By Tom Shelby
I have a 5-month-old female Amstaff/greyhound mix who keeps nipping at my three kids. She is playful, but it hurts at times. How can I stop her from nipping?
Ah yes, the joy of puppies and young children. The beautiful mental picture of your toddler and puppy bonding, rolling on the floor and playing. Thousands of times, literally, my phone has rung with the caller saying, “We just got a puppy, need some advice,” and my first question is, “Do you have any kids?” And when they say yes, my next question, “How old are they?” comes with a degree of trepidation. Exploration to a puppy is primarily with the nose and mouth, and a dog’s baby teeth are extremely sharp. I’ve lost count of the times parents told me that their kid hates or is afraid of the new puppy because it chases and mouths the child.
There was the child who climbed on a chair or table whenever the puppy entered the room, or the little girl who screamed and ran when the pup approached, enticing the the dog to give chase and grab whatever part of her it could. Or the little boy who was bitten on his privates through his pajamas by the 12-week-old playful Lab.
Puppies generally mouth a lot till they finish teething, and that happens between 4 and 5 months of age, at which point the small, sharp teeth are replaced with much larger, less sharp ones. If the child is old enough, tell him or her to offer or give a toy to the rambunctious pup in lieu of his body or clothing. I would also suggest that you tell the child, if old enough, to avoid putting his face into the pup’s face.
James, you said that your pup is 5 months old, and if that’s the case, she’s probably finished teething, but the mouthing habit has continued. So the new pup has to learn that teeth and flesh do not harmonize. I don’t use the word “No” because by the time I get there, many of the dogs think their name is “NO-Bad Dog.” I say “UH-UH!” Training a dog is letting the dog know you like the behavior or you don’t, as the behavior is happening. Perhaps let your pup drag a piece of leash (with the handle cut off and under supervision only), and when she starts to nip, grab the leash and apply a little pressure precisely when she’s trying to nip. Then substitute with a toy. If she’s sitting on your lap and puts her teeth on your hand, don’t pull your hand away, twist her collar a little and give her a modicum of discomfort as long as you feel teeth. The moment she removes her teeth, remove the pressure on the collar and praise. You want her to feel discomfort every time her teeth and your flesh meet. Encourage the children not to play rough with her as long as she’s nipping, and further encourage them to offer her toys when she gets wild and starts nipping. Good luck, and congratulations on your new family member.
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