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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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The Obedience Refresher Method
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.
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.
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.
When your pooch plays calmly, reward him. When he nips, leave the scene. He'll soon learn that calm play involves a treat.
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.
The Channel Aggression Method
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Written by James Barra
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 10/23/2017, edited: 01/08/2021