Puppy Nipping, Puppy Play

Mindless play, and dog nips (bites)

It's not uncommon for me to talk to clients about "mindless play" when it comes to dogs, or when children interact with dogs--even puppies. Many times, dogs get riled up when they chase things that move fast (or move fast away from them), make high-pitched/squeaky sounds, or a combination of the two. Children LOVE to run around and giggle, but unfortunately, that sends the wrong message to the dog.

Many times we’ll see children running in the house or yard, arms flailing around, squealing... around and away from my puppy. Of course it's all out of play, but we need to teach children that what they sees as fun and playful is sending the wrong message to our puppy. With that said, all parents who own dogs need to keep these two statements in mind:

Puppies don't play, they practice
Dogs are learning ALL the time.

So, what kind of information are we (or our children) providing to the dog when they are running around, enticing the dog to get to a higher state of excitement? Most of the time, the dog learns that behaving that way (running, nipping, barking)--especially towards kids is perfectly fine. Then when they are an adolescent/adult (or large enough to really cause harm/injury), then it's "suddenly" not okay. I say "suddenly" because that's the mindset your dog will most likely have. They've grown up through several developmental life stages/puppyhood thinking a certain behavior or reaction to a situation is perfectly okay, then all of a sudden, it's not. They don't realize it's because of their size.

Don't have your children play with your dog mindlessly. There are many different activities that kids and dogs can do together (while being supervised) that teaches something productive and positive. If the kids want to do something more energetic, then turn the running around into a game of teaching the dog to come to you and sit for a reward--instead of just running around with no goal. Have your kids teach the dog to roll over, or shake, or go find some hidden treats! Or even play hide and seek, but when the dog finds the kids, he/she sits politely rather than jumping or barking.

Over arousal with dogs most definitely can lead into accidental biting. With children having such sensitive skin, the injuries can be much worse than if a nip or small bite were to happen to an adult. Keep things controlled, but still learn to have fun while doing so!