I’ve been getting a lot of desperate calls from owners with puppies who are relentlessly nipping and biting. They tell me they’ve tried everything – redirection with a toy [they say it doesn’t work, or it only works sometimes], stopping play by yelping and moving away [they say that only seems to escalate the behavior], giving treats when the puppy stops biting [they say that only works until the treat is eaten], spraying water in the puppy’s face [they say it doesn’t work well, that puppy just licks at the water]. I ask them if they’ve tried crating their puppy for a few minutes and ignoring it completely. Their response is momentary, total silence.
If you have a puppy that’s relentlessly nipping and biting despite all your efforts to make it stop, use your crate.
Most dogs absolutely hate to be away from their people. It’s the worst thing in the world to them. So, putting them in their crate for 3 to 5 minutes and then completely ignoring them forces them to think about why that’s happening.
Before I explain what to do, ask yourself this: Is your puppy’s mouth hurting from cutting teeth? Are his/her gums really swollen? If the answer is yes, they will bite harder and more often. Their mouth is hurting, and they’re trying to get relief. Give them something hard to bite or chew on that isn’t bland or boring. A frozen cloth works wonders, as it not only gives them something to chew on, but the cold helps with swelling and eases pain. If the answer is no, they’re not teething, read on.
When your puppy gets too excited and starts biting, stop the play, say “no biting!” firmly but calmly, and get up and walk away. If the puppy follows and starts biting at your feet, ankles, legs, etc, say “no biting!” calmly but firmly, and put them in their crate – calmly. Leave them completely alone for 3 to 5 minutes. Don’t even so much as look at them. When you let them out, do it calmly – and don’t talk to them. Just act like nothing is going on, and carry on with your day or evening. If puppy wants to play, go ahead and play – but if he or she bites again, repeat the whole time-out again. Your dog will soon connect the dots between their behaviour and their time-out, and you’ll be able to more easily redirect their mouth to an appropriate chew toy.
There is nothing wrong with using your crate in this way. You are in no way harming or traumatizing your dog by doing this. What you are doing is, you’re teaching your puppy that there are rules to play that must be followed, and violating those rules earns them a consequence. As I said, the puppy will eventually connect the dots between the action and consequence, and the behaviour will stop.