Puppy Nipping & Temper Tantrums: How Should You Correct This Behavior?
Articles by Carly O’Malley
Senior Pet Care Specialist and Social Media Coordinator – The Good Dog Spot
Ph.D. Student – Animal Behavior and Welfare Group – Michigan State University
Dogs explore the world around them with their mouths. It is typical for puppies to bite their owners during playful interactions. However, it is important to stop this behavior as soon as you can, and to never reward this behavior with more play. You may think your 8 week-old puppy is adorable as it chews on your fingers, but as he grows and gets stronger, this will become a problem behavior. It is also important to note if your puppy is biting as an act of aggression, to consult a trainer as soon as possible.
Puppies learn bite inhibition from their littermates, which teaches them to control the strength of their bites. Hard bites during play cause their littermate to yelp and stop playing. When your puppy gets home, continue with this training. If your puppy bites, yelp and immediately stop playing. You can leave the room or just ‘turn off’. Try not to yank your hand back because some puppies will see that as playful and try to catch your hand. The same idea goes for a smack to the nose – this will just encourage your puppy to think your hand is a toy. Many puppies respond well to yelping since it is a communication cue they are familiar with. Cease play for 1-2 minutes. Repeat this every time your puppy bites you and soon he will learn that no one wants to play with a biter!
Make sure to provide your puppy plenty of opportunities to use their mouth appropriately. Provide plenty of toys in a variety of textures. Teach him games such as fetch, or fill a Kong toy with food and encourage them to chew on it to earn their meals. Basic training can also help curb your puppy’s biting. The cue, ‘leave it’, is good for teaching impulse control. ‘Touch’ teaches your puppy that a nose to the hand is encouraged but teeth are not. If your puppy is particularly bad with nipping, use bitter apple spray on your hands.
Puppy Temper Tantrums
We discussed what to do if your puppy is biting you during play, but what do you do if your puppy bites you out of anger? Just like human children, puppies can throw temper tantrums. This happens most often when you are preventing your puppy from doing something fun. Maybe you are holding your puppy on your lap while he wants to play, or you are clipping his nails, or giving a bath. In this situation, do not yelp or let go of your puppy. Your puppy wants you to let him go. You do not want to teach him that biting gets him what he wants. If your puppy bites you in this situation or throws a squirmy tantrum, remain calm and unresponsive. It is best to wait until your puppy settles down for a couple of seconds and then release. Keep in mind what that situation was that caused your puppy to have a tantrum and bite, and then continue practicing and rewarding your puppy for good behaviors during handling.