Stop That Mouthing and Nipping NOW!
(Excerpt from the book, ‘Your Puppy’s First Year’ by Sue Lee Ringwelski)
Mouthing and nipping is a big problem with puppies and new puppy owners. Many people don’t understand the ways puppies interact with each other. How a puppy learns from its litter-mate is also the best way to train your puppy to have a soft mouth in play and eventually to not mouth or nip at all.
There are several ways to deal with this puppy problem. Which way works best for you will depend mostly on how your puppy responds to you and how old your puppy is. When a puppy is quite young is the very best time to work on the mouthing and nipping. You can let the puppy mouth you for just a bit and then give a little high pitched ‘eep’ to get him to stop. This may slightly startle the puppy and in most cases the puppy will stop mouthing right away. Usually a young puppy has been playing with litter mates and knows that when he hears an ‘eep’ he has bitten too hard.
One thing I want to note and emphasize here is that you really must let your puppy mouth you for her to learn not to mouth you. If you never address this issue it can become more of a problem than if you actually train for it. A puppy learns by feedback and by doing and then finding out what not to do. Since our job is to teach our puppies not to mouth or nip, we have to start with the mouthing and work our way up to the point where the puppy learns that no mouthing/nipping is acceptable.
Take your puppy in your lap or sit on the floor with your puppy. You can start by gently placing your hand in your puppy’s mouth. Once your hand is there, move your hand and puppy’s head back and forth a little to encourage a little play mouthing. As soon as your puppy pressures down at all, you can give your little ‘eep’. The puppy should respond by opening her mouth and turning her head away. (As with most puppy training…timing is everything.)
As you play with your puppy in this manner you’ll be teaching your puppy that any ‘pressure’ while mouthing is unacceptable. Later on you can teach that no mouthing of any kind is acceptable. Repeat this lesson often during the day until your puppy ‘gets it’. She should stop right away when you ‘eep’ and the mouthing should be less and less as time goes on. She is learning that mouthing is unacceptable.
Now when you are playing with your puppy, or anytime your puppy mouths you, use the ‘eep’ noise to discourage her. If you have done some training in this manner, your puppy should readily respond by turning her head or backing away and letting go of you. It helps if you use redirection for this training also. Have some good chew toys ready to give to your puppy so she has something appropriate to chew when she can’t chew on you.
Now, if your puppy is older and has already been mouthing you for awhile, or if your puppy doesn’t respond to the ‘eep’…what then? You will have to use a different technique for these puppies. Some puppies actually pressure down harder when you give your ‘eep’. That means they haven’t learned the social lessons from their littermates or that they are very high energy.
My first suggestion for this type of puppy is to make sure you exercise your puppy well, every day, two or three times a day. When a puppy goes for a leash walk with you her energy is dissipated. After a good walk she will respond much better to any training you give her.
One of my pups has a very high energy level. When she was very young she responded to my ‘eeps’ on a very limited basis. Sometimes she would just go wild when I would give the ‘eep’ noise and she would run around crazy like a little banshee. It seemed to make her worse! To train her not to mouth or nip, I resorted to stopping everything, standing up and turning away from her when she would mouth or nip. This technique worked for her. You can do the same with your puppy.
Any time your puppy starts to get mouthy or nippy just simply stand up and turn your back to her. Everything stops…all the fun stops, the play stops…your puppy won’t like this. Do not even look at your puppy for a few moments…take your attention away. I recommend even folding your arms up and away so your puppy has nothing to ‘go for’.
After a minute or so use something as a ‘reset’ or redirection, and resume play with your puppy. Stay calm…don’t get angry or frustrated with your puppy…start playing again just as if nothing happened. You are setting you puppy up for another lesson. As soon as puppy gets to rough, you immediately stand up again and take your attention away. This may take awhile for your puppy to get it…but if you are consistent you will make progress and the behavior will happen less and less often.
There is one more technique that can be used that I will cover in this report. You can redirect right away when your puppy mouths you. For this method you say ‘no bite’ or something similar, in such a way as to let your puppy know he has done something wrong. At the same time you give him an appropriate toy or chewy to put in his mouth. This works the best if you have a puppy who already knows ‘no’ quite well and responds to the command. You can use a toy or chew bone to redirect his attention away from mouthing you so your puppy learns what things are appropriate to chew on.
For some puppies it may take a combination of all of these methods to teach the lesson of no mouthing/no nipping. For most puppies you really must train for this lesson. It is natural for a puppy to play and mouth and nip. That is how they learn about this big new world that they are a part of. That’s part of what puppies ‘do’. If you take the time to train your new puppy, you will have a dog you will love to be around for many years to come.
Sue Lee Ringwelski