When Does Puppy Nipping Cross The Line Into Biting

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Puppy Nipping and Biting

Nipping is Normal but RAGE is not normal in puppies!

I recently worked with a client who had gotten a puppy 2 weeks prior to our meeting.  The puppy was 6 weeks old when he brought him home and immediately he had concerns that his new family member’s biting was not normal.

Within a week, he had called me for emergency help.

It is hard to imagine an 8 week old puppy having “aggression issues” but unfortunately some of them do.  These are the puppies and the clients I worry about the most as these puppies age.  Without a sincere and dedicated change in their lifestyle these puppies are hardwired for aggression issues and problems that could lead them to shelters, to biting someone, and toward ultimate euthanasia.

Puppies Can Be Aggressive??

I am sure I will get some backlash for publicly admitting that tiny puppies can have “aggression issues” because most people think that “puppies are puppies and if you just use the correct puppy training methods you will never have to worry about aggression in your dog.

However, as much as I would like to adhere to that philosophy it just isn’t true, and it isn’t fair for the owners that inadvertently end up with these pups.  Some puppies have an abnormal amount of aggression, anger and a tendency toward “biting” not “nipping” but actual BITING.

I worry about and I feel bad for both the puppy and his confused and saddened owner, who is doing all that he can to curb the behavior NOW.

Recognizing AggressionNipping and Play is normal

The first thing to realize, thankfully, is that these puppies are abnormal and therefore there aren’t a TON of them out there.  But they do exist!  I have videos of 6 week old puppies trying to inflict the hardest bite possible on me when they are angry or guarding an object.

Puppies explore their environment with their teeth and most puppies go through normal nipping stages. This tooth play is how puppies play with each other.  Puppies don’t have hands and feet so they explore and play with each other with their sharp little teeth.  Some puppies even inadvertently break their owner’s skin while nipping and biting and most often this is normal and simply a problem of impulse control and learning to keep their little chompers to themselves!

In most cases, nipping is a factor in rough play or trying to engage their owners in a game because they are wound up or bored.  Nipping can also occur as a product of prey drive; meaning things that move fast past them (the cat, your pant leg) incur a bite.

Puppy Nipping OwnerMany puppies from police dog lines are known for jumping up and biting their owners in the thigh when they see their owners run or walk past and from this type of herding dog and these types of genetics this behavior can be completely normal!  Genetics are a powerful factor!

When a young puppy clearly lashes out in pure rage and aggravation this is not normal puppy behavior.

The puppy I was working with would BITE for a number of reasons.  The first was that he was terribly food aggressive if anything, inanimate objects included, came close to his food bowl he would strike with a fierceness usually reserved for adult dog behavior and if that object happened to be his owner he would be off seeking yet another band aid for his wound.  This type of puppy possessiveness is not normal.

Likewise, while training him if I did not deliver the treat to him in what he considered a quick enough manner he would bite.  He was using no impulse control, and going from 0-100 in a matter of seconds.  The bite was not due to his guarding the treat or inadvertently being too rough with me, he would lash out and BITE me for not doing what he wanted.

Not surprising he didn’t like to be physically manipulated or touched unless it was on his terms and if his rules were broken, he would leave you with an open wound.  These were not mistake bites or nips these were serious bites meant to make an impression and keep him from having to endure something that he didn’t want.

Most puppies learn or are born with some kind of impulse control, learning to control themselves and their desires to some small degree.  Usually momma dog is critical in teaching this impulse control at an early age because she doesn’t want to get bitten and tugged on as her babies grow.  She also keeps her puppies from picking on one another in an excessive manner.  She will put an immediate stop to a severe bully in her litter by giving the bully a quick and effective bite.

Most puppies will concede dominance or power and submit to the bigger animal (stop biting and nipping)  as a means to survival.

Part of this puppy’s problem is that I believe he was separated from his mom too soon so he didn’t learn this early impulse control from her.

The other problem I believe is genetics.  I believe strongly in nature vs. nurture.  Now, don’t get me wrong I know that nurture is a HUGE part of behavior and that bad experiences can lead to bad behavior later in life.  But, I have seen dogs that were starved almost to death that would never consider being food or resource aggressive and I have seen dogs that have been beaten and abused that would never think about biting a person.

