Puppy teeth. Little needles that pierce your fingers when they chomp down. Puppies are inquisitive creatures and explore their worlds with smell and taste. Everything goes into their mouths. If they are not guided at a young age, puppies will continue to use their mouths and teeth inappropriately.

In an ideal world, puppies stay with their moms and littermates until they are at least 8 weeks old. Those weeks are a pivotal behavior classroom where pups learn good manners. If a pup bites his littermate too hard, the littermate will yelp and run away. “I’m not playing with you anymore!” the pup seems to say. So the offending pup learns that if he bites too hard, he no longer has friends to play with.

But many puppies are being denied this critical period of education: Puppy mill-bred dogs are usually removed from their moms and littermates at about 4 weeks to be shipped to pet stores. And some backyards breeders, especially of Pit Bulls, allow pups to leave too soon.

Puppies who have not learned bite inhibition will grow up to be mouthy adults and be quite difficult to live with. I know, I adopted one. His name was Donner and I wrote a story about him called The Old Dog Nobody Wanted, published in the book, Pets Across America.  Donner, a handsome red Golden Retriever, was no pup.  He was about 9 years old when I adopted him.  He became very grabby when he was overexcited.  I still have a scar on my arm as a memento. As I explained in his story, I tried several different methods advocated by various dog “experts” to validate what I already knew to be the proper means to extinguish the behavior. Just to see how Donner reacted to these dumb methods, I did the “alpha roll” otherwise called “dominance down” to get Donner to calm down, as well as holding him by the jowls. These methods didn’t work, as predicted. They only jacked him up more and he grabbed harder. Okay, Donner, stop laughing. He knew that these methods don’t teach dogs not to grab!  Here’s a list of other things not to do:

–          Never use your hands to correct the dog/pup when he nips. I’ve heard of trainers telling people to either clamp the dog’s mouth shut or chuck the dog under the chin with your fist. These actions will cause your dog to fear your hands by associating them with punishment. You also may make the nipping worse or cause your dog become more aggressive with the biting.

–          Never scream at the dog and don’t tell him “No!” As discussed in my post on February 6, 2011, “No” teaches them nothing.

–          Never use force to try to calm the dog, as explained above.

–          Believe it or not, some people actually get so frustrated with their dog’s nipping that they muzzle the dog, tie a cord around the dog’s mouth and I’ve even seen dogs with duct tape wrapped around their muzzles. I hope I don’t have to say “Don’t do this!”

The best ways to stop pups and adult dogs from using their teeth inappropriately employ the same dog psychology taken right from watching littermates at play. If your pup/dog nips you too hard, first try letting out a loud, high-pitched “Yip!” like a pup would do if bitten too hard. If your dog stops and looks at you, give him an enormous smile and a very soft, calm “Good dog!” It’s very important not to be too enthusiastic and loud with your praise because that may excite your dog again and the nipping may resume.

If the “Yip!” method does not work, try this: When your pup nips you, give him a toy or a bone, and again praise him softly when he takes the toy. (Remember that we always praise our dogs when they are doing good things!)

Finally, if your dog persists with nipping despite these two suggestions, simply stand up and silently walk away from your dog. That’s what littermates do. Your dog will learn that he loses the privilege of your attention if he nips you.

For any of these solutions to help, it is so important that you and everyone who interacts with your dog must be consistent and not allow the dog to nip by employing whichever of these suggestions are effective.

Tune into your dog’s behavior. Watch him and learn to see when he gets nippy. Is it when he is really wound up? If he is anything like my Donner, keeping him calm will “nip” the issue in the bud!