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How to Stop a Dog From Nipping When Excited!

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Dog Training By Kayla Fratt 11 min read April 20, 2021 47 Comments

stop dog nipping

Many dogs like to grab at arms, legs, shoes, scarves, or even hair when they’re excited. Dogs that nip when they’re excited can be pretty frustrating, embarrassing, painful, or even scary to work with.

Some puppies that play bite just grow out of it — but many more don’t. Unfortunately for us, most of our dogs will just stick with their habits as they mature if we don’t teach them a different way to act.

That being said – let’s teach them a different way to act! Today, we’re exploring how to stop a dog from nipping when he’s excited.

Ouch! Why Does My Dog Bite When He’s Excited?

Dogs explore the world through their mouths, for better or for worse. Though I can’t tell you exactly why your dog nips when he’s excited (I’d have to ask, and I’m not Dr. DoLittle), I can tell you some common reasons for dog nipping.

Your dog might nip you when he’s excited because:

  • He wants to play by putting something in his mouth, and your hands/feet are closest.
  • He wants to play by putting something in his mouth, and your hands/feet are moving the fastest.
  • He’s learned that nipping makes you squeal or move faster.
  • He likes to jaw wrestle with his dog friends, and thought you’d like it, too!
  • Putting something in his mouth to chomp on makes him feel a bit calmer, and he’s trying to self-soothe.

Generally, dogs that nip when they’re excited are high arousal. This is a shorthand way of saying that these dogs are easily over-excited by things. These dogs often react with barking, spinning, and — you guessed it — nipping.

nipping-dog

How Do I Stop My Dog From Nipping When Excited?

We’re glad you asked! As a professional trainer and a former animal shelter worker, I’ve got quite a few tricks up my sleeve for stopping dogs from nipping.

Common Training Methods to Avoid

First off, let’s address some common tips you might find elsewhere online, and why I don’t endorse them:

  1. Squealing. Some claim that squealing – as if in pain – signals to your dog that he’s playing too rough. However, in many cases, squealing just makes the dog more excited. You sound like a fun squeaky toy, after all! Better to stay quiet, especially with adult dogs.
  2. Holding the dog’s muzzle closed. In theory, holding a dog’s mouth closed works as a form of punishment saying “don’t do that.” In reality, this doesn’t do much other than make your dog nervous about your hand near his mouth. This can become problematic in the future when you try to get dangerous food out of your dog’s mouth, or try to brush his teeth. This tactic might stop the nipping at the moment, but it’s not the best way to teach your dog not to nip tomorrow.
  3. Pinning the dog to the ground (an alpha roll). Old-school dog trainers who were working with incomplete science believed that alpha rolls exerted dominance by rolling another wolf onto its back. In fact, submissive wolves roll over on their own when they’re scared. In short, the alpha roll is a pretty outdated maneuver. Pinning your dog to the ground might stop him from biting you right now or even in the future, but that’s because he’s scared of you. We’re pretty sure you want a best friend, not a hostage! Rather than enforcing your rules with violent, scary methods, try teaching your dog a different way to be excited and how to calm himself down.
  4. Spraying the dog with water, vinegar, citronella, or just about anything else. These methods work, so they’re often recommended by people who want to see fast results. However, it’s pretty unpleasant for your dog. While it may stop your dog from nipping in the moment, it teaches him that you (or guests) are scary or painful. This can lead to barking, lunging, or hiding in the future. Not helpful! We want calm and polite behavior, not fearful behavior.
  5. Shaking pennies or throwing things at the dog. People like this method, like spraying the dog, because it stops the behavior in the moment. Just like spraying the dog or alpha rolling him, these methods are scary for your dog and don’t teach him what to do instead of nipping. I’ve met dogs that were brought to the shelter because their owners shook cans of pennies at them so much that the dogs started barking and growling if people picked up anything can-like (such as a water bottle).

In short, if you try to enforce your house rules with confrontational or scary training methods, you might stop your dog from nipping at the moment, but at a price. You’re likely to scare your dog in the long run and may even make him act more aggressively down the line.

The reason the five methods listed above are so attractive – despite being deeply problematic – is that they stop the dog from nipping right now.

However, it’s kind of like giving your partner a swift kick under the table when he says something rude at dinner with your parents. It works — but it might make your partner a bit irritable towards you or even less likely to want to grab dinner again.