Just like not all abused children grow up to be sociopaths and not all sociopaths were abused.

When probing his owner deeper for more information on this particular pup, I asked what his mother was like when he went to pick him up.

“She had to be locked up in a bedroom because she doesn’t like people and can be really mean”.

I believe when you breed aggressive dogs, you often get aggressive puppies.  This isn’t always true, just like not all guide dog puppies that have been bred to be socialAggressive Dog are social, but the odds are greater that social dogs have social puppies and aggressive dogs can have aggressive puppies!  Aggressive dogs should NEVER be bred!

Hopefully people will read this before they consider taking a puppy from an aggressive adult dog breeding and that prospective owners will demand to meet at least one of the parents of their pup, or find a puppy from a shelter that temperament tests puppies!  This will keep many people from the heartbreak and toil that can ensue.

The Good News!

Most of these puppies if caught young enough are trainable with consistent and strict behavior modification, positive reinforcement, and socialization.

The Bad News:

It is a lot of work and you cannot fall back on your laurels and expect the behaviors to go away!

Most of these puppies need a lifetime of training and direct control from their owners or they can begin to slide back to their old ways and their desire to control their environment can emerge with a vengeance.

What NOT to do?

Don’t Result to Physical Manipulation! Use your Mind!

Don’t use your size or strength to control or bully your puppy.

I would never recommend alpha rolls, complex or negative training collars, hanging or any nasty types of punishment.

The last theory I want to hold fast to is the old dominance theory;   that would tell me to physically win all battles with a puppy like this and never “show weakness”.

As a trainer if I tell my clients to use these theories, what happens when the dog is 150 pounds and decides to finally fight back and may maul their owner?  Aggression incites aggression and even if you don’t see it right away you can deal with some pent up and hostile emotions when your dog gets big enough to physically challenge you.

Smart people learn to use positive reinforcement tools and their superior human mind and problem solving skills to teach their puppies appropriate behaviors and impulse control in order to get what they want in life.

I will again reiterate the fact that giving advice to owners with severely aggressive dogs or puppies is irresponsible of me because I cannot see the puppy, get the necessary background, or see the individual to help them assess the best course possible for them and their dog.  If you have a very aggressive dog I suggest you find a professional that can come to you or you can meet with physically that will be able to help you.

But, I will tell you some of what I told the owner of this young puppy!

This puppy needs to work for his meals.  First, all food should come from his father’s hands, no more dog bowl to lord over at breakfast and dinner time.  This will help the puppy associate food and LIFE with his dad, and hopefully he will see how important his owner is to his survival.

Obedience starts NOW!  Understanding that he is still a baby and has a short attention span is crucial but having him adhere to rules immediately begins to teach him some impulse control!  He needs to live with a leash on so his owner can control him.

No longer will he get what he wants by using his teeth or his intimidation factor!  When dad feels teeth on him, he needs to get up and move away.  Bullies use their teeth to control the situation, when you take that tool away the puppy has to learn how to use his MIND and control himself and his behavior in order to get what he wants.

When he learns to take treats nicely from dad’s hands (I still have healing scratches from 10 days ago from the temper tantrums of this puppy), he will begin teaching the pup to handle unwanted touch by giving him treats when he allows being touched and manipulated.

Amazingly this puppy is social, so he will continue to socialize him but he will constantly watch his puppy for signs of anger (dilated pupils, freezing, staring) and he will give people biscuits to give to him before they touch and interact with him.  When other people pet the pup, his dad will get down with his puppy and give him treats for good behavior.  This step would not be recommended for puppies that are fearful or who do not want to be social with other people!

As this puppy ages his dad will be obstinate about utilizing control and gaining more control by doing basic things like making this dog do sit stays, down stays, waiting to be fed (once he starts eating from a bowl again), and other types of impulse control training.

Thankfully this puppy is very young and I believe that eventually if his dad is up for the job, this can be an almost normal adult dog.

Puppy BitingHowever, if he lets down his guard, I believe this puppy could be a dangerous adult dog.

