Nip It in the Bud: When a Puppy's Nips Become a Problem

Posted on: 21 January 2022

Some behaviours a dog learns in puppyhood can be with them for life. Although it might be adorable to allow your puppy to doze in your bed, you might change your mind once they reach their adult size. But still, as far as potentially bad habits go, this one is fairly minor. There's a certain behaviour which must be comprehensively nipped in the bud, and this is when your puppy regularly nips you, members of your family, and any visitors.


The first thing to understand is that nipping is not the same as a bite motivated by aggression. Your puppy is simply playing, and while it's not their intention to inflict pain and injuries, this can be the byproduct of their nipping. Sure, there's a limit to the injuries that a puppy can inflict, but this is relative. What may be a minor concern for you could be more serious if your puppy nipped a child. There's also the highly relevant issue that your puppy's nips will become more forceful as they reach their adult size. Clearly, it's in everyone's best interests to train your puppy out of this behaviour.

What's Acceptable

You don't want to regulate every part of your puppy's behaviour, but you want to set the tone as to what's acceptable. Your puppy must learn that these nips are unacceptable, but this will not be achieved by punishing them (also known as negative reinforcement). Consider dogs (and other animals for that matter) as they play with each other. If a playful nip is too hard, or unwelcome, the recipient tends to yelp or growl. This doesn't necessarily indicate that the experience was painful or distressing, but merely that a line has been crossed. 

Withholding Attention

If your puppy should nip you, your response should be to vocalise your disapproval. A dog-like yelp should be sufficient, followed by a very brief period of ignoring your dog—literally withholding your attention. This should only be mere moments, so your puppy learns that this unwelcome development is a direct consequence of their actions. Ideally, your puppy will calm down and immediately cease the problematic behaviour in question, after which they should be praised (and even given a treat). 

Bite Inhibition

Formal puppy training will also be extremely helpful. This allows you to address your puppy's bite inhibition, which is how a dog learns to regulate the strength of their bite—creating a distinction between grasping something safely in their jaws, a playful nip, or a bite intended to hurt. Your own training efforts will have some benefits in this respect, but bite inhibition is best practised in a same-species environment, and the socialisation aspect of a puppy training class is ideal, while also allowing your dog to learn their necessary obedience skills. 

Remember that those rather cute puppy bites can quickly become a problem. Allowing your dog to learn bite inhibition (via both training and interaction with other dogs) is the best way forward. Contact a local puppy training service to learn more.