What if instead of kicking your partner for an off-color joke, you swiftly changed the subject to a different topic – maybe one that shows your partner would enjoy discussing? And then at the next meal, you headed off the bad joke ahead of time with something more parent-friendly?

Those two methods are what we’ll do for nipping dogs instead.

Better Ways to Stop A Dog From Nipping in The Moment (Trainer Approved)

When you’ve got an amped-up Boxer (or Jack Russell or Cattle Dog) pulling at your sleeves and nipping at your heels, you’re not thinking about an in-depth training plan. You want this to stop — now.

Luckily, you don’t have to resort to alpha rolls or cans of pennies to make that happen. Save that loose change for Coinstar instead!

When a dog is nipping at you, jumping on you, barking at you, or otherwise being a bother, you have a few different options:

1. Toss food on the ground. This is my favorite go-to. Called a “treat scatter” in the shelter world, this is how I have escaped from most of my too-excited canine companions. Take a fistful of treats and scatter them on the ground. Sniffing and gathering the treats will help calm most dogs down.

treat scatter

Don’t worry too much about rewarding the dog for jumping up — the dog is probably so amped up right now that he’s pretty much incapable of learning. In science speak, he’s not using his prefrontal cortex right now!

Eating food helps calm him down, and then you can start teaching lessons. Dogs are generally less likely to “rebound” at you after this. If the dog won’t take the treats or goes right back to nipping, try another method.

dog-kibble-toss

2. Step into the dog’s space. If the dog is loose and waggy, you can try stepping into his space. Simply take a step forward into the dog with your body upright and features calm.

No shouting, pushing, or intimidating — just take a step towards the dog. This will stop some dogs in their tracks after a few tries. Do not try this with dogs that may be scared of you or aggressive towards you.

3. Be calm and boring. Many dogs jump or nip at us because we wave our arms around, squeal like toys, and generally make ourselves into exciting play objects. Some dogs will stop jumping and nipping if you simply make yourself boring. This is best paired with a treat scatter.

4. Leave the room. If nothing else is working while a dog nips at you, just leave. Step over a baby gate or step behind a closed door for a few seconds. This “negative punishment” procedure simply removes what the dog wants (you and your arms to gnaw on) when he does something you don’t like. After a few moments, return and try to cue the dog to sit or tossing treats. Repeat as needed. This approach can truly remedy the problem!

For most dogs, a boring person who leaves when they nip becomes a pretty lame chew toy. You might be done after trying these approaches, but maybe not!

If you’d like to teach your dog an alternative behavior rather than just triaging the problem at the moment, read on.

How to Stop Your Dog From Nipping in the Ongoing Future

Of course, sometimes it’s nice to prevent a problem before it starts.

Environmental Management

We can always use environmental management to stop a dog from nipping. This might mean putting your dog on a leash before guests come over so you can pull him away before he nips.

You might want to put him behind a dog gate or in a crate. In some cases, a muzzle can help keep fingers safe while you work on training.

dog-with-muzzle

If you go this route, be prepared to reward your dog with lots of treats for calm behavior behind the barrier. If you ignore him for too long when he’s behind a barrier, you can make him more excited because he’s so ready to join the action!

Beyond that, how can we actually teach the dog not to nip at all?

Differential Reinforcement (aka Show Him Something Better to Do)

My favorite way to attack a problem behavior is using a method called “Differential Reinforcement of an Incompatible Behavior” (DRI). Basically, this means that we’ll reward your dog when he does something that he can’t do while simultaneously nipping you.

Most people simply teach their dog to sit when greeting people. To do this, teach your dog to sit in increasingly distracting situations.

You’re going to have to practice a lot — most dogs are good at sitting when you’re sitting alone in the kitchen in your PJs holding a bunch of treats. But can your dog sit at the dog park? At the door when you’re about to leave for a walk? When he sees a squirrel?

dog-sitting-politely

Keep practicing until he’s great at sitting in really, really hard situations. If you try to ask your dog to sit when he’s not ready for the situation, you’ll just be frustrated when he ignores you and keeps jumping on your guests.

Watch out for creating accidental behavior chains during this process. If your dog is still nipping at you between sitting, you might be rewarding a nip-sit combination. Make the situation less exciting, then try again so that you can reward him for sitting without nipping.