Ultimately I feel bad for this owner.  He wanted a puppy, but he didn’t necessarily want a puppy that would require this kind of work or would inflict this kind of pain not only on his body but also on his heart because he is also worried about his puppy’s future.

He is a good man, and I believe he is taking the right steps and tools to correct negative behaviors as early as he can.

This is why I always say “Sometimes good people get aggressive dogs” and so I never judge or place blame.  The last thing this man needs is someone blaming him for a puppy that is abnormally aggressive when he is doing his best to do right by his new family member!

Never claim to know a full situation or place blame, this doesn’t do anyone any good.  Puppy Nipping and Biting isn’t always an easy thing to fix so keep in mind that only action changes behavior!

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There are 98 Comments

  1. Lexie says:

    Just a quick story about inherited aggression. We had a wonderful male Rat Terrier that is just the perfect little dog. He has traveled all over the country with us and is a perfect little gentleman so when my son wanted a puppy and got old enough to have one, we looked around for a female Rat. Our male was not neutered and we had many requests from friends for puppies so we were considering letting them have a litter before spaying and neutering. We had met the parents of the female and seen them and the rest of the litter playing and interacting with the breeder’s children and a pasture full of farm animals and big herding dogs and we were very comfortable with her upbringing so far.
    Well the female was completely different than our male. She wanted to dominate everybody in the house including our two grown Rotweillers! I have raised and trained dogs all my life so between the Rotties and myself we convinced her to be a nice enough person and behave well enough. Eventually they had a litter and the puppies were evenly divided between aggressive and mellow. You could sit and watch them playing as babies and see which were the sweet ones and which would be little hellcats. We placed them carefully and have had contact and been able to advice the new homes and they have been fine but they required a lot more work than the mellow one’s and have always been edgy and quick to hit drive. I would never have dreamed that that much of the personality could be hardwired like that.


  2. Donna Villers says:

    My 6 mon old pit mix was showing aggression issues toward her brothers at 2-3 months old. and when I saw this come to a ruff point I would separate them used my create to separate them, untal she settled down. and keep her on a leash most of the time when they were together. and it has worked out very well for me, She is turned into a very nice dog at 6 months have very little issues with other dogs. now.
    just recently had her over my Sons home they have a 2 month old female very small puppy. and My Sissy showed very kind soft play with her.
    So catching that issue early has really worked ,by creating ,and showing separation to bring her under control..
    I am so proud of her..


  3. Stephanie says:

    Our one year female blue is beautiful and energetic. She loves eating furniture and carpet. I’ve been through this with another dog (lab/retriever mix) so I’ve gotten her a lot of chew toys. However, she steal believes my face is a chew toy. It’s no aggressive it’s more on the light nipping when I talk to her. We have a 3 year old male white pit bull. I’ve had him since he was 3 months old. He’s always been the most laid back dog that’s ever chosen me and now that we have the girl he climbs in my lap or lays across me if she tries to get close or if she chews on me. I should add she sleep at my head or my side both sleep under the covers with me (I know strange) but it seems to soothe them and I am guilty of spoiling my babies. Just need a few tips thanks.


  4. Leon says:

    I hope this solves my issue with what happened today, I was being chased by 3 dogs yesterday. 1 grown dog, seemed less aggressive compared to the other two, however, the other two were puppies, and the grown dog looked as if he was beaten up. As I was running from the dogs, their owners just stood and laughed, they didn’t do anything to stop the dogs. Both puppies have bitten me in my legs, the larger black with white spots puppy didn’t really do much damage on my left leg compared to the smaller younger blonde puppy. The blonde puppy made a bigger would on my leg, as it tried to continue to bite my leg, I had to push it away with the very leg that it was biting, as I was getting away from these dogs and the owners just continued to laugh, I had to call animal control. I know it’s a shame, knowing that the ones that have bitten me were still so young, and how the owners encouraged it, but it had to be done. I’m still bleeding from that bite, and I’m worried that I may bloodstream may have had contact with the rabies virus, with little money and a fear of needles. I hope I haven’t got in contact with it, I’ve been treating this wound as much as I can. As it continues to bleed and ooze puss, I continue to change bandages every several hours.


