This is one of the most common (and painful!) problems all dog owners face. Whether it’s a puppy, adult rescue, or a dog that has “gotten away with it” for most of his life, it is definitely a bad habit that should be addressed as quickly as possible. As with most things, the longer your dog has practiced the bad behavior, the longer it is going to take you to nip it in the bud. So have patience. If you have a puppy, start doing these tips immediately to get her to stop nipping before a real habit is formed.
Be a Tree
A lot of books out there tell owners to yell “ouch,” or something similar in a hitch-pitch “pain” sound as soon as their dog puts their teeth on them. The reason, they say, is that this is what litter-mates do to teach each other bite inhibition. DO NOT DO THIS…and here’s WHY Carolyn Wilki, a dog trainer and expert animal behaviorist explains that making a sound like that just brings out the predator in your puppy and not bite control. Think about it. What kind of noise does a squirrel, rat, or rabbit make when it’s stuck in the jaws on a dog? It’s screaming certainly does not make the dog drop it. In fact, it makes the dog shake, tear, or bite harder as the instinct to kill takes over. So, making a high pitched noise could actually make your dog more interested in biting you, not less. Instead – be a tree.
- As soon as you feel your dog’s teeth on you, stop moving.
- Don’t say anything or look at your dog.
- If necessary, hold him away from your body in such a way that he cannot bite you (do not scruff him). (this is when it can be helpful to have a second person who can remove the dog if necessary).
- Wait until he is calm, then resume play.
Always an alternative to you for your dog to bite, chew, and grab. A favorite toy, a bully stick, whatever you know your dog likes more than your own skin. When your dog puts his mouth on you, again stop play and follow the steps above, then when he is calm, give him the toy or chewy. Tie-downs or leashes If you are alone or don’t have anyone willing to help you, a tie-down and/or leash can really help you with this processes. Tie-down. This is basically a long leash attached to something heavy that your dog cannot move. It is best to attach it to a harness, so you don’t hurt your dog’s neck if they pull against it. Use this to allow yourself to get away from your dog should she put her mouth on you. This way, you can move but she cannot follow. Then, you can return to her when she is calm. Leash. If you do not have a way to tie your dog down (or you are on a walk, at a restaurant, etc) use a leash. You can step on it to prevent them from jumping up and biting, or you can hold your dog away from you using the leash.
Owners of herding dogs have a little bit more work to do then other breeds, because they have to deal with the “chase and bite” instinct that most of them still possess. The main complaint here is that they bite ankles, knees, thighs (or any part of a small child) as soon as they start moving. Our reaction? Usually, we run faster and/or scream. Guess what, you just reinforced your dog’s controlling herding behavior! Like above, the best thing to do is to STOP MOVING. When your dog is calm, give it a toy and continue to move. My young sheltie who has the herding instinct in spades and is actually in training to work with sheep, learned in just a couple of weeks to not bite me when I was running by using this technique. It’s simple as long as you are consistent!
- You run (or walk quickly)
- Dog nips
- You stop
- Dog calms down
- Dog gets a toy (if they like toys) or a chewie to hold
- You continue the game of chase
Soon, your dog learns that in order to keep you moving so he can play/chase, he cannot bite. As soon as he learns the biting is not rewarding, it will go away. Start this with adults first and then move to older children. Couple Final Secrets
- Wear long and thick layers so you do not feel your dog bite (which will reduce risk of inadvertently crying out).
- Wear tall, thick boots (especially for herding breeds!) so you can stand and wait for your dog to stop the nipping.
- Prevent your dog from nipping strangers or people who are not “dog savvy” but managing them on leash or in a kennel until they are properly trained
A dog bite, regardless of why your dog bit, is a serious matter and will be treated that way. It’s best to err on the side of caution then have to deal with the potential heartache of having to turn your dog in. About the Author Based in Wilsonville, Ore., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She is the founder of, A Fairytail House, a unique all-positive all-sport dog training facility that helps rescue dogs in her area and provides free seminars and training classes for the community. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.
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