The Hand Target Method

My personal favorite behavior to use instead of sitting is actually a hand target. This behavior teaches your dog to press his nose to your hand on cue. It’s a super easy and versatile trick that helps refocus your dog and move him around with ease.

target touch training

I prefer hand targets for excited dogs (instead of sitting) for a few reasons:

  • It’s tough to sit when you’re so excited. Targeting is just easier!
  • It points the dog’s mouth somewhere specific.
  • You can ping-pong an excited dog, helping to burn off that adrenaline.

Finally, an excellent way to control your dog’s mouth when he’s excited is to teach him to greet people with a toy in his mouth.

This is the method I use with my own dog, and it really helps him chomp on something squishy while keeping my sleeves un-bitten.

I taught my dog a “get your cow” cue first, then started to cue this whenever he got excited about someone coming near. Now, he does it on his own! This works best with dogs that already love, love, LOVE toys!

If you’re more of a video watcher, here’s a demo video that I put together a few weeks ago on puppy nipping and adult dogs that nip when excited.

Puppy Nipping FAQ

Why does my dog bite my sleeves?

Your dog may be biting your sleeves in order to start up a mandatory tug-of-war session. You pull at your sleeves, and so does he! To avoid this, try walking towards your dog when he grabs your sleeves to eliminate any tension and make the game not fun for the dog.

Why does my dog nip at visitors?

Your dog may be excited and trying to play with them! Instead, teach your dog a “get your toy” command to channel that excitement into a more appropriate behavior.

Will squealing stop my dog from nipping at me?

The common training myth is that when you cry like a puppy would, your dog will realize he is being too rough. But in many cases, your squeal is even more exciting to your dog – now you sound like a toy! Instead, stay silent and avoid giving your dog attention.

What worked for you to stop your dog’s nipping? Let us know in the comments!

dog chewing bone
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Written by

Kayla Fratt

Kayla Fratt is a dog behavior consultant and freelance writer. She is an Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and is a member of Dog Writer’s Association of America. She travels full time with her border collie Barley and her boyfriend, Andrew. Before coming to K9 of Mine, Kayla worked at Denver Dumb Friends League as a Behavior Technician. She owns her own dog training business, Journey Dog Training and holds a degree in biology from Colorado College. When she’s not writing or training Barley, Kayla enjoys cross-country skiing, eating sushi, drinking cocktails, and going backpacking.

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Claudia

Our puppy is a 4.5-month-old, 28 lb retriever/shepherd mix. When we play fetch with him outside on the long leash, we find that he gets really zoomy and eventually starts ignoring the ball and jumps on our legs/bites us. He does this at the end of walks as well. On walks, we can sometimes redirect it by luring him to heel with a treat, but we’re having a hard time figuring out how to stop/prevent this behavior, especially when playing fetch.

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Ben Team

Hey, Claudia.
It sounds like you’re on the right track — you just need to teach him some other ways to behave when he gets worked up.
Just make sure to keep safety in mind (especially if you have young children) and try implementing some of the tips Kayla shared above, and don’t hesitate to reach out to a trainer or behaviorist if you aren’t getting good results.
Best of luck!

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Charles

I have a Belgium Shepard (4 months) we he gets too excited he starts nipping really hard, there is no way to stop him, tried to walk towards, tried to ignore, tried to distract, but he’s just focused on bitting and when corrected tries to bite even more…

When walking he’s calm, but if I try to run for excercie he just gets crazy and starts to try bite me (really bad bitting) or the leash as well.

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Ben Team

Hey, Charles.
If you’ve already tried some of the techniques discussed above and they haven’t helped, it may be time to consult with a canine behaviorist.
Best of luck!

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Karen Tshudy

My golden is 8 1/2 months old 72lbs. He will play ball with me and out of the blue starts attacking me. Bites hurt and I have trouble getting away. I ignore him by turning my back and he still bites my butt or elbow or leg. He does this without playing. Other times he can be calm and snuggle. Need help

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Ben Team

Yikes, Karen! That sounds pretty scary!
Given your pup’s size, and the relatively unpredictable and serious nature of the bites, we’d recommend working with a canine behaviorist ASAP.
We’ve got our fingers crossed for you!