    Minette Reply:

    You need antibiotics and probably a tetnus shot… you need to go to the ER, puncture wounds can be dangerous for infection and I have seen many not treated who ended up hospitalized.


  5. Savannah says:

    I currently have a 5 week old puppy and around 3 weeks he started really not liking his neck touched to the point where he screams like we are killing him or something he doesn’t do it all the time and every once in awhile he seems like he wants to try and bite but if you put your finger in his mouth he won’t bite down we have worked with him everyday several times a day by petting him and he has gotten alittle better but every once in awhile he throws a fit again what do I do?? There’s one other pup that kinda shies away also but he just wiggles around and whines he doesn’t freak out like this other pup


    Minette Reply:

    I would actually recommend you get a behaviorist to look at the pup.

    Solo pups taken from their mothers often have aggression issues and it would be best for someone to look now while he is young so that aggression can be alleviated but since I can’t see him I can’t set up your behavior modification program.


    Savannah Reply:

    I have all his brothers and sisters and his mom


  6. Donna CRayne says:

    I am in need of some advice, We have a little 14 week old Chiweenie Dog, we bought him from a local vets office. His mother was brought in and they realised she was pregnant so they kept her until Babies were born. He is now 14 weeks old, we got him at 6 weeks old. He has bitten us sense we brought him home. We are an older couple in our 50’s with an adult Autistic Daughter who is 39. He is drawing blood on our arms and will bite at our faces. My Husband’s nose looked like hamburger. scratches and bites have gotten to where My Husband’s Boss asked why are you so scratched up all the time? His reply is a new puppy! He is a very picky eater also have terrible time finding something he will eat! Vet wanted him on dry science diet warmed in warm water, he hates it refuses to eat it. I even tried adding some canned food for flavor he still don’t like it. Potty training is going well however. He is about 95% potty trained. We love Peaunt very much but the biting and picky eating is a big problem. Also i have trouble leaving him in his carrier, he yelps and screams when i let him out for 10 to 15 mins after only an h0ur in his crate. Makes me feel absolutly awful! if anyone has any ideas I would be very thankful thank you in advance Donna


    Minette Reply:

    Read this to find out why I think this is such a big deal, and a bigger problem than just any puppy nipping http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/1-biggest-mistake-professional-dog-trainer/

    With your adult daughter living with you and less able to defend herself I think it is imperative that you seek the advice of a veterinary behaviorist before things get more out of hand.

    As far as the picky eating goes, he is fooling you… I have never seen a healthy dog or puppy starve itself. The problem is that you are giving him options and he is holding out for the better things. I suggest picking a dry dog food that works but not cooking for him or adding to it. If he skips a meal or two he will be hungry for anything, that is simple physiological necessity.

    But, the aggression scares me, especially for your daughter and eventually anyone you have over to visit 🙁


  7. Joshua says:

    My wife and I recently got a 9 week old pyrenees lab mix for still being a puppy she is quite big. Which we expected for the breed. Any how we have twin two year old girls that keep getting pummeled by the dog and she is mouthing a lot. We are using a lead on her at all times like you suggest but we are afraid that we are not going to be able to break her of the mouthing and mauling with the girls playing and running around like toddlers do. We have seen no real aggression during the puppy play time. She is timid around me so I feel maybe a male in the past might have abused her do you have any tips or hints that you have not listed for nipping and mouthing with toddlers around?


    Minette Reply:

    Read this http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/land-shark/


  8. Shauna says:

    I have a 13 week old American Cocker Spaniel. I’ve raised quite a few puppies and have never seen one with this much aggression. I have 3 kids 5,4 and almost 2. We have had our puppy for about 4 weeks and she seems to be getting more and more aggressive. If you try to pick her up she growls and turns to bite. She has bitten me many times. This afternoon my 5 year old picked her up to take her out back to go potty and as soon as she picked up the puppy the dog growled, showed her teeth and tried to bite my daughter in the face. I know this isn’t normal. How can I handle this? It’s fine right now because there isn’t much force behind her bite, but I fear for the day that there is and one of my kids takes the brunt of it. Can we nip this or should I give her to a family without kids?


    Minette Reply:

    I would get a veterinary behaviorist involved ASAP before one of your children is bitten badly and to help the kids understand how to handle the dog.


