My puppy is aggressive! “No he is teething.”

Puppy Nipping can be a very frustrating problem for puppy owners to deal with and can become a serious problem if dealt with incorrectly.  The first step in fixing the issue is to determine if the puppy is engaging in friendly nipping and mouthing or serious nipping and mouthing.  Typically, friendly nipping and mouthing occurs during excitable greetings or during playtime with a puppy that is less than five months of age.  Puppies are not unlike human babies in their need to explore their environment by touching and tasting everything.  However, since puppies do not have hands they reach out with their mouths.

FRIENDLY- Nipping & Mouthing

Puppy Nipping is also a form of social play between puppies and dogs.  Puppies and dogs frequently interact with one another by placing their mouths and paws on each other.  When a puppy grows up with other dogs, they get very clear signals about what are acceptable and unacceptable ways to use their mouth consequently learn how to inhibit their bite in order to remain socially acceptable.  However, since human skin is more fragile that dogs’ fur-covered skin, puppies and dogs must learn that they cannot interact with us the way they interact with other dogs.  Puppies and dogs must be taught alternate ways to greet, socialize, and play with their human companions.  Most young untrained puppies engage in this type of friendly nipping and mouthing behavior.

SERIOUSE- Nipping & Mouthing

A small Percentage of puppies and dogs engage in serious nipping and mouthing behaviors as a way of saying “No, I don’t think so!” to anyone trying to make them do something they don’t want to.  For Example a 10 month old St. Bernard who grabs their owner’s arm with his mouth when the owner takes a hold of the dog’s collar and attempts to remove him from the couch; this would be considered a serious mouthing problem.  Typically, this behavior would indicate that this puppy may be testing or even exerted his perceived dominance and or territoriality, as well as, living in an environment where the expectations and consequences of his behaviors are inconsistent.  If you your puppy is engaging in serious nipping or mouthing you should follow some leadership exercises.  WARNING: If you use typical anti-Nipping and mouthing techniques, and it does not correct your relationship with the puppy, the puppy may respond aggressively.



The Treatment Plan. All four components need to be works to eliminate or curtail the behavior.  You will notice that some of the information provided will fall into multiple Categories, such as Positive reinforcement and Alternate Behaviors or Management.  However, we placed them in the most prominent category for ease of instruction.

  1. Positive Reinforcement of Alternate Behaviors
  2. Management of the Problem and Setting the Dog Up To Succeed
  3. Consequences for the Nipping and Mouthing
  4. Consistency

In this next section we will address the common situations in which you will be asked to curtail or eliminate inappropriate puppy nipping and mouthing.   You will notice that similar and sometimes identical methinds are recommended even though the situations are different.  This is to be expected because the stimulus for the nipping is the same.  Most puppy owners are already familiar with the situations that provoke their puppy to nip but, if you are not please take it into consideration to inform yourself.

Petting is often viewed by puppies as an invitation to play, which to a puppy means nipping and mouthing.  Because of this we encourage you not to interact with the dog when they are nipping and mouthing or acting rambunctious. Instead give a majority of your attention to the puppy when the puppy is calm or preoccupied chewing a toy or another acceptable chew. By interacting with the puppy at a time when they are least likely to react with nipping and mouthing is the best way it makes it easier to Positively Reinforce the absence of then nipping and mouthing behavior, during petting.  This will also develop the puppy’s impulse control.

                Teach the puppy a rewarding substitute behavior to offer whenever he is being petted.  Begin by outing about 10 pea-sized treats in the opposite hand that you will use to pet the puppy.  Sit on a chair near the puppy.  Now reach over and pet the puppy one time only.  Before the puppy begins to nip, immediately present your baited hand (the one with the treats) to the puppy and food Lure the puppy’s attention away from the hand you just petted him with.  As the puppy is turning his head away from the petting hand and following your baited, give the dog a conditioned reinforce and an unconditioned reinforce (So, give the dog a treat and praise by saying Good Job).  It will not take long for the puppy to respond to being petted by looking at the hand that is not petting him.  Once, he does, reward him with a treat or toy.  Gradually increase the amount of time you spend petting the puppy before offering the treat or toy.  This exercise will teach the puppy an alternate response to being petted; In addition most puppies will find being petted a rewarding experience and not an invitation for nipping and mouthing.

