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Mouthing and Nipping Behaviors

There is a difference between “nipping” and “mouthing.”

Mouthing is something a dog will do when they are extremely excited or simply desperate for attention. They tend to put their mouth around fingers. Many people think they are biting you, but it is entirely without aggression and they do not bite down hard.

This is something puppies do when they are little and are trained by either their owners, their mothers, or other dogs to stop doing it. Some dogs simply do not get the memo that this is inappropriate behavior and continue doing it well into their first and second years.

What to do if your dog is “mouthing”

  • Absolutely ignore them. I suggest putting him in a time-out using your crate. As long as this does not give him anxiety about going to the crate at other times, this is a wonderful option. If not, try placing him in a room by himself. Set the kitchen timer for two minutes.
  • Reward him when he licks your fingers gently by giving him treats and attention.
  • If he does mouth, immediately before you place him in time out, wrap your hand around his mouth, apply moderate pressure and say an extremely stern, “NO”.
  • If you think of it, whine like a puppy when he does it so he can see that his mouthing is “hurting you.”
  • When you tell him “NO,” growl immediately afterward. You will feel like a complete and total idiot, but you will be mimicking the behavior of what a Momma dog would do to teach her pups that this is inappropriate behavior.

Mouthing, in my non-expert opinion, is the result of a lack of social development at a young age.

Many of these dogs do not learn proper social cues, because they were raised in such stressful environments without a pack to protect them. If you provide the structure he needs, he will quickly grow out of this.

What do to if your dog is “nipping.”

Nipping on the hands and face is what one dog will do to another dog that they see as “inferior” in the pack.

It is a warning sign that is dog talk for, “You are doing something that is bugging me and this is my warning to you.” Nipping is usually proceeded by a growl, hair standing up on edge, or defensive posturing. This is also an extremely correctable behavior if it is dealt with quickly, and accurately.

If your dog is nipping your child, it is because he views her as inferior to him in the pack order. He can be corrected if you quickly establish that he is the lowest member on the totem pole in your household. In order to do so, you need to stop thinking like mom and more like a pack leader.

Don’t think you are being mean or cruel to him. Dogs do better, feel more secure, and are just happier when there is a clear and established pack order in the house and they do not have to take on alpha responsibilities.

Here are some ways you can assert your dominance:

  • He must sit, stay, shake (whatever) before he gets anything – water, treats, a walk outside – anything. Google the “Nothing in Life is Free” technique. (Note: you should include your children with these trainings. They may not be able to offer him commands, but she can be the one holding the treats as you tell him to “SIT!”. That way, he sees her as the source of his food and that he must submit to them to get what he wants. I would also have them feed him if they have the ability to place his food down for him. Again, he must sit, stay, or shake before they place the food in front of him.)
  • He eats after you
  • He walks behind you on walks. You go through the doorway first, he goes second.
  • He gets attention on your time. You do not reward his begging or whining. You make all the decisions about what he gets and when.

If he gets out of line, he should be punished.

We are strong advocates of either time-outs (described above) or a solid squirt in the face with a water bottle (I actually would recommend both). If he nips, he should be squirted in the face with the water bottle and then placed in time out for two minutes.

Your dog’s purpose in life is to get attention from his new found family. If you deny him attention, he will quickly learn what he needs to do in order to get back in your good graces.

The key is consistency and sticking to your guns… but do not treat him like you would treat a child! Do some research on pack order on the internet. There are a tremendous number of resources and this is an essential thing to understand for any dog you will ever have.