I’ve discovered that people often don’t know how to play with their puppy. One of the most common challenges my clients want help with is addressing an overly “mouthy” and “nippy” puppy. After years of observation, I’ve discovered this behavior is often the result of how we interact and play with our dogs.
In this article, I’m going to focus on why dogs are overly nippy with children when they are trying to play, and, how to fix it. Although it is normal for puppies to nip and grab things with their mouths, the way we play with them can make it into a problem, especially for kids.
First, let’s understand the problem a bit more. Most of us misunderstand the concept of playing with a puppy. We usually want to engage in roughhousing and wrestling, getting down on the floor with them, handling the dog all over using fast hand motions, or playing some chasing game. Sound familiar? All of this leads to over-stimulation, which leads to puppy nipping and mouthy behavior.
Let’s look at this from a dog’s perspective. Dogs use their mouths the same way we use our hands….to touch, grab things, just generally explore. If we are touching the dog a lot, it encourages them to use their mouth the same way we are using our hands.
Another natural behavior for a dog is prey drive. Dogs have an instinct to be attracted to moving things, which includes kids running.
Being conscious of your hand movements and avoiding running away, or generally fast movements, can begin to help limit your puppy nipping, biting and jumping.
So, what can you do to play instead?
My favorite way to interact is to get two dog toys to start a game while sitting on the floor (or short stool if your dog is too excited). I love to show people how to make the toy “come alive” by having it move along the floor with random bouncy, fast movements, which we know puppies love. Now we’re using prey drive to our advantage. As soon as the dog get’s close to the toy, very quickly toss it a few feet away. The dog will follow that movement and either pick up the toy and drop it, or carry it back to you where you are waiting. Repeat the process with another handy toy.
If your dog brings the toy back, I recommend not trying to immediately take the toy away…don’t play tug-of-war…keep the focus the other toy. You can also try to trade the toy for a piece of kibble, and when they drop the toy, toss it again right away as a reward.
Soon you can add the words “give it” when they trade for the kibble and maybe “fetch” when they chase the toy. The goal is to keep the focus on the toy, and keep it moving.
Remember, you can still have fun playing with your puppy, but play the right way to minimize overly “nippy” and “mouthy” behavior.
If you are looking for more games to play with your dog, I have more games to try like the Hide and Seek Game on the Kids-n-K9s.com site.