My Dog Nips At Me! (Or My Kids)!!!

PuppyTeethA common behavioral complaint, and an excuse we hear often, is that the puppy or young dog nips at their feet, hands, or their children.

This is not a reason to give up on a dog. With a little bit of patience and proper training, you can teach the dog that this is negative behavior, and replace it with positive behaviors. Here are some tips on training your dog or puppy not to nip:

STEP 1: Consider your dog’s breed or mix of breed.  Is there any amount of herding dog in your pup? (i.e. collie, cattle dog, shepherds, etc.)  If so, you are likely dealing with the dog’s natural inclination to herd.  Pay attention to whether your dog also “bumps” you, in an attempt to move you along.

Try commanding your dog to “leave it” before he nips, when you first see him start his attempt. After commanding “leave it,” command him to do something that will distract from the herding instinct, such as “sit” and “give paw” or “lay down.” You must be consistent with this, and make sure the dog is rewarded (yummy treats work great!) and the herding behavior should soon stop.

STEP 2: Watch how your kids play with the pup.  Young children (under 8) should never be left unsupervised with the dog.  They may not understand how to play in a way the dog understands, and may be actually inviting the dog to nip at them, such as teasing the dog or games that encourage grabbing or biting. Any games that encourage “mouthing” of your kids’ hands are not appropriate play, such as “Keep away,” “Tug of War” or “Chase.” Any form of roughhousing should be avoided. If the dog starts nipping, stop all play until the dog has calmed down.

Teach your children never to take a toy or food from the dog, or tease it with a toy or food. If the dog does attempt to mouth or nip, firmly state “no bite” and move away. Work with your child in training the dog together in a healthy, positive way. Fetch, Catch, Hide and Seek, retrieve and soccer are great games for your kids to play with the dog.

STEP 3: Possessive nipping (such as guarding food, toys, people, kennels, etc.) needs to be corrected immediately.  This is a sign that your dog thinks he is the boss of the house.  You must be the boss in order for your dog to be well-behaved. Your dog will see you as boss if you put effort into training the dog in a consistent manner. Start with teaching simple commands such as “sit,” “lay down” and “stay”, and reward them generously when they obey. This will show your dog that you wear the pants, so to speak.

“Claim” everything you give the dog, including treats, toys, food, etc.  At feeding time, I make my dogs sit and wait until the bowl is placed on the floor to approach the bowl.

My husband adopted a 6 year old husky mix shortly before we were married. He was very possessive of his food. In his case, we made him lay down calmly waiting for his food, and we fed him by a hand, a small amount at a time, making him lay down before each handful and take it gently. This taught him that we were in control of the food, it belonged to us, not him.  He had to act appropriately if he wanted us to share.

Long Story Short: Do not make excuses for your dog’s nipping, as it should not be tolerated and can be fixed fairly easily. Rather, focus on the reason for the nipping, and work diligently as recommended to stop the behavior.  This will ensure a successful lifelong relationship, where both the dog and its family know their place in the pack.

— Rachel Giuliano is a proud doggy mom of five furry children (all rescues)
as well as an experienced foster mom for several rescue organizations