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Candace

Our dachshund/terrier rescue mix, Beckett, just bit my husband. Beckett hides in what we call his Secret Headquarters (under a chair) when he doesn’t want to do something. My husband tried to pull him out (when treats did not work) and got a good nip. Beckett sometimes nips when excited, but this was more. WHat do you recommend?

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Ben Team

Hey, Candace.
If the nip was a one-time thing, we’d probably talk about the circumstances of the event and how to handle things differently in the future when he is chilling in the Secret Headquarters (hilarious name for his hiding place, btw).
But given that he nips at other times too, it’s probably time to speak to a private, force-free trainer.
Best of luck!

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Cindy Little

My puppy is 9 months, didn’t get his adult teeth until 7-8 months. He takes treat’s gently, but goes over the top with jumping in the air and at me. He’s in the expen when this starts. I turn my back on him, Just bought two new tug toys which I present oneI’ve tossed kibble, done the nose touches, ask him to sit, and walked away for maybe 30 sec. Will try your other suggestions. Need help with the barking which occurs when someone comes into the house or when he gets over excited. Thanks

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Ben Team

Hey, Cindy. It sounds like you’re on the right track — just keep at it and definitely employ the tips above. Remember, puppies can take a while to figure out the rules, so just be patient.
As for the barking issue, we have an article on dogs who bark at everything. Give it a read!
🙂

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Laura

Thank you so much for this post. Our doggo landed with us two and a half weeks ago. He is a 7-8 month old GSD and Catahoula mix with a heart of gold but playfully nips and apparently wrestled with his last family. He has his times, near bedtime, when he gets super nippy and tugs at the kids’ clothing and lunges for toys. While not aggressive, per se, it is an accident waiting to happen. We aren’t going to give up on him just yet. You have given us so many ideas to use to get us all to a calmer place. (Treats to scatter, prefilled kongs and treat balls and rawhides are going to be stationed all over the place.)

The hand-target idea will be so useful. Unless he is wilding out, he redirects quickly with a “sit.” The problem with a sit is that he came to us with a healed, broken leg that was never set by a veterinarian. Over time, even when the emotional scars from violence fade, frequent “sits” may become painful. We don’t know about that yet, as he is still growing, but changing course right now feels right.

Thank you for giving us some starting points.

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Ben Team

So glad you found the article helpful, Laura. We hope the tips help you address your pooch’s issues so you can all enjoy a long, happy life together.

One quick note: Kayla doesn’t mention it here, but in other articles, she’s explained that you can usually substitute laying down for sitting if need be. Lots of dogs find laying down more comfortable — especially pooches like yours, who have injuries.

Best of luck! Let us know how it goes!

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Bonnie

We throw competition frisbee with Cooper. He was hard to get excited to chase the frisbee.He now chases, retrieves the frisbee but there is a one minute time for this event. Cooper jumps with excitement and nips/bites while getting really to throw the next throw. How do you keep the excitement up, but avoid getting bit. Cooper is one year old and I have gotten bit a couple times during the event.

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Meg Marrs

Hey Bonnie, that is definitely a frustrating situation! One thing you could try is working on some impulse control exercises so Cooper can practice lowering his arousal level. You could also try giving your dog something to do before the next throw, so he has some other way to channel all that excitement. You could try asking Cooper to do a few hand targets, some tricks like spin or sitting between your legs (although I think something with some movement would probably be more helpful for him). Another option could be to teach a “place” command a couple of feet back from where you are holding the frisbee until the toss. Good luck, competitive frisbee sounds like tons of fun!

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Jacki

I started holding my hand closed with a treat in it towards the puppy, and the hand only opens when puppy sits, and gives me eye contact. The nipping stopped immediately, and I get great focus. The target method works great too!

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angelina

My puppy is starting to bark and get bitey when he is overly excited and wants attention. I play with him and take him on long walks but of course, sometimes I have to work! I agree with a lot of this article, I have tried the “ouch” method and it just makes things worse, for example. Or flinching away makes him think it’s a game. The problem with giving him treats is that he’s soooooo food motivated that the minute he even thinks food is coming into the picture, he will immediately stop any bad behavior and just wait for food. That doesn’t mean the bad behavior won’t start up again though when he’s not around food. I can’t leave the room, he’ll tear the place apart! We do tie outs sometimes, not for long periods of time but just to calm him down and that helps. Any extra advice for a crazy food motivated little dude? he’s a very sweet puppy labradoodle, almost 6 months old.

