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Nipping


Nipping is when a dog or puppy is biting or nipping at your arms, legs or body.


Methods you may have heard include saying “ouch”, ignoring the dog, squeeze the snout, smack the dog on the nose, redirect your dog to a play toy. Which method should you use?


Nipping only happens among Betas and Alphas. An Omega will never nip. Nipping is a challenge and part of sparring or what many refer to as “playing”


If you take an Omega puppy you can pet them and they accept it calmly and happily. If you pet a Beta they will often get excited, jump and nip at you. Alpha puppies will even growl at you and extreme cases try to bite at you. Us as primate species think we are trying to be nice by grooming but we are actually forcing attention. Dogs that are naturally higher ranking will want to challenge us for forcing attention on them.


Ouch and Ignore


Ouch and ignoring often works for low and mid level Betas and may work for some High level Betas. When you do this the dog will think “I am sorry, I won’t do that again, can we play some more?”


Where it Doesn’t Work


If you tried the Ouch and Ignore and the dog still comes after you like a little Gremlin then you likely have high level Beta or Alpha. You turn and ignore them and they still bite you. If you need to retreat to the other side of a gate or door you should be prepared for a lot of work. This is a puppy that is intelligent, has high desire to be boss and often won’t follow through on commands they know unless it suits them.


We have had clients come to see us who said their puppy was a monster. At first we thought they were just joking but then realized they really appear to think their puppy is a monster. They would say “No!” And the puppy would jump toward and try to bite them.


What Should You Do?


  1. Pack Structure Rules - This is a puppy that naturally wants to be boss. By following pack structure rules you are taking control of the benchmarks of where this puppy deems themselves to be in the pack.

  2. Redirect - When the puppy is approaching high energy and likely to nip it is best to initiate a game before that happens. Dogs that nip also tend to love Tug of War. Using this game properly can help show them you are boss.

    Caution: Be careful of your timing on the redirection. You want to redirect before the dog starts nipping. If you redirect after the dog starts nipping they can learn to nip first to get what they want later. We had a client who saw a Reward Trainer first and the reward trainer had the lady get her dog a toy any time she nipped. The lady said it didn’t seem to work as when the dog wanted a toy, she would come over and bite her and then expect to get a toy.

  3. Exercise - Tire the dog out through exercise and they will have less energy to nip. Do this for a few months and the dog may get out of the habit of nipping altogether. This invokes the Law of Substitution. For every second they are doing something good is a second they are not doing something bad.

  4. Obedience - Train the dog on Sit and Down commands as well as their other obedience. This helps them see you more as the leader and keeps them busy. This also invokes the Law of Substitution.

  5. Consequence - Reward training tends to not work very well in the nipping department. Mid to low Betas it will but high Betas and Alphas usually not.

    The consequence will need to be something the dog deems as a consequence. Take a look below for some clarification.


Consequence


The most commonly tried consequence is pinning the dog to the ground. Many people report that the dog seems to settle when doing this but as soon as you let them go they come right back at you.


“What happened there?” The dog is trying to challenge you by sparring and nipping at you. The person corrected the dog by pinning them to their back. The dog seems to think “Is that the best you can do?” They then come back at you again. This usually means the consequence wasn’t strong enough (Bank Robber Principle). Imagine bank robbers coming out of the bank with their loot and the cops are standing outside and say “Alright guys, pay up your $5 fine.” You can imagine the bank robbers are thinking if that is the worst consequence then they will keep on doing it.


Most Effective Consequence


There is the option to grab the dog by the scruff or flank and do enough of a shake to make them yelp. That is often enough consequence for the dog to stop. Some people find that even if they grab them by the scruff and shake the dog doesn’t even take notice. Remember that dogs can play pretty rough with each other and bite another by the scruff and haul them to the ground and take it in stride.


The most effective consequence we have found is Grannicks Bitter Apple spray (use at your own risk). We call it “Kryptonite for Pit bulls”. If a puppy or dog is coming over to nip at you, give them a blast in the mouth with Bitter Apple Spray. A lot of dogs will never nip you again. Some will try another 3-5 times and stop. A few will test for the next few weeks and then stop. A very small percentage will put up a temper tantrum as the people finally found a way to correct the dog and the dog is not happy about not getting their way.


Is There a Chance it Won’t Work?


There is always the chance. We have never seen it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Keep in mind that Nipping is a symptom. By following Pack Structure Rules and providing an outlet such as Tug of War can really help minimize nipping or stop nipping. If the dog still wants to nip then a consequence of Bitter Apple often helps stop it and steer the dog in the right direction. If a person just used Bitter Apple and nothing else with a really challenging dog then it might not work. The dog was being corrected without understanding a way to avoid it so they can habituate to the correction.


Other Methods That Can Work


  1. Finger down the throat - Whenever the puppy goes to nip you, push your finger to the back of their throat and press down on their tongue. A lot of dogs really don’t like this and if they realize every time they nip causes this consequence, they can stop nipping pretty quick.

  2. Squeeze the nose or squeeze jowels on their teeth - Sometimes doing this enough till the dog yelps will get them to back down. Many dogs that really want to nip are pretty tough cookies and the people may not be able to squeeze enough to get the dog to back down. The finger down the throat usually works better.

  3. Smack on the Nose or a Hit - Many dogs have received a smack to the nose or a hit somewhere on the body and that has ended their nipping days. It is one of the oldest methods from Force training. Not the greatest method and can have some pretty bad side effects like breaking bond down between human and dog and can lead to aggression problems between dog and handler.


Caution: The Game


You may find a consequence that works to stop nipping and the puppy may learn it is fun to run up, nip you and run away before the consequence can be provided. The best thing to do is keep the dog on a leash or long line and harness. This allows you to get a hold of them easier by grabbing the harness or standing on their leash or long line. Go up to them and correct them with bitter apple. They will learn pretty quick that their game isn’t much fun. Then quickly redirect them to a fun game of your choosing such as fetch.



Summary


Nipping is a challenge that happens among Betas and Alphas.


Redirection works well for low and mid level Betas.  


A consequence is often necessary for high level Betas and Alphas.


Following Pack Structure rules and providing outlets for mental and physical exercise is even more important with these dogs.


The more a puppy likes to nip the less naturally suited they are for being a pet and the more suited they are for being a working dog. Ie. The puppies that nip the most make excellent police dogs for apprehending and biting criminals.


If you have a puppy that naturally likes to nip make sure you find a game or activity that you both enjoy to keep your dog busy.