Tony Cruse advises a reader on what best to do when her puppy nips.
Q: How do I stop my 12-week-old puppy from nipping at my legs? He keeps doing it, when we’re about to go out for a walk, or I’m preparing his dinner. He nips at my trousers as he walks alongside me, but sometimes he catches my leg as well. It doesn’t hurt, but I would hate him to do this to a child or any other adult who isn’t used to dogs.
Tara Duncan, Warwickshire.
A: Tony says: Puppies often ‘mouth’ and nip because they are teething and, unlike us, they have no hands, so they investigate the world using their mouths. What usually reinforces the nipping is that it produces a response! We often yelp, move quicker, and so engage with the dog, and any attention can be rewarding! Ideally, when this occurs, you must freeze and appear boring to your pup. Although it can be pretty tricky because those teeth can hurt, you want the dog to think: ‘nothing great happens when I nip my owner’ — attention ends!
For these juvenile behaviours, rather than basic training I often focus on management. Set up the dog’s environment so the unwanted behaviour (nipping/grabbing) can’t occur, thereby preventing the need to correct and react after the event. Change your routine so he has a dog chew in another room, or pop him in a playpen with a favourite toy when you make his dinner or get his lead. If not reinforced, a puppy often grows out of mouthing. And remember, if nipping occurs, try to pause and ‘be boring’!