Puppy Landsharks, Revisited
Updated: Oct 1
The last few months have been loaded with wonderful new puppy clients. Near universally, learning how to deal with the bitey landshark that's terrorizing the family is one of their most pressing issues.
Playful nipping is a normal puppy behavior. When pups play together, they nip, nibble, and nosh on one another all the time. Our goal is to teach puppies not to do the same with us. Here are some suggestions to help accomplish this goal.
Be sure to schedule in several little AEROBIC EXERCISE sessions each day to burn off excess puppy energy. The timing of these sessions should coincide with the puppy's natural energy schedule.
Some fun games include fetching toys, chasing a flirt pole, playing with another friendly pup, zooming around the fenced yard, or going for walks where pup has plenty of opportunity to sniff and explore.
When taught with appropriate rules, tug games can be a wonderful, substitute-to-nipping activity. Instead of the pup grabbing at a person's body parts or clothes, he can enjoy grabbing and tugging on an approved toy. He still gets to be with you, interacting closely, but in a much pleasanter way.
Tug rules need to be taught, and they include: grabbing only approved item when invited to do so, releasing toy when asked, and never placing teeth on human flesh.
Here's a video showing how to create a self-play opportunity with a tethered tug toy.
MENTAL EXERCISE is also vital, and equally tiring. This includes things like sniffing exploration, treasure hunts, food puzzles, and positive reinforcement training. I can't tell you how many clients mention that their pups take a long nap after a lesson. Learning, even when lots of fun, is tiring!
FOOD PUZZLES refer to any toy that's designed to be stuffed with food. Puppy then has to work on this puzzle to get the food out. There are literally dozens of options, some of which inspire a pup to lie down and lick (good for when you need to help puppy to settle), and others which require more interactive movement (good when he needs to burn off some energy).
SATISFYING MOUTH CANDY refers to a delectable variety of approved chew items to satisfy his need to gnaw. Each pup has its own personal preferences, but generally this category will include a mix of soft toys, rubber toys, nylabone-type chews, bully sticks, beef cheek rolls, No Hides, etc. You'll need to experiment a little to see what your pup enjoys, and for the edible chews, to be sure they don't cause tummy upset.
When you meet all the needs described above, I can say with confidence that you'll make a big dent in the landshark issue. However, nipping will still occur at times, so keep these tips in mind:
Schedule in regular naps. Puppies actually need to sleep a lot, and when over-tired, wild nipping can become a problem.
Be sure puppy is getting the right frequency of feedings, and the right amount of calories. Hangry puppies can be bitey puppies.
Take puppy out for a potty break -- some get wild and nippy when they have to 'go.'
Don't try to pet and cuddle your pup when he's full of energy -- it just invites nipping.
Avoid rough wrestling and handsy interactions which only inspire lots of nipping. Supervise and instruct young kids so they know how to behave with the puppy.
Freeze and exclaim loudly (like, "ouch!") when nipping occurs. If puppy stops, calmly redirect him to a fabulous toy or chew. If he doesn't, walk away. If he follows and continues to munch on you, a brief time-out is warranted.
For sure, some puppies are a lot mouthier than others, and this bitey behavior can sometimes extend all the way into adulthood if left unaddressed. If you're struggling with this issue, getting some professional advice will make a positive difference. I'd love to help, either in person or via Zoom!
Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, along with pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppies. She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120