Is a Nip a Bite or Just My Dog Being Playful?

Is a nip a bite? Actually, yes it is. However, there are some factors to keep in mind. When a dog is a puppy they’ll sometimes put their mouth on a finger and slowly, and rather gently “nibble” on it, (“mouthing”). Many people don’t mind that, but it shouldn’t be encouraged. A dog needs to know that no human body part is for chewing on or biting. Just take the hand away and put a bone, rope, or other toy into the dog’s mouth and praise your dog for chewing on that instead. On the other hand, a nip is the dog’s way of saying “I got your attention now”. Regardless of whether the dog wants you to play with it, pet it, feed It, or actually is reactive, all are unacceptable. Take a look at Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Dog Bite Scale. This is an assessment of how severe a bite is and goes from Level 1 to Levels 5 and 6. Fortunately, the annoying gentle nip is not even a Level 1 bite, but allowing your dog to mouth or nip is unacceptable.


Here are a few suggestions to curb that nip:


Learn your dog’s body language. If you’re petting your dog and he starts to open his mouth or wiggle, his body is telling you that he’s getting stimulated, his energy level is rising, and he’s about to launch and nip. Stop petting immediately. If you’re too late, immediately stand up or walk away.


Try to keep toys at various places in the room, so that you can immediately put it in his mouth and tell him that he’s a good boy.


Start a mini training session, such as sit, move two feet away, and repeat that two-three times. This is a redirection and focusing on something else to do other than use his mouth.


For dogs that have a really hard time calming down once they’re nipping, or jumping to nip and grab your clothing, attach an inexpensive leash to his collar or harness and let him drag it along the floor. As soon as that nip starts say “oops”, (or something similar), pick up the leash and very quickly walk him to the crate and put it in. Shut the gate, wait a few seconds, and then let him out. Hopefully, your crate is either in the kitchen or in the room where you spend the most time. Be consistent, and you will most likely see that he’s catching on. Forget about saying “NO!” It doesn’t help.


Call a trainer who uses positive methods and doesn’t punish if you are not successful. A professional will see things that you might not, and has other methods to try. You got your dog to enjoy it and spend his lifetime with you. Reach out for help on this one.

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