Argh!! Puppy nipping is so annoying and it really can impact your relationship with your new puppy. Here at Zigzag we’re asked all the time about how to stop a puppy nipping. We’re sure you’ve heard it talked about in the puppy training books, but nothing can quite prepare you for how your puppy turns into part Tasmanian devil and part baby shark when they get to the nipping stage. We’re going to help reassure you that it’s normal and give you all the skills to ‘nip’ (sorry, not sorry) it in the bud. 

Puppy teeth really hurt, how something so small and cute can inflict so much damage is a wonder at times, it’s not usually due to aggression when they’re so small, but it can feel quite scary and vicious when you’re in the moment. ‘He’s only playing’ can wear a bit thin when your hands are battle scarred and your favourite trousers now have a frayed hem….and not due to you being fashionable either. Panic no more, we’re here to help you through this annoying phase and get you and your pup back to being best buds in no time. 

In this article we’ll explain:

  • Why puppies nip
  • When puppies are more likely to nip you
  • How to stop puppy nipping
  • What not to do when your puppy is nipping you
  • When to seek professional help with your puppy’s nipping
two puppies play fighting
Photo by Sebastián Silva on Unsplash

Why do puppies nip?

When we think about a nipping puppy, and how we’re going to stop a puppy from nipping, we need to look at the reasons why they nip in the first place. 

Puppies nip for a variety of reasons:

  1. Playing

Especially when they first come home from the breeder, your puppy may think that it’s ok to use those shark-like teeth on you as they did with their siblings. Don’t worry, we can teach them to stop seeing us as a chew toy, and teach them other ways to play that don’t involve their teeth.

  1. Lack of sleep 

A tired puppy is generally a nippy puppy, make sure they are getting 16+ hours a day of sleep. Those growing bones and brains need a lot of time to rest and recharge so make sure they sleep at night too.

  1. Exploring the world – one nip or mouth at a time!

Yes puppies learn about the world by putting everything in their mouths. They don’t have hands to feel, so in the mouth it goes. To them they don’t understand that nipping really hurts us.

  1. Teething 

For around 2-3 months you can expect a lot of mouthing and nipping, but we can teach a puppy to stop nipping. Learn more about when your puppy will lose their teeth.

  1. Breed specific behaviours 

Some breeds of dog, particularly herding or retrieving types are bred to be more nippy or mouthy. After all, a Labrador who doesn’t want things in their mouth isn’t going to be a great worker on a shoot, and a Border Collie needs to be able to move a sheep if necessary. 

Similarly terriers are attracted to fast moving prey, sorry if that’s your slippers scuffing across the carpet, it’s just their DNA! 

  1. Defensive nipping

Using my teeth makes you stop doing something I don’t like  – if we over or rough handle puppies they can learn that nipping us usually makes us stop what we’re doing. We need to take care that we don’t teach them to be defensive when handled – you can learn more about this in the Zigzag app where we go into handling in detail. 

dog sat by log on a walk
Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

How to stop puppy nipping

In order to stop a puppy nipping you’ll firstly need some patience – ok understatement – you’ll need A LOT of patience and also work through a step by step process. But don’t overthink it, it normally doesn’t last for long if you handle your nipping puppy in the right way. 

We’ve explained why a puppy might be nipping you, and when a puppy might nip you, but how do you stop it in the moment and reduce it?

Well, once you’ve worked out why your puppy is doing it you’ll want to look at what situations it’s happening in, and at what time of day. Pre-empt those nippy times of day by getting them to do something else and then also taking action when you’re being attacked by the cutest piranha you’ve ever seen! 

We’ve outlined all the steps to stop a puppy from nipping you:

  1. Ensure your puppy has their basic needs met

A puppy needs:

  • Sleep – lots of it, more than you think, actually!
  • The right nutrition – just like us, puppies need a balanced diet to feel right, and the more they grow the more calories they need
  • Lots of chew toys – we love West Paw Toppl , we have an article on other toys we love here for you
  • The right amount of exercise – puppies need a safe amount of physical exercise
  1. Train them to do something else

If you have a puppy who is biting you a lot, think of something else they can do such as grab a toy for you, or sit when they come towards you and say hello. 

  1. Redirect your nipping nippy

Have a toy ready for them to put those nipping needle teeth onto. We love the Tug-E-Nuff range and our dogs seem to as well! Use a toy that’s long and soft and that you can drag along the floor to get your puppy’s interest.

  1. Teeth on skin = end of game

Positive training doesn’t mean you just let your puppy do whatever they like and nip you, if you’re redirecting your puppy onto a toy and playing with them and they’re still going for your hands then stop the game.

  1. If all else fails give them some quiet time

It is ok for you to put your puppy in their crate with a chew, or for you to leave the room if you’ve done all of the things and they’re still wanting to nip you. 

For some puppies this removal of attention, or chance to get some downtime is genuinely what they need. 

What not to do when your puppy’s nipping

When your puppy is nipping you it can be tempting to do all kinds of things which will actually hinder and not help you with the problem at all such as:

  1. Shouting – no one learns much from being shouted at, puppies especially

When they’re in a heightened state of arousal aka the ‘mad half hour’ shouting is not going to calm them down, it might scare them, but it will often wind them up more as they try and work out what they did wrong, and actually can make puppy nipping a lot worse. 

  1. Using punishments

We’re sure you wouldn’t, but there is some pretty barbaric stuff floating around the internet. While it won’t stop a puppy from nipping you, the punisher, they will still nip other people, and as a bonus they’ll be scared of you. I know, it’s definitely not what you want, is it? 

  1. Using a high pitched squeal

Making that ‘ow’ sound for some puppies can make them take a step back and think ‘oh I shouldn’t have done that’ but for many puppies it means the prey has come to life and we actually see an increase in puppy nipping! Defeats the purpose doesn’t it? Take a view on it with your puppy, as it’s not always a one size fits all approach.

  1. Shake them off

If you have a puppy who is nipping at your heels, slippers, or trouser legs there is a huge temptation to want to shake them off! Very often this turns the nipping into a game and the puppy can then find it rewarding, so then they do it more. Oh no! 

  1. Leave the dominance stuff at the door

That D word has no place in Zigzag HQ or in your house. Your puppy is not nipping you because they’re dominant, they’re just being a puppy, we promise it’s pretty normal for puppies to nip and has nothing to do with social status.

When to seek professional help

If you’re not sure if your puppy’s nipping is just a part of puppy teething, the zoomies, or one of the other reasons your puppy is biting you hard then it can be worth contacting a professional.

Often people think their puppy is being aggressive when actually they’re just doing normal puppy stuff. Good to get an educated eye from a trainer or behaviourist at CAPBT, Association of Pet Dog Trainers or a member from one of the organisations in the UK Dog Behaviour and Training Charter.

If you feel your puppy is defensively biting you when you come near them, then it’s really worth getting a professional opinion on things and seeing how you can teach them that being touched and handled is ok.

Similarly if your puppy is biting you because they’re protecting resources, or for some other reason then consult a trainer or behaviourist and don’t let this become a habit or ingrained behaviour. 

What puppies practice they get good at, the good stuff, but sadly also the bad stuff! However, you’ve read up to here so hopefully you’ve received some pointers on how to stop a puppy nipping you.

Of course, you can also contact one of the professional dog trainers and behaviourists we have in our Zigzag puppy experts team. They’ll be able to put your mind at ease and talk you through the steps to help your puppy stop nipping you. 

dog lying down outside
Photo by Mathis Jrdl on Unsplash

We hope this has helped you work out how to get a puppy to stop nipping you, while you’re here let’s lighten the mood and suggest you have a read of puppy socialisation training