How to Train Your Dog to Stop Nipping

Medium
1-8 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

It’s a commercial break during the baseball game, so you slump onto the floor to play around with your dog. You mess around with one of his toys and tease him with it. But as soon as the game is back on the screen you go back to watching the TV. He doesn’t like that though, and he starts to bite and nip at your arms and legs. Alternatively, when you do carry on playing with him, he gets so excited that he starts nipping at you then, too.

Training this behavior out of your dog is essential. Dogs that start with nipping often progress to serious biting and you don’t want him hurting you or anyone else in your household, like the kids. He could also end up biting someone else’s dog and you don’t want those hefty vet bills to deal with.

Defining Tasks

Training your dog to stop nipping isn’t always straightforward. You need to address why he’s nipping in the first place. You also need to divert this aggressive behavior towards a safer channel. Training will consist of asserting your position of control and cutting out any biting triggers. If he’s just a puppy, this behavior won’t have developed into a habit for life yet and you may be able to cut it out in just a week or two. If he’s been nipping at people for many years, then be willing to put a month or two into training.

It’s important you get this training right, not just for your health but also for your four-legged companion. If he ends up biting somebody or another dog and doing them serious harm, he may be court-ordered to be put down. You don’t want to lose him further down the line when you could have nipped the problem in the bud now.

Getting Started

Before you can wage war on your dog's nipping, you’ll need a few things. Some toys he can play tug of war with and to re-direct his aggressive attention will be needed. You may also want to invest in a spray bottle to give your pooch a gentle reminder to behave.

Your pup's favorite treats or some tasty food will be required to motivate and reward him. Then, you just need to commit to spending some time on training each day. 

Once you’ve got all of those bits together, bring an optimistic attitude and you’ll be ready to get to work.

The Redirection Method

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Step
1
Tug the energy
When your dog has so much energy that he does not know where to bite, redirect the energy to a tug of war rope. Let him bite and tug until he's ready for a nap.
Step
2
Build a course
Defer your pup's energy from nipping to a task he'll relish. Build a makeshift agility course in the backyard and watch your dog maneuver the weave poles and go through the tire jump. All without nipping!
Step
3
Remind with spray
When interacting with your dog and the instruction, "no" doesn't do the trick, take a water bottle with water and give your him a quick spray. He may not like the surprise and soon associate the water with the no nipping rule.
Step
4
Don’t wind him up
If your dog nips around meal times or when he’s desperate for the toilet, don’t antagonize him. Making him do loads of tricks when food is in front of him may irritate him and lead to nipping. If you know he needs the toilet don’t hang around and play with him, take him straight out. You wouldn’t like to be made to wait to go to the toilet and neither does he.
Step
5
Walk, again
A tired dog is a happy dog. Walk your dog as much as you have time for. A promenade around the neighborhood will keep him from nipping and redirect his thoughts to the great outdoors. Playtime in the backyard is also a good diversion.
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The Obedience Refresher Method

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Step
1
Reinforce commands
Practice the commands your dog has learned so that he can perform them without thinking twice. A dog that uses his mental skills daily will put his energy to good use. The commands sit, stay, heel, and leave it will come in handy when teaching a dog not to nip.
Step
2
In-class rules
Socialization will be one of the bonuses of in-class training. Your dog will learn the rules of behavior between dogs and handlers, all good skills for the future.
Step
3
Next level benefits
An energetic dog who nips will benefit from structured classes and play. Take a second level of obedience to further sharpen his skills and strengthen the bond between the two of you.
Step
4
Playtime reward
When your pooch plays calmly, reward him. When he nips, leave the scene. He'll soon learn that calm play involves a treat.
Step
5
Positive reinforcement and consistency
Promote positive play. That means verbal praise and the odd treat whenever your dog plays calmly and consistent reaction to the nipping when needed. The combination of both will get his nipping behavior under control in a matter of weeks. At that point, you can stop giving him treats.
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The Channel Aggression Method

