by Nicole Ellis, Certified Animal Trainer & Pet Lifestyle Expert
It starts as play. It's what puppies do with each other. It's what puppies do with just about everything they encounter. Even some adult dogs still do it when they want you to play with them. Nipping and biting might seem cute and playful at first, but puppies have sharp, tiny teeth that feel like piranha bites, so it doesn't feel so cute when they use you as a teething ring. Plus, you don’t want your dog using your friends as a chew toys when they come over either.
Whether you have a puppy or grown adult dog, I have some tips for you to prevent and reduce biting and nipping. The sooner we can teach our puppies when this sort of play is appropriate and what is appropriate for them to chew, the easier it will be to curb this behavior.
First and foremost: management. Try not to be a welcoming target. Don't wave your fingers or toes at your pup. To an active, young dog, this is an invitation to pounce and bite - these moving parts look super fun to catch. If yours really likes to go for the feet, stick to closed-toe shoes during the teething phases. If you don't want something chewed on by the dog, keep it out of his reach or in another room. This is a great time to practice your own organizational skills – remember that if it's on the floor, the dog thinks it's fair game. Most people realize this after they have a collection of single socks.
Reduce stimulation and praise calmness.
When puppies – and some older dogs – get really excited during play, they'll start nipping. This is very common and normal dog behavior. However, you can teach them not to do this. When you're playing with your pup and you can see he's getting to the point of starting to nip, this is the time to end the play session. Now you can work on 'sit' and 'down', give some belly rubs, talk to him calmly and focus on developing relaxation. As he starts to get quiet, tell him how good he's being. He'll enjoy the praise. (If you think he needs more playtime, you can start another play session in ten minutes, then go through the calming process again.)
When your pup nips you, say 'Ow!' and stand up and remove yourself from his space so he can't nip you again. This will give him a moment to calm down. If he's been going for your arms, you can cross your arms to take them away from him as you stand up. Another option is to physically separate yourself from him – go on the other side of a pet/baby gate, step away from his exercise pen or go behind the counter. Wait five seconds, then go back to the dog, repeating as necessary if he nips again. Your dog will soon figure out that play ends and you go away if he bites.
Things that don’t taste good won’t get chewed up.
You like eating delicious food and avoid those that don’t taste good. The same goes for our dogs. Sometimes a little help goes a long way. In our home, we use Skout’s Honor’s Super Sour! Anti Chew Spray for pups that come over and may need a little extra help understanding what is for chewing and what isn’t. Yes, I’ve tried it myself and no, I wouldn’t want to do it again. It’s a pet-safe spray, which I love because it helps deter chewing, biting and licking things your dog shouldn’t be - from clothes, to furniture, to shoes and everything else that ends up in yours dog's mouth. Not to mention each purchase helps pets in need, so you can save a pet and your favorite pair of shoes!
Trade him toys.
Often when puppies are teething, it feels really good to bite and chew. But it's important that they're chewing the right things. I love stuffed Kongs, bully sticks, frozen braised toys and Bionic toys to help ease the discomfort of teething. Make sure you praise your pet when he's chewing these toys so that they'll be more inclined to choose these toys when they want to chew. If you catch your pup chewing something on the banned list, say 'No!' and take it away. Then give him an appropriate chewing toy and give him lots of praise when he takes it. If you’re doing step 4 and spraying with Skout’s Honor's anti chew spray, I would follow up with a toy that tastes great, like the above mentioned and reward that. I know I would go for peanut butter above the super sour apple. They will remember it next time too!
Still need help?
If your dog keeps chewing the wrong things, try wrapping an item in foil. Foil tends to keep them away.
As always, remember to be consistent, reward appropriate behavior and remove anything enticing - from wiggling toes to favorite shoes to pens and pencils - and in no time your pup will learn what to chew and what not to chew.
Nicole Ellis, Certified Animal Trainer & Pet Lifestyle Expert