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Meg Marrs

Hey Angelina – the good news is that you can use the food motivation in your favor for sure! Instead of waiting for bad behavior to appear, try to catch your dog before he begins a bad behavior cycle, and use treats to reward an alternative behavior that you do like. So – for example – if your dog goes crazy when coming inside after a walk, practice doing a target “touch” as soon as you step in the door so that your dog has something new to focus on.

Why do you think your dog tears up the room when you leave? Does he have enough toys and chews? Some dogs are really smart and need puzzle toys, chews, and frozen lickies to keep themselves occupied and stimulated, or else they will make their own fun!

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Tennille Anderson

Pets names Kaios 1 and a half yrs and Zoey 6 months And they love peanut butter raw hides

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Mary Jane

Have a Coton puppy, Poppi with high energy! Your video very helpful!

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Teri

My dog isu controllingly crazy and nips any time someone comes over and even with us she allready puts toys in hermouth but wi paw and scratch

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Marsha S

My puppy is Joey. He loves Lukes mini treats and he has a bad habit of nipping hands and feet when too excited.

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Deborah Madigan

My dog Yodi gets excited when my granddaughters come each day. He jumps and nips at them. Can you give me some advise

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Kymber

Thank You for writing this. I can’t find an answer though anywhere to my question.

I have a new puppy. Puppy
Training isn’t new to me, I have 2 other dogs. My 9 week old puppy keeps nipping the back legs of my 18 month old dog and hurting him. The 18 month old keeps trying to play but the 9 week old
Keeps getting him with those baby teeth. I tell her no and try to discourage her with a toy, but she goes right back. I’m nervous the older dog will snap at her if she doesn’t stop. We’ve only had the 9 week old puppy 2 days and I’m sure she will age out of this with our help but is there any advice you have to help?

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Ben Team

Hey, Kymber.
Immediately ending playtime when the younger pooch starts getting nippy will probably help her learn the lesson over time.
Also, it may help to tire them both out a bit before playtime, by taking them on a long walk or something first.
Best of luck!

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Cyndi

Hi there. Thank you for the great article and video! We have a 3 month old Australian Labradoodle who is a real sweetie most of the day. We have been working on mouthing with him, which he mostly does when he is tired or over-excited. Although he has improved, we find that he often jumps up, barks and nips at us or our clothes when we are sitting at the table. I have tried standing and crossing my arms and ignoring him, and also asking for a sit, but he repeats the same behaviour again and again. It appears he is looking for attention. I’m not sure if doing the ‘treat scatter’ or rewarding him for good behaviour is advised in this situation because then we would be feeding him at the dinner table. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

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Lisa

Hi Kayla, I have a 3 month old Rottie that will come up behind me and nip my leg and he will bark at me. What do you do to stop these ‘demand’ type behaviors?

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Joy Davis

Copper 10 weeks old. Loves “Zukes”

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Kimq

Mika my border collie/black Shepard rescue. When I first adopted her I was warned that she had a tendency to lunge and nip. They wanted to make sure she was adopted in a household with no kids as she had been returned because of those behaviours and they were going to put her on Prozac. She stopped this fairly soon after I brought her home, thankfully, but after 2 years has started to lunge and nip at my son (adult) when he stands or goes to leave the room. They seem to have a good relationship, Mika is very affectionate with him, and him to her. She has gotten him a couple of painful times on his knees. I would like to stop this before it gets any worse.

Thank you for your help! I am looking forward to your response!

Kim

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Ben Team

Hey, Kim.
It sounds like you should really work with a trainer or behaviorist to get to the root of your pup’s issue. And we’d recommend doing so sooner than later.
If you can’t find a trainer, check out Journey Dog Training — they offer a variety of long-distance training options, and you can get a 10% discount at that link.
Best of luck!

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Esther

We have Kodi, he Barks at my hubby and is mouthing. He’s a 16 mos old husky. Was kenneled a lot by former owner

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Linda

Toys toys toys toys

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Julie

My rescue girl is two. Her name is LuLu. I’ve had her one year and half. She has starting nipping

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kristen

Chet (two in July) gets extremely excited when we have visitors and has bitten legs. He mouths at us when we come home. He is also very reactive when we are walking on a leash and cries and strains when we see dogs. Chet loves any treats.