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Step
1
Tug of war
Place a toy in your dog's bed for a couple of days. Also, gently play around with it so he gets used to it and excited by it. Then, whenever he nips when you are playing, get this toy out and play tug of war. He can than alleviate his aggression on the toy instead of your arms and legs.
Step
2
Increase exercise
Many dogs nip because they are full of energy and need to blow off steam. Take your dog for a longer walk or a second walk each day. If you can’t do that, throw a tennis ball while you’re walking. The sprinting will help tire him out and leave him napping in the afternoons instead of wreaking havoc.
Step
3
Stop ankle nipping
When your dog nips at your ankle, stop moving, then wave the toy around and encourage him to play with that instead. Only once he’s fully distracted can you move on. Remain calm throughout, so you don’t heighten his excitement.
Step
4
Positive reinforcement
When he does play gently, reward him with praise and treats. It’s important your dog knows what the right behavior is, so show him how happy you are when he plays nicely. As soon as he starts nipping, stop the rewards.
Step
5
Don’t punish him
Never shout or terrify your dog. If he’s scared, he may start nipping and biting out of fear and you don’t want that. Instead, calmly remove yourself from the situation and leave him to calm down.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Murphy
Boarder collie mix
6 Years
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Question
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Murphy
Boarder collie mix
6 Years

He nips if you step on him

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
709 Dog owners recommended

Hello Richard, Does he break the skin when he nips or simply touches you? When a dog is stepped on, especially a sensitive breed like a Border collie, he will react instinctively out of pain. That reaction is often ingrained and a trait of both personality and socialization and handling while young. You may not be able to completely change that response. What you can do to potentially help it, in case it is a more deliberate nip, is practice handling him gently. Gently touch various areas of his body and every time that you do so, give him a treat. For example, touch his ear and give a treat, touch his tail and give a treat, and touch his paw and give a treat. When he is comfortable with that, then practice adding a little, gentle pressure and give him a treat whenever you do. Do not press so hard that he is uncomfortable at any point though, that could make things worse. Simply squeeze his paw a bit and give him a treat, push on his side a bit and give a treat, and press on his back a little and give him a treat. When you do this, do it with an open palm, and again, do it gently. You want to rebuild his trust for your touching him and help him be more accepting of it, in case the nipping is fear related. This should become a fun exercise for him. If he seems stressed, then go slower and work on just touch for longer. What you are wanting to teach is typically taught to young puppies during socialization through handling exercises, like I described above, and puppy to puppy socialization through play, where puppies learn how to control their mouths instinctively during play, this is called bite inhibition. That window for learning bite inhibition closes by six months of age unless a puppy has been taught that up to that point. If you suspect anything else is going on, causing the biting, then I suggest hiring a professional trainer, who can evaluate the situation in person and be able to read Murphy's body language to gauge his responses. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Lily
Yorkipoo
1 Year
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Question
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Lily
Yorkipoo
1 Year

She needs daily grooming she panics when brushed and will even nip when clipping her she doesn't break skin she is only 3lbs and high string I would like to help her be calm and happier her sister Ruby is the same age 6lbs calm happy and always friendly they are both sweet affectionate dogs we don't punish or frightened our girls into behaving Lily has been high strung about grooming since we got them at 12 weeks old

