Aside from potty training, nipping and mouthing is one of the most common questions dog trainers are asked by new puppy parents. The behavior may seem cute at first, but those tiny puppy teeth can be pretty sharp. We asked Erika Gonzalez, professional dog trainer, behavior consultant, dog lifestyle expert, and founder of From Dusk Till Dog, for some tips on how to redirect your puppy whenever they try nipping at you. The following 3 steps will help keep your puppy happy and you and your family free of chomps.
Step 1: Be prepared
The first step in managing your puppy’s nipping and mouthing is to prepare to face it head-on. When puppies begin teething, nipping is an inevitability. There’s plenty you can do to redirect it, though. Start by placing “treat stations” around the house so that you can easily access them no matter where you and your puppy are. They can be treats stored in Tupperware, mason jars, or just in drawers. You can also use novelty toys. The goal is for you to be able to reach them without having to get up much, that way your puppy can easily associate them with the behavior.
Don’t let your puppy play or interact with these treats during any other time except for when you’re redirecting them from nipping. These are supposed to be special treats that teach your puppy not to engage in nipping behavior.
Step 2: Know how to respond
As we’ve already established, nipping is inevitable. You’re going to get a few teeth marks along with your new puppy. There’s no need to yell, shout, or use any sort of negative reinforcement, though. Quite the opposite, actually. If your puppy starts chewing on you, remember that less is more. Calmly redirect them to one of your nearby toys or treats so you flip their switch to “work mode” and give them a more productive outlet for their teething. This teaches them the proper behavior for when they start to get that itch in their gums.
If your puppy starts nipping and you find yourself too far from a treat station (it’s okay, it happens), then don’t panic. In fact, don’t do anything at all. Become the most boring person in the world so your puppy loses interest. Stop talking, touching, looking at, or playing with your puppy or giving them attention of any kind. Stand still and act like a statue. As soon as your puppy stops nipping, redirect them to a toy or activity instead or use food to switch them to a positive behavior like doing a trick.
Step 3: Use proper management
You can’t always be around to supervise your puppy. That’s why you should set up “success stations” to put them in so they don’t need a close eye on them. It can be a crate, a playpen, or any gated off puppy-proofed area. It should be somewhere you can place your puppy without having to worry about them getting into any trouble. Whenever you’re cooking, cleaning, resting, or otherwise too busy to keep an eye on them, put them in their success station with an activity like a food or puzzle toy.
Another great management tool to use if you have small children around the house is to keep your puppy on a dragline to wear around the house. This is just a cheaper leash that you don’t mind getting chewed up or dirtied up. This way, if your puppy starts getting too mouthy with your kids you can grab the leash and gently lead them back to their success station.
The more you prepare and manage, the less likely puppy nipping will occur (and the less your puppy will rehearse these unwanted behaviors). Nipping is completely normal, but you can do a little prepwork to get through this mouthy period unscathed. Just remember to:
- Have toys chews and treats nearby at all times
- Know how to respond when nipping does happen
- Use proper management wherever possible
Your puppy will most likely grow out of this stage on their own, but if you stay consistent with these tips and reinforce good behaviors you’ll get there sooner rather than later.
You can watch the full video below:
BONUS puppy checklist included in download. Keep an eye out for even more tips next week when we’ll cover how to start training and socializing your new puppy.