How to Stop Your Dog Nipping or Play-Biting
By: Frank Bommarito
Your dog uses its mouth to explore the world. Nipping and biting are to them a natural extension of their senses. It is a form of exploration and communication. To a dog his mouth is like our hands or eyes. Some people confuse their dog's nipping with aggression. Really it more like a form of play to a dog. Watch puppies in a litter after they are say 4-5 weeks old. A puppy will play with his littermates with his mouth, bite and nip his siblings and explore his surroundings with his mouth as well.
In fact, this play with their littermates is one way puppies learn an important lesson. They learn how to control their bite. If they bite a fellow puppy too hard the puppy will yelp in pain and not play with him. To a social animal like a dog this is a serious lesson to learn. His acceptance into the pack is important-social isolation is the worst fate to befall a dog. One problem that can develop here happens when you remove the puppy too soon from the litter. If he hasn't had time to develop this socialization he remains "immature" in this part of his personality and can retain this tendency to nip. If a dog has no sense of bite inhibition he goes from annoying as a puppy to downright dangerous as an adult. If you have ever been nipped by even a puppy their razor sharp teeth can break your skin and draw blood. As an adult after their jaw muscles develop strength he can cause some serious damage. So he must be resocialized when he enters the human home.
The best way to resocialize him to not bite is to take the lesson from his littermates to heart. You initiate a type of play therapy with him. First you have to decide how much mouth contact you are willing to accept. Remember dogs will explore their world (including you) with their mouths-you can't turn that instinct off. You can however, decide on a limit you are prepared to accept. Some dog owners will accept teeth as long as no pressure is exerted. Other owners, especially if they have a strong jawed dog like a pit bull, will accept no tooth contact at all.
While you are playing with your puppy and he crosses over the limit you have set-say he nipped you a little too hard-yell loudly in pain and face the other way and move away from the dog. Don't interact with him at all-don't speak to him, don't pet him, turn your face the opposite direction and don't make eye contact. You want to immediately isolate him socially for a minute. Play with someone or something else-let him know that there are better things in your world to play with than him. It's best to do this alone so you can focus the lesson between you and him. If other people are present they must present the same social isolation to him that you are doing otherwise your lesson will be lost on the dog.
Dogs have an instinctual need to chew-just about anything as many of us know! It's a good idea to fuel your dog's passion to chew things with a good supply of alternative items such as rawhide sticks, rubber balls, old stuffed toys from the thrift store etc. A raw soup bone is also an excellent healthy diversion for a dog as well.
When you are playing with your dog and he starts snapping for your hands or face you should quickly correct him with a loud "NO!" or mimic his littermates "pain cry" with a loud "Owwwwww!". This will get the message across that this is displeasing to you and must stop. When he does stop reward him profusely with love and attention. Give him one of his chew toys and praise him again when he begins to chew on that. This is much more powerful than using physical punishment to reprimand your dog's nipping behaviour. Physical punishment frequently backfires and causes a dog to bite even more. Remember, your dog is a pack creature and you are the alpha dog. He wants to please you and feel accepted-you just have to help him figure out how to do it. The social isolation and "cold shoulder" technique will remind him of this.
If your dog has way too much energy and is nipping too much you can isolate him further by putting him in time out in a crate or small closet. He will yearn to be with his "pack" and when he makes the connection between his biting behaviour and the social isolation he will change. When you bring him out try to tone down the intensity of the play so he doesn't get too excited.
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About The Author
Frank Bommarito is the owner of www.easiestdogtraining.com which reveals the secret dog training methods used by the top trainers that can cost hundreds of dollars at dog obedience schools