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Rina

I wish this would work. My roommate’s 16 month old Coonhound/Lab mix is an excite biter but only on me. When she or her daughter play with him he acts like an angel but around me he attempts to jump on and bite me especially when I am trying to discipline him for chewing/ humping the dog beds. He’s also chewed holes in our blankets. But roomie doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with his behavior!

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Stephanie

My rescue pit Chip is super sweet, marshmallow. He is extremely food-motivated, which is understandable, so he’ll eat anything I give him. He nips our hands whenever he’s excited. Often it’s while we’re walking by him.

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Miria Teinangaro

3 month old puppy, Lab/Pitt, biting, nipping and excitement upon seeing us. Also, when visitors come around.
Put her on a leash because she’ll get under the fence and is not time to go for walks yet as per Vet.
Have read reasons on how to stop, cool!
Question:
Every puppy needs to have playtime but in my case, I have BC with Lymph nodes, very fatigued and feel its unfair for the Puppy.
Is there any other way for me to have that bonding time with her?
Understand you have to kneel but I can’t due to fatigue and treatment, please help!
I help look after the Pup with my daughter while she’s at work but Puppy tires me out. Any tips would be greatly appreciated so it’s easy for myself and the Pup. She’s already growling at the door when others arrive and to me, its protecting her space, I think. Hear from you soon, thank you.

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Jessica Cline

Hi, my name is Jessica. My dog Nomad is bully mix that gets really excited and nips at the back of legs. He does this at different times but with people (kids and adults) coming I to the property and wen the kids are playing. Another time he did it was when being boarded and taken to the run outside. Consequently he isn’t allowed at that kennel anymore.

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Siobhan Boyle

Great article and the video was also helpful. Thanks for sharing these tips and also explaining why some punishments are not a good idea to implement (example: water bottle sprays). And your Border Collie is adorable!

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Sarka

Hello, I have 8 months old blue heeler. He is nipping/biting a lot. Usually when he is excited. The weird thing is he is doing that mostly only to me. He is absolutely ok with other people. Sometimes he bites my partner too, but not as much as me. I train him, feed him, take for walk…I tried everything you described in the article, but nothing helped. He is very food motivated so treats helped but I do not always have them on me, however, he is very happy to bite me again, so it stopped him only for that moment. Even when I offer him toy, he rather grabs my hand. Sometimes it really hurts me so it is impossible to leave the room or it is very hard to catch him and close him somewhere. What helps to stop him immediately is when I “hug” him and hold him until he is calmer. But I would like to teach him not to do that at all. Any tips for this case? Thank you

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Ben Team

Hey, Sarka. Sorry to hear about the challenges with your pup!
Check out our article about puppy play biting — you may find some of the tips provided there helpful.
If that doesn’t help, you’ll likely just need to speak with a private trainer.
Best of luck!

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Diane

Hi my name is Diane, my dog is Peetie and he nips/bites ppl who come in my door. He is a 100 lb pitmix and he doesn’t nip at me………..how can i control that?

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Tayler

Thank you for this. I watch this persons dog all the time but he is a giant puppy whom bites and claws me up. I have scars now and he stops after 10ish min but by that point Im covered in bruises and scratches. I will take notes of this and hope he will stop excite biting me!

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Linc Marie Benkert

my comment not showing . so ask again. Justice, a 80 lb 8 month dobie is being train as my service dog (I have difficulty walking any distance without losing balance) When he visits home from training/board he wants to grab my clothes, tearing. I can’t turn away quick enough. Need a cane now to keep m stable…he is not afraid of it (Thank goodness)

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Linc Marie Benkert

Justice is being trained to be my service dog (Ihave stability issues when walking) he wants to grab my cl.othes when he visits me from traing program. I can’t turn quick enough when he starts this…and I fall. He is 8 month Dobie. 80 lb

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Robin Schilling

I have a dog that just nips at children. the dog is just over 2 years old. great with other dogs, great at the dog park. Great with adults. But I have to keep toddlers away from her even if they are not bothering her sometimes if she find them and nip at their legs or butts

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Vicky

I have the same problem with my dog

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Laurie

2 1/2 Australian Shepard, barking, nipping and hearding small, older dog.

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