Anyone raising a puppy knows all too well the army of tiny, sharp, soldiers that line the inside of a puppy’s mouth’s.
Ouch! Puppy teeth hurt!
Ladies and gentlemen, I have bad news, puppies nip. Yes, behind those sweet, fuzzy, innocent faces lie rows of piranha teeth just waiting to make an appearance; especially when that puppy is tired, hungry, overstimulated, or just generally having a hard time.
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that there are things that we can do to help reduce our puppies nipping. The bad news is that only time, patience, and maturity will stop it completely.
It helps to think of your puppy’s nipping as communication. Yes, puppies will put their mouth on you when you pet them and play with them but those intense, sometimes scary, nipping episodes (sometimes referred to as “The Witching Hour”) that is often accompanied by growling, lunging, jumping, etc. are just your puppy’s way of communicating that they are having a hard time.
Yes, you heard me, your puppy is having a hard time, not giving you one. They just don’t have the skills to self soothe or communicate in any other way yet.
Here are some simple things you can put into practice that will help prevent your puppy from becoming overly nippy.
- Make sure puppy is getting enough sleep. Growing puppies need up to 20 hours of sleep a day. An overly tired pup will get very nippy.
- Make sure puppy is eating often. Puppies should get at least three meals a day, sometimes more for very small pups. A hungry puppy is a nippy puppy. (I can totally relate to this)
- Manage your puppy! Puppies should not have free roam of your house to chase your feet and nip them while you are doing housework or making dinner; an exercise pen or puppy “safe room” is the perfect place for your puppy to hang out, when you are not actively watching or working with them, while they grow and mature. Preventing them from practicing nipping using management is one of the greatest tools that puppy parents have.
- Provide a rotation of chews that your puppy likes. I recommend a four-day rotation so that the puppy is getting a different chew each day for four days before the cycle starts again. This will keep the chew items “fresh” and keep puppy’s interest peaked.
- Look for patterns. If your puppy is getting nippy at specific times of day get ahead of those moments by preemptively putting puppy in their crate, pen, or safe room with a sniffing, chewing, or licking activity before they become overly nippy. Studies show that these three behaviors help calm dogs of all ages.
- Give your puppy plenty of mental stimulation. Food Puzzle toys are a great tool for puppy parents to use. Some of my favorites are Kong and West Paw brands. Your local pet store will also have a great selection. My Boredom Busters downloadable video is also full of activities you can do with your puppy to keep their brain stimulated and happy. A properly mentally stimulated puppy will nip less.
- If puppy is getting overstimulated outside, and becoming excessively nippy, shorten your time outside to keep them from getting overwhelmed and toss some kibble in the grass at regular intervals while outside to encourage them to sniff, find, and eat. Remember, sniffing helps calm dogs!
- Don’t grab your puppy’s muzzle, hit them, yell no, or use a squirt bottle or shake can when they nip in an attempt to stop them. These activities will only teach your puppy that you cannot be trusted and that you make scary things happen when they are having a hard time.
- Don’t yell “Ouch” when puppy nips. This sound will usually excite/overstimulated your puppy and make the situation worse.
Putting these tools into play, along with a good sense of humor and a generous dosing of patience, will help you get through your puppy’s nipping months. Remember, this too shall pass, and in no time, you will look at your dog and wonder where that little nipping puppy went!
Sara Sokol is owner of Mr. Dog Training in West Bath Maine; A positive reinforcement dog training facility, offering both virtual and in person classes, that has been voted best training in Maine for 7 years in a row.