
tender age of about 3 weeks. Nipping is also addressed, not just by mom
but by the pup's littermates as well. Too hard a nip might result in a
physical admonishment from mother, or the nipped littermate may cry out
and stop playing. These natural checks and balances help to develop a
puppy's good manners and eventual understanding of their impact of certain
behaviors on others.
When a puppy is raised by a well-meaning human caregiver, however, proper
limit setting is sometimes neglected. Some new puppy owners do not realize
that nipping is not acceptable behavior and that they should discourage
However, a certain amount of puppy mouthing is acceptable, even desirable,
in the very early stage of a pup's life. If a pup doesn't engage in any
oral behaviors toward his minders, he can never be taught when enough is
enough. To emphasize this point, consider improper rearing of usually
inscrutable chow pups as an example of what can go wrong. As cute as they
are, chow puppies are often too serious for their own good, don't play
much, and may be reluctant to interact. If not coaxed out of this
indifference, the first time they lay teeth on skin may not be until
they're 18 months old and the message they deliver at this stage is likely
to be overkill – sometimes with disastrous results.
Instead, permit and even encourage mouthiness, even nipping – up to a
point. But when mouthing becomes annoying, or the pup's needle teeth start
to make an unforgettable impression, it's time to curtail the behavior.
The idea is to teach the pup that humans are soft and ouchy. Let's suppose
your puppy nips you for the first time when it is 4 months of age. Having
carefully planned out your course of action, you wait until the next time
your pup lays his teeth on you, withdraw your hand rapidly, and loudly
exclaim "OUCH." Your interaction with the pup should then cease for a few
minutes, just as would happen if the pup were with his littermates. You
are teaching "bite inhibition"
- an essential early lesson for any family dog.
If things turn out as they should, your pup will adore you, respect you,
and understand that, even in extreme situations, humans do not need to be
punctured in order to send them an intense signal. Having your dog
understand this concept should be part of an overall strategy of limit
setting and control. Not engaging in such a program with a would-be
dominant dog often leads an unwitting owner down a sorry path of avoidance
and subservience – a sorry state of affairs, and sometimes a dangerous
Nipping and Mouthiness
Adult dogs that exhibit excess grabby oral behaviors do so because they
have not been properly schooled as youngsters. They may nip you or grab
people by the arm to indicate their wishes or admonitions. Being nipped
and grabbed by your dog against your will is a fairly distressing
consequence for an owner. The correct way for an owner to deal with such a
problem is to immediately implement a "leadership" program in which the
dog must learn that all good things in life come from you – and for a
price. One common name for such a program is Nothing in Life is Free.
As for adult nipping, avoid circumstances that can lead to nipping while
working on the leadership program. If nipping or grabbing occurs do not
shout, try to wave your arms around, or pull away. Instead, "turn to
stone" and reward the dog when he lets go and stops nipping. A refinement
of this approach to management of the mouthy dog is to arm yourself with a
clicker and/or delicious food treats and ignore him when he engages in any
rude and rough nipping behavior. The clicker is clicked and the food treat
is supplied when his nipping ceases. Specifically, 3 seconds after a bout
of mouthy behavior stops you should click, say "good dog," and offer him a
food treat. For more frenetic nippers, a head halter with training lead
attached can be employed as negative reinforcement to increase the
frequency of the desired behavior – letting go when instructed, e.g. Out!
Many people don't realize that attention in any shape or form, positive or
negative, may serve as a reward and can reinforce an unwanted behavior. If
a dog takes hold of your arm and you start to yell and wave your arms
around or push the dog away, you may be perceived as a big squeaky toy
that can be animated for amusement when the going gets get slow. If your
dog meaningfully grabs your arm with his mouth when you grab him by the
collar, and you retreat, the dog's bad behavior is rewarded, ensuring that
the behavior will be repeated in the future. The only way to avoid
scenarios like this is to set certain limits and to become your dog's
We hope these tips help you and your new
puppy enjoy a long healthy life!!