Puppy nipping and biting is a common problem. The problem often spills over into adolescence and sometimes even adulthood. How do I get my puppy/adolescent/adult dog to stop nipping?!

If the nipping is happening during play – or attempts to instigate play – then one of the answers to the problem is to look at your rules of play. Rules? Yes, you should have rules of play. When clients ask for help with this problem, I ask them what kind of games do you play with your dog? Tug? Fetch? Chase? Wrestling? Some games tend to be more problematic than others. Wrestling comes to mind. But the real problem is usually a lack of rules.

When I ask what the rules of play are, most people look a bit confused. It has not occurred to them to establish rules of play. But therein lies part of the problem. Puppies have not learned the rules to the games. Think about the games we play as humans. Video games. Card games. Board games. Sports. We play a wide variety of games when we are growing up and even in adulthood. And I bet you can tell me at least some of the rules to every single one of those games that you play or watch. We have lots of rules to our games. Why then don't we have rules to the games we play with our dogs?

Establishing some rules to our puppy games will help to minimize the puppy nipping. Once our dogs understand the rules, and understand that breaking the rules can end the game, they will begin to make better choices to keep the game going.

If you play Fetch, one rule might be that your dog brings it back to you and drops the toy at your feet. If you play Tug, one rule might be that your dog drops the toy as soon as you say “Drop it.” If you play Chase (your dog chasing you), one rule might be that your dog does NOT nip your butt when he catches you. If you play Chase (you chase your dog), one rule might be that you NEVER chase your dog when he has a stolen object in his mouth.

Think about the games that you play with your dog. Now list every rule for each game you play. Then consider whether or not you have actually taught those rules to your dog, whether he understands those rules and whether he follows them. If not, you might need to implement some changes to the way you play with your dog. Then that annoying nipping you have been so frustrated with might actually begin to subside. And you might actually have more fun playing with your dog.