  9. Brett says:

    Hi there,

    Great article, with some very useful info.

    We have a 10 week old pit mix, and she is very smart and loving, learning many things easily, including inhibiting her puppy nipping some; great dog by our estimate, and we all love her.

    We also have a 6 year old autistic son, and he loves her, but is not good at appropriate touching. She has bitten/nipped him in the face three times now when he suddenly picked her up under her arms around her chest, and lifted her high. This seems to be the only provocation to produce the bite; he has also picked her up many other times in other ways, and she only looks at us patiently while we rush to remove him (calmy). The bites have, so far, given him some moderately deep scratches, but nothing more. So it’s clear she is inhibiting her bite, and she also does not growl or seem angry at all, unlike the case you described, but it just seems like a defensive bite rather than playful puppy nipping.

    Of course, we know she was provoked, and we are working hard to try and curb our son’s behavior around her, as well as having him help feed her and trying to create positive associations. She is quite affectionate towards him when he is able to contain himself, but we also know he is very slow to modify or learn new behavior, and it will likely not be the last time he provokes her.

    My feeling is that she is acting as many dogs would, though I’m unsure, and just trying to decide wether this is something we can work on with time, for both of them, or if it’s best to rehome her and try again when our son is much older, to avoid creating a dangerous animal, or provoking one that may already be.

    Thank you for being willing to approach this subject. Very little information to be found elsewhere. -Brett


    Minette Reply:

    The bites will get more severe as the puppy ages and warns your son. She is communicating and he of course does not understand and is not listening.

    Not all puppies grow to be tolerant adults.

    If this was my situation I would look for a service dog organization that trains and chooses dogs for this kind of temperament. They can even tell you that this is not the breed they would probably pick and not all puppies are capable of growing into the dog you want.

    If that is less of an option, I would choose an adult dog from a rescue that is very, very tolerant of children and has been tested extensively.

    Then you don’t have to teach the dog and your son, you can focus on just monitoring and teaching your son.

    You cannot force a dog to be something that it is not. If we could we would be a world of dogs who look different but act like those tolerant guide dog golden retrievers.


  10. Joan DeGeorge says:

    We have an adorable 14 week old Malshi . She is smart ,loves us , potty trained.The problem is this can all change in an instant. She will bite ,,gets a very mean,dominant,defying look,,and not listen. We are at our wits end…tried ignoring her,,scolding,tapping her….nothing works.


  11. Chris says:

    I have an 8 month springer. She was caged and kept in a dog run by the privious owners. Jumps on people and aggressive at times. I need to stop her nipping. I’ve had a springer before. Was an awesome dog. I need tips on discouraging the biting and jumping on people.


  12. Angela says:

    Hello! We recently rescued a puppy from a really bad owner around Christmas this last year. She is super, super sweet with humans and learned we don’t like nipping or mouthing within the first couple of days. She now doesn’t bite us at all.

    The concern I have is with our older dog (older just for context – she’s only a year old). The puppy has left superficial bites that appear to have bled a little bit on her facial area and some parts of her neck.

    The problem is, our older dog instigates much of the rough play and goes back for more. The wounds appear to be superficial but I am just double-checking I shouldn’t worry. Both of the dogs appear to really enjoy the company of each other and cry if they’re separated. Is this just a phase the puppy will grow out of eventually or is there something I should worry about?


  13. Angela says:

    Sorry – one other note…the puppy isn’t harmed at all by our older dog. The older pup will stand over her and dominate her at times, but the pup doesn’t have any indication of wounds or the like.


    Minette Reply:

    I would teach them both play manners. If you can’t play nice, you can’t play at all!


  14. Dale Koppel says:

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    Minette Reply:

    Feel free to share our articles and yes, please provide credit.


  15. Stephanie Peterson says:

    I have a 9 week old Yorky and the only problem l have is when l put him in is playpen he starts to wine and yip, it’s not bad BUT l want him to stop when l tell him. So what technique should l use to stop him. He will stop after l’ve yelled at him about 5 x’s. Is there a better way? I do NOT want to yell at him like that because it scares him badly.
    Please help!


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