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
709 Dog owners recommended

Hello Angela, Start with desensitizing her to touch in general, without the grooming tools present. Use pup's daily meal kibble to do this. Gently touch an area of pup's body while feeding a piece of food. Touch an ear and give a treat. Touch a paw and give a treat. Hold her collar and give a treat. Touch her tail gently and give a treat. Touch her belly, her other paws, her chest, shoulder, muzzle and every other area very gently and give a treat each time. Keep these times calm and fun for pup. Do this for several days or weeks at every meal as often as you can - until pup enjoys the touch process. When pup can be totally relaxed about just touch, introduce a grooming tool and practice the touch exercises with the tool sitting next to you on the ground. Give pup a treat for each touch but also for calmness around the tool, investigating the tool, and other positive interactions with the tool. Practice this with each grooming tool, until pup is comfortable with their presence while still. Once pup can handle touches and the grooming tools sitting there, move the tool toward pup, give a treat, then lay back down. Practice this over and over until pup begins to look forward to the tool moving toward them because a treat comes after. As pup improves, add in gentle brief touches with the grooming tool - where the tool actually touches their fur or paw briefly while they get a treat. Go slow enough for pup to stay calmer and adjust to this process. Overtime, increase how long the tool touches pup for, while feeding treats while the tool is in contact with them. This will take time and lots of practice, but eventually you should be able to actually brush and begin clipping small bits of the nail while you feed treats. I suggest keeping treats or kibble as a regular incentive during grooming (but rewards spaced further apart) each time you groom going forward, to keep the grooming process pleasant long term. The key here is to start with touch desensitization, progress to just the presence of the tools, then ease into grooming - opposed to starting a full grooming process with treats, where pup will probably already be too anxious to even care about the treats. Pup needs to be eased into grooming again, starting with the basics. You can certainly use small treats, but feeding pup most of their meals, one piece at a time during handling and grooming exercises is a great way to help this process along without overfeeding pup. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Augie
border-heeler
4 Months
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Question
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Augie
border-heeler
4 Months

Our pup lives in the country with us, lots of open ground she has nothing to herd but me and my husband. There's lots of nipping legs and hands.
We redirect as much as possible but the aggression is there. We don't play tug of war as it feeds into her aggression And she is very food aggressive. We have obedience trained with a clicker and treats, very little admonishment per trainer. She is very smart but the nipping is out of hand.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
709 Dog owners recommended

Hello Joan, Check out the article linked below. Starting today, use the "Bite Inhibition" method. BUT at the same time, begin teaching "Leave It" from the "Leave It" method. As soon as pup is good as the Leave It game, start telling pup to "Leave It" when she attempts to bite or is tempted to bite. Reward pup if she makes a good choice. If she disobeys your leave it command, use the Out command from the second article linked below to make her leave the area as a consequence. The order or all of this is very important - the Bite Inhibition method can be used for the next couple of weeks while pup is learning leave it, but leave it will teach pup to stop the biting entirely. The Out method teaches pup that you mean what you say without being overly harsh - but because you have taught pup to leave it first, pup clearly understands that you are not just playing (which is what pup probably thinks most of the time right now), so it is more effective. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Out - which means leave the area, is also a good command for you to use if pup bites guests and kids. Check out the section on Using Out to Deal with Pushy Behavior for how to calmly enforce that command once it's taught. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Work on getting puppy used to touch and handling. Use puppy's daily meal kibble to do this. Gently touch an area of puppy's body while feeding a piece of food. Touch an ear and give a treat. Touch a paw and give a treat. Hold her collar and give a treat. Touch her tail gently and give a treat. Touch her belly, her other paws, her chest, shoulder, muzzle and every other area very gently and give a treat each time. Keep these times calm and fun for pup. Work on hand feeding, and also practice feeding her her meals in sections. Feed 1/4 of her meal, practice making her wait before digging in by holding onto the bowl, pulling it back whenever she tries to dive in (without letting go of it first), and calmly saying Wait, then after a few repetitions of this, when she hesitates and doesn't dive in while your hand is still on it, let go of the bowl and say "Okay!" in an excited tone of voice, and let her begin eating as a reward for waiting. I would do this with thick gloves on just in case. As she eats, when she isn't growling, toss treats next to her bowl as you walk past her. Practice this from a few feet away until she begins to look forward to you approaching. As she improves, decrease the distance that you pass from. When she finishes the first serving, toss a treat behind her and pick up the bowl while she is distracted eating the treat. Give the next portion, have her practice waiting again, then do the treat tosses while she eats again. Practice this until she has had all of her meal kibble portions at that mealtime. Do this at every meal as often as you can. As she becomes relaxed and begins to like you approaching her during meals, get closer and closer, so that you are eventually placing treats into her bowl while she eats. Ease into this so that she stays relaxed during the process. When pup does great with your presence right by the bowl, you can give a gentle pet and feed a treat as you do so. Pet and feed a treat, then give space and go back to tossing the treats to avoid stressing her too much. Expect this progression to take weeks, not hours or days. If you don't feel completely confident that pup will respond will to the touches at this point in the training (after you have already done all the other training to work up to that point), then create a fake arm using a glove and something like and place it into your long sleeve shirt as if that's your arm, then pet with that hand to find out how pup responds - rather than risking your own arm. Do NOT stick your hand in pup's food, take the food away while she is eating, or pet her while she is eating without making the experience fun for her also - via giving better rewards in exchange each time. Messing with a dog while they are eating without the right protocols and rewards to prevent stress around mealtimes, can actually cause food aggression, rather than prevent or improve it. The goal is to build pup's trust with you when it comes to meals - so she doesn't feel the need to guard it, but learns that your approach and taking things like bones, results in something even better happening - like a treat or new bone. Since it sounds like pup may overall lack respect for you (a lot of the nipping is probably herding related though), I also recommend the article linked below, especially the working method. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you A good person to learn from when working with puppies is Ian Dunbar. He essentially pioneered puppy classes in the USA 40 years ago, and uses mostly positive reinforcement, but he also explains how to gently tell dogs no and increase overall communication with them and do things proactively as puppies, to prevent future adult issues. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Lainey
Corgi/heeler
8 Months
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Question
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Lainey
Corgi/heeler
8 Months

