Dog Aggression: Stop Your Dog From Nipping and Play Biting

Nipping isn’t what I consider biting— to which we’ll define here as more serious dog aggression.  Nipping is more “play-biting” or a quick ‘correction’ one dog will give another (or you) when that dog is either excited or wants to be left alone.  Dogs do this because play is actually the primary way they assert dominance.  And when your dog nips you, he’s testing to see how you react.

To their credit, most puppies give hints before they haul off and nip someone. During play, they’ll get progressively mouthier up until the point when they actually clamp down. More often, nips  occur when dogs are tired of playing. They’ll show their reticence by pointedly looking away from whoever is trying to engage them. Or they’ll turn their backs or lie down and try to ignore what’s going on. Anyone who ignores these hints is likely to get nailed.

Puppies also nip when they don’t like the way someone is playing. For example, people have an inclination to pull dogs’ ears or to roll them over and pin them down when they’re wrestling. Some puppies will put up with this all day, but others won’t stand for it. Puppies are smart enough to figure out that nipping is a quick and easy way to stop games that aren’t fun. And once they find a strategy that works, they stick with it.

After considering the knowledge of why your puppy may bite, please try the following tips:

1. Talk like Mom: Since puppies tend to nip when they’re acting childish (Editor: childish? Not a bad article, but I’d highly recommend that both the author and the reader consult the Secrets book.) you can often stop them by acting “motherish”, which means giving a low, authoritative Grrrrrrrrrr. [Editor/Adam inserts: I don’t do this. I just use the ‘No!’ command]. Dogs hear this sound a lot when they’re puppies, especially when they’re nursing and their teeth start coming in. They take Mom’s threats seriously, and memories of her warnings stay with them. Growls get their attention and make them think twice about what they’re doing.

2. Use an extension: Rather than letting dogs mouth your hands, it’s better to use toys, towels, or ropes as intermediaries. Anything that puts distance between your hands and their mouths will work better than hand-to-hand or hand-to-mouth games.

3. Play at your level: Dogs love it when people get down on all fours and wrestle, head butt, and generally roughhouse with them. Physical games are fun, but some dogs have a natural tendency to be dominant. Seeing a person on all fours makes them think they’re dealing with a dog-like equal, one whom it’s perfectly acceptable to bite. Dogs have a natural respect for height, however. Keeping your head and shoulders higher than your dog’s will help him understand that you’re the one he needs to respect, not the one he’s allowed to play-bite or nip