What can I do about nipping?

When puppies play with each other, they use their mouths a lot. When they play with you or when they are petted, they usually want to bite or "mouth," too. This behavior is not frankly aggressive at this stage – though it may be pre-aggressive.

When pups are raised by their mothers, there comes a time when mom starts to set limits. Demanding youngsters often want to nurse whenever they feel like it, but a good mom starts to rebuff some of their efforts from the tender age of about 3 weeks. Nipping is also addressed, not just by mom but by the pup's littermates as well. Too hard a nip might result in a physical admonishment from mother, or the nipped littermate may cry out and stop playing. These natural checks and balances help to develop a puppy's good manners and eventual understanding of their impact of certain behaviors on others.

Permit and even encourage mouthiness, even nipping – up to a point. But when mouthing becomes annoying, or the pup's needle teeth start to make an unforgettable impression, it's time to curtail the behavior. The idea is to teach the pup that humans are soft and ouchy. Let's suppose your puppy nips you for the first time when it is 4 months of age. Having carefully planned out your course of action, you wait until the next time your pup lays his teeth on you, withdraw your hand rapidly, and loudly exclaim "OUCH." Your interaction with the pup should then cease for a few minutes, just as would happen if the pup were with his littermates. You are teaching "bite inhibition" – an essential early lesson for any family dog.

Our question this week came from Barbara H. in Columbia, Missouri.

Dr. Debra

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