When Does a Puppy Get Out of the Nipping Stage?

Puppy nips can be painful.
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The puppy stage ends much too quickly, taking with it your little guy’s baby-soft belly, his wag-without-cease tail and the blissful scent of puppy breath. You won’t miss everything, though. It’ll be a welcome day when your puppy stops nipping with those little razor-sharp fangs.

Nipping and Mouthing

Because his eyes and ears are tightly closed at birth, your puppy depends on his mouth and his sense of smell to help him find his mother and nurse. Once his eyes open and his tiny teeth come in, mouthing and nipping take on a new aspect. Your puppy learns to interact with his mother and siblings through playful licking and biting. Mouthing behavior is an important part of early socializing, but if you don't discourage it, your puppy will continue to mouth and nip when he's an adult dog.

Establishing Boundaries

It might be cute at eight weeks, but by the time your puppy’s a few months old, it will be downright painful if he's still nipping. Let your puppy know that his nipping hurts by letting out a startling "ouch” as soon as he nips and then turn away. This lets him know that something he did caused your yelp and it ended his playtime. He might not make the association between his nipping and your yelping right away, but if you consistently react the same way, he’ll eventually make the connection.

Behavior Substitution

Around 4 months of age, your puppy will start to lose his milk teeth as his new permanent teeth come in. During this time, he’s more likely to nip and bite because his mouth is tender and uncomfortable. Offer plenty of chew toys to keep his little mouth occupied with something other than your arm, pant leg or shoes. A hollow silicone dog chew filled with peanut butter will give him something tasty to gnaw on while it relieves the tenderness in his mouth.

Counterproductive Play and Punishment

Nipping is a natural extension of rough-and-tumble play, so your puppy is not entirely to blame if you initiate a game of tug-of-war and then he nips you in the heat of competition. Avoid wrestling and games that promote nipping, opting instead for a game of fetch or a brisk walk. Don’t physically punish your puppy if he nips. Spanking him can create more problems by making him distrustful and leery.

Hand-Feeding Tip

Teaching your puppy to take food gently from your hand is one of the best ways to teach him not to nip. Hand-feeding works because your puppy gets an immediate reward for the correct behavior. If your puppy mouths or nips at your hand, say “ouch” and don’t release the food. When he allows you to put the food in his mouth without snapping, praise him and repeat the procedure a couple more times. If you hand-feed a few bits of kibble before every mealtime, your puppy will quickly learn that nipping is wrong.

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