More than one person was certain my most recent post on puppy nipping and mouthy adolescents was directed specifically at her or him. While it was for her/his benefit, it also was for the benefit of everyone else living with a nipping puppy or mouthy adolescent right now.
One of my points is that we ALL go through this with young dogs – some just have it worse than others. While not always the case, generally the worst ones are the nippy herding breeds for whom nipping at the ankles of livestock to move them is natural. Only it doesn’t feel so good when we are the ones being nipped in the ankles, and hands, and arms, and legs, and . . . The other breeds that tend to be difficult are the retrievers who are bred to carry things in their mouths and when they don’t already have something, they are looking for something to put in their mouths, like our ankles, our hands, our arms, our legs. . .
One thing I mentioned briefly in my last post was making sure you were teaching your puppy more appropriate ways to get your attention and invite you to play. How do you actually do that? The key is the same as reducing or eliminating any unwanted behavior. You teach your dog what to do INSTEAD of the current behavior. Even if you don’t care what your dog does as long as he’s NOT doing that certain behavior, you need to teach your dog what is an acceptable alternative. Ideally, this alternative should be incompatible with his current behavior.
Most nipping is play and attention-seeking behavior. Nipping is not an acceptable way to invite you to play, so what is acceptable to you? Your answer might be different from your neighbor’s and that’s fine, but your dog can’t read your mind. He doesn’t instinctively know what you consider “right” and “wrong” so you need to help him. Biting does not work, but perhaps sitting and making eye contact with you does. Or perhaps fetching a toy and bringing it to you will suffice as an invitation to play. Sitting is a good alternative because he can’t be leaping up and biting you if he’s sitting. He also can’t bite you if he already has a toy in his mouth. Sitting might be good if your puppy is calmer and wants some petting. If he’s wound up and really has energy to burn, sitting might not be so easy. Running and grabbing a toy might work better.
Decide on a couple of possible alternatives your puppy can do to politely invite you to play rather than “demand” it from you, which is what I consider nipping and biting to be – demanding. Biting is hard to ignore! If you don’t like the natural inclination of your puppy to solicit play, it’s your job to teach him an appropriate alternative. And then make sure you follow through and actually give him some attention and play with him when he does what you want him to do.
It takes time to change this behavior, so don’t expect instant success. Nipping, in most cases, should gradually lessen and eventually disappear over time not overnight.