She nips when playing, and when holding onto her collar she will bite (not hard enough to break the skin) my wrist. I don’t know how to have her stop before it is a habit.

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
134 Dog owners recommended

Hello! Here is information on nipping/biting. Nipping: Puppies may nip for a number of reasons. Nipping can be a means of energy release, getting attention, interacting and exploring their environment or it could be a habit that helps with teething. Whatever the cause, nipping can still be painful for the receiver, and it’s an action that pet parents want to curb. Some ways to stop biting before it becomes a real problem include: Using teething toys. Distracting with and redirecting your dog’s biting to safe and durable chew toys is one way to keep them from focusing their mouthy energies to an approved location and teach them what biting habits are acceptable. Making sure your dog is getting the proper amount of exercise. Exercise is huge. Different dogs have different exercise needs based on their breed and size, so check with your veterinarian to make sure that yours is getting the exercise they need. Dogs—and especially puppies—use their playtime to get out extra energy. With too much pent-up energy, your pup may resort to play biting. Having them expel their energy in positive ways - including both physical and mental exercise - will help mitigate extra nips. Being consistent. Training your dog takes patience, practice and consistency. With the right training techniques and commitment, your dog will learn what is preferred behavior. While sometimes it may be easier to let a little nipping activity go, be sure to remain consistent in your cues and redirection. That way, boundaries are clear to your dog. Using positive reinforcement. To establish preferred behaviors, use positive reinforcement when your dog exhibits the correct behavior. For instance, praise and treat your puppy when they listen to your cue to stop unwanted biting as well as when they choose an appropriate teething toy on their own. Saying “Ouch!” The next time your puppy becomes too exuberant and nips you, say “OUCH!” in a very shocked tone and immediately stop playing with them. Your puppy should learn - just as they did with their littermates - that their form of play has become unwanted. When they stop, ensure that you follow up with positive reinforcement by offering praise, treat and/or resuming play. Letting every interaction with your puppy be a learning opportunity. While there are moments of dedicated training time, every interaction with your dog can be used as a potential teaching moment.

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