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?
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-
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
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.
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.