Young puppies often get into a nippy phase, some are nippier than others. If there are children in the house this can be especially vexing as the squeals of pain and flailing hands and arms make the puppy even more excited and liable to nip and jump even more in response, add tears to the equation and we have total meltdown!
The first thing to do in the face of a nipping, jumping puppy is to quietly, calmly walk away if you can. Many people will tell you to yell ‘ouch’ loudly and while this may interrupt the behavior for a split second it is not likely to result in any real learning unless you immediately disengage and it IS likely to actually increase the arousal level of your pup. This means walking away and over or through the nearest gate or door is really the best option. Give the puppy a clear message that this type of behavior gets them NOTHING! I will often use great theatrics to emphasize this point, “Uh oh, now I have to leave, toooo baaaad.”all while I am getting up, disentangling whatever body part or clothing my now budding shark has attached himself to and walking calmly away making no eye contact or other admonitions. The point is that the puppy’s behavior is IMMEDIATELY met with and removal of my attention, remember you have about a second and a half to remove what the puppy wants (your attention) in order for them to understand their behavior made you go away! Act indignant, not mad, the puppy really doesn’t know any better, they just know this is how they play.
OK with that piece of information you may still have times or situations where leaving is either not possible (kids are involved) or ineffective (puppy decides to pursue you relentlessly to the nearest exit and it becomes a game to him). NOW WHAT?!
Crates and Tethers!
One of my favorite techniques to use to prevent the puppy from nipping and jumping in the first place or prevent a repeat performance is a tether. It doesn’t have to be expensive, a 4’ length of cotton clothesline and the kind of clip you find on a regular dog leash is all you need. Both are easily obtained at your local hardware store. The trick is KEEP THE TETHER ON THE PUPPY EVERY TIME HE/SHE IS OUT AND ABOUT IN THE HOUSE. This gives you a handle to grab or step on (puppies are notoriously hard to catch if they don’t want to be caught) if the puppy starts to get into trouble. It allows you to prevent further trouble by attaching the tether to a solid object and providing the puppy with something else to do like chewing on a Kong, bully stick or soft stuffed toys rather than your hands. This is an important point as tethering the dog is not a punishment, it is a preventive measure. The puppy needs to be provided with mental stimulation and/or an appropriate chewing outlet.
If there are kids in the house, the FIRST time the puppy nips and you hear ‘Ow!’ from the kids, step in, tether the puppy and instruct the kids that the puppy needs to have a time out for a bit. Kids generally understand a time out means the puppy is not allowed to play anymore. Actually, we are creating space for the puppy and providing the puppy with something appropriate to chew on while preventing the puppy from practicing the undesired behavior. This can also be done in a crate, particularly if the puppy has been out all day and may be over tired. Puppies are a lot like toddlers, they don’t always take a nap when they should and may get over tired, over stimulated and end up being out of control without the means to settle themselves. Just like your overtired toddler who complained that he wasn’t tired as you put them down for a nap, but 3 minutes later you find him totally sacked out in the crib, crate time can be good for a puppy.
Of course the best course of action is to prevent the nippy behavior in the first place! If it is recurring every day under the same circumstances, try to remember to put the puppy in the crate with a bone or long lasting chew toy BEFORE he has the opportunity to practice this very undesirable behavior.
Now let’s talk about that kangaroo at the door! If your dog has access to the door that visitors use to come in to the house you may already know what I’m talking about. Dogs and puppies like to greet people as they come into the house, but they like to greet face to face and there’s only one way to get their face closer to the people they are greeting – JUMP! Trying to command a squirmy puppy to sit or down probably isn’t going to work and sometimes the people coming in are the problem,
“Ooooooh a puppy! Oh it’s ok if he jumps on me!”. The bottom line is really, if you don’t want your puppy to do something when they are full grown, don’t let them practice that behavior now when they are a puppy!
What to do?
Remember the tether? It works great in this situation too! By having the tether on the dog whenever they are out of their crate you can be ready even if people show up unexpectedly. You have one of two choices. The first is the step on the tether close enough to your puppy that he just can’t get his front paws off the ground. This way no matter how much the guest gushes the puppy simply can’t jump, since they are effectively anchored to the floor. In the meantime, every time the puppy settles into a sit position you can click and reward for making a better choice than jumping. You can also use this method when the dog is on leash in public, hold the leash handle only, let the rest of the leash droop to the ground and step on the leash as near to the puppy as you can.
The second alternative is to have an anchor point (like a clip or tether tied to a stair rail) near the door that you can clip the tether to before you open the door. It must be far enough away so that guests can easily get in and out of the door without coming into the puppy’s space. Instruct the guests that they may pet the puppy IF the puppy has all four feet on the floor, and the second the puppy doesn’t they must back away and take their hands off the puppy. Repeat until the puppy learns all four on the floor and calm gets him petted. I call this the Hands Off Game since the result of the puppy moving is to quickly take your hands off the puppy until they calm down.
Clearly neither of these solutions work in every situation, so the uber friendly guest that ‘doesn’t mind if the puppy jumps’ gets greeted with the puppy anchored under foot. The guests that can and will follow instructions (kids are generally great at this) get the ‘hands off’ game with the puppy tethered but acting of his own free will. The tether near the door is a great solution if the pizza guy comes a lot too, puppy learns to sit away from the door and not dash through it every time it opens!
With these strategies in your tool box, getting through this nippy jumpy phase should be go a lot smoother, and along the way you are actually teaching your dog that these behaviors do NOT work!