I often get emails from worried puppy owners who think there is something wrong with their puppy because it jumps up and nips them and their children.
All puppy owners will experience nipping, jumping up and pulling on clothing. This is normal puppy behaviour, but there are things you can do to try to teach them a different way to behave.
First lets go through the reasons why the puppy behaves this way.
They use their mouths to try things out, to learn about things, just like babies do.
Another reason is that they might be teething (usually happens when the puppy is around 4 months old), so they need to bite on things to relieve their itchy teeth.
3. Attention Seeking
Most of us don't offer our puppies very entertaining lives, so they try to find ways to get our attention. Nipping and jumping at us tend to make us notice them! Read more below...
4. Bite Inhibitions
These behaviours also exist to teach the puppy biting inhibitions, in other words - how hard they can bite. Read more below...
5. Scared of you
Your puppy might think you are a threat after you have shouted at him or something as simple as leaning over him. Read more below...
Can you read his body language?
It would help you to decide why your puppy is nipping, if you knew enough about dog body language to be able to understand what your puppy is trying to say to you. You can read the article on dog language.
Puppy life without siblings to play with can be very boring, so your puppy will try to get a game out of you and your children. To get someones attention, they will nip their feet, pull at their socks, jump up and hang from a sweater or skirt... Telling your puppy NO and pulling him away from the child or trouser leg he is nipping will not teach him anything but the fact that he is given attention whenever he is around a child/trouser legs and it is always very high energy attention, so his energy level will be up and he will most likely try to go back for more.
Try and take a step back from the situation and see things from your puppy's perspective. He might very well be jumping up and nipping your child because he/she does everything that is active and interesting for a little pup - hands flying everywhere, loud noises at a high pitch and generally a very wobbly body language, which intrigues dogs. So set up training situations with your puppy and your child, where your puppy is rewarded with a nice treat if he sits down in front of the child (I would do this exercise with everyone he meets - strangers and family members alike!).
By praising and rewarding him for good behaviours you will shape him into doing things that you like him to do, because he will strive to do them as they produce a big reward for him. If you want to punish him, the best method is to completely ignore him, not to shout and scream.
The puppy teeth are as sharp as they are because they don't have all the pressure that an adult dog has but the sharpness of the teeth will guarantee them a reaction to a certain amount of pressure, so that when they are adults and have all that strength behind their bites, they will have learned from puppy days not to use all their strength when they bite. That is why it is so important to let your puppy socialise with other puppies at a young age, so they will learn bite inhibitions.
Put yourself in your puppy's situation. You have been torn from the only environment you've ever known, your mother and siblings. You've had to endure a journey in the belly of a growling beast (car ride) with two legged people you don't know and don't understand. You arrive at a place where there are tons of new noises, visual and sensory impressions. Your head feels like it is going to explode from all the new information and you are scared and shattered at the same time. Your first reaction to hands approaching you might be to try and nip them, to defend yourself from this new unknown. If you get a slap on the nose, you are likely to try and nip harder, more ferocious next time.
Nipping, snapping and snarling are ways for the puppy to tell you that they feel threatened and scared. This is not a situation where you should assert dominance or force your puppy. This will lead to a breakdown in communication and you might end up getting bitten one day.
If your puppy is nipping, snarling or snapping at you, you should back away from him/her and try to coax him/her to come to you. Take the conflict out of the situation, by removing yourself from the puppy, softening your voice and making yourself smaller (crouch down or even better, sit on the floor at least a couple of meters away).
Some puppies will also try to appease your anger and dogs are very energetic when doing this - extra quick wagging tail, ears folded back, lots of licking, jumping up to try to reach your face to lick the corners of your mouth (that is what dogs do when showing submission), trying to press themselves closer to you. This usually makes the owner even more angry and the dog tries harder to appease, etc. etc. It is a vicious circle and without the knowledge about how a dog works and how they talk with their body language, it is difficult getting out of this bad training situation.
When ever your puppy tries to mouth your hands, exchange your hands with one of his toys and have a good play with the toy. Don't just give it to him, make sure you keep the toy active and interesting.
It is also important to remember to praise him the instant he lets go of your hand and goes for the toy. Make it clear to your puppy that he's made a good choice!
If he goes back to your hands and those piercing puppy teeth sink into your hand and he is putting a bit of pressure behind it - say 'ouch' with a shrill voice (like a puppy would shriek if he go hurt or frightened by something) and back away or turn away from your puppy.
If he reacts by stopping his biting and maybe even backing off a bit himself (out of surprise of your sudden sound), praise him and try to give him a calm stroke (stroke your dog on the sides of his neck and chest, never on top of his head - it isn't very nice for them), talking to him in a calming voice, praising him.
If he reacts in the opposite way and gets even more excited by your 'ouch' and starts nipping worse, walk out of the room and give him a time-out for up to 5 minutes. Then go back in again and praise him with a calming voice, if he is calm and pleasant, walking slowly towards him to keep him calm and not excite him. If he instantly starts nipping you again as you walk in the room - walk out again and give him another short time-out.
Do this on a regular basis and you will teach him exactly how hard he can bite and how exited he can get before he will loose your attention and the fun game that you were playing. There is no point in scolding him or being physical with him when he nips you, this will only make him worse! Remain calm and collected when training your dog!
Think of the nipping as a resource for you to have a well behaved adult dog - and use that resource while you can!
You can also put some clove oil on your hands, trouser legs or furniture that he tends to nip/chew. Then invite him to mouth you. Think of what usually gets him started, what usually happens just before he starts mouthing you. - Is it your arrival home? Then spray your hands just before you get inside your home. - Is it when he is getting worked up in a play situation? Then spray your hands just before you get involved in a good play session with him.
This is important!
You should never leave children with dogs unattended. For the childs sake, but also for the dogs sake. Not until the child is at least 10-12 years old and can understand the consequences of his/her actions. Most of the stories we hear about dogs biting children are due to the child putting the dog through absolute terror and putting the dog in a situation where it had to defend itself. These dogs are not always sick or mentally ill, they are just being dogs, reacting like dogs in a threatening situation. Children do a lot of unkind things to animals that we are not aware off, not always out of cruelty, but out of curiosity. Testing their grounds... what would happen if I did this? If I put that stick in the dogs eye? If I pull his ear? That combined with a low or non-existing understanding of the dogs language can put them both in a lethal situation. So don't leave your children and animals unsupervised at any time! No matter how nice the dog and the child is...