                Basic obedience exercises like sit-stay and down-stay around distractions will teach the puppy to focus on you and develop some impulse control.  It is important to do the most practice around the very distractions and activities you know makes the puppy want to nip.  This type of practice will teach him that he does not have to react to every movement people make, and that they will be rewarded with treats and praise for not reacting. 

REMEMBER: Make it a point to pet the puppy whenever the puppy is tired.  A tired puppy is much less likely to nip.

                Managing the puppy’s interactions with everyone is critical when treating this behavior.  We believe every owner should be educated about the importance of not only managing their own interactions with the puppy but also every one else that may come into contact with the puppy.  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

                Be prepared before you attempt to pet the puppy. Understand that it is only natural for a puppy to respond by nipping when you attempt to pet them, and it is your job to re-direct the nipping and mouthing behavior, so the puppy can be positively reinforced for not nipping. 

                Please, avoid rough housing such as play slapping, pushing, or rolling, wrestling, or even vigorous petting of the puppy.  As this can potentially encourage puppy nipping, and aggression. EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE. This cannot be overstated.  Make sure the puppy gets plenty of exercise like running and daily walks.. Ideally, try to exercise the puppy before you attempt to pet them or engage them in other forms of interaction which are likely to prompt nipping.

                Exercise is probably one of the most effective problem solving tools we can recommend to you.  A puppy that is bored or gets insufficient exercise will be labeled excitable and rambunctious by their owners.  But the secret is a tired puppy is a good puppy, and providing them with more mental and physical stimulation goes a long way in managing unwanted behaviors. 

REMEMBER: To always have at least two toys and/or treats on hand before you begin to play with your puppy.  If you do not bring these toys with you when interacting with a young puppy, the puppy may assume their hands, arms, pants and shoes are the toys.  By using the treats and toys you can re-direct the puppy’s attention on a new toy the instant the puppy get bored and begins nipping and mouthing your skin. 

                When treating a dog or puppy that is nipping and mouthing, it is important o remember that the more you escalate the situation by yelling or giving physical corrections, the more the nipping behavior may escalate.  As, a rule dogs will react in the manner and intensity in which you react to them.  In the absence of another dog or puppy to emulate, in a limited manner, the puppy will learn to react to the world by emulating how you react to them.

Sometimes it is helpful to spray your hands with a product made to deter puppies from chewing before you attempt to pet a nipping puppy.  This way your skin will taste bad when the puppy puts his mouth on you, which should cause him to avoid doing it again. Any local pet store will have a selection of these products. 

                An example of one successful interaction might go something like this; present your baited hand to the puppy, the puppy sniffs or nuzzles your hand, you pet the puppy with your non -baited hand by stroking their head and neck one time.  Next, give the conditioned reinforce and unconditioned reinforce; for not putting his mouth or teeth on your skin. Gradually increase the number of times you pet the puppy before giving the conditioned reinforce and unconditioned reinforce.  You can begin to replace the treat with your dog’s favorite toy once the puppy will automatically focus on the baited hand when being petted for at least 10 seconds.

                ‘Shunning’ is the perfect correction when dealing with a nipping puppy’s that really like human interaction, and have a high in social drive and are always looking for way to touch and please their owners.  In order for this technique to be effective, the person being nipped must freeze the instant the puppies’ mouth touched their skin.  It is important that the owner does not wait until the puppy is actually nipping or mouthing the skin to interrupt the behavior.  They should ‘freeze’ each and every time the puppy mouth touches their skin with an open mouth.  Wear gloves if necessary.  REMEMBER never to pull away, flinch or jerk as this can be viewed as play.  Now, every time you freeze  you need to squeal l”eek” as this will simulate the reaction from a litter mate when they play to rough. When the puppy stop to look at you give the conditioned and non condition reinforcers in that order. 


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