There are many reasons your dog may be nipping at visitors. Dogs are territorial, so when a “non pack member” enters their territory, it may cause anxiety and fear, resulting in nipping. Nipping visitors could also be the result of a playful mood.
When you have a new puppy, nipping can sometimes be considered cute and sweet. It’s fun to let a puppy climb all over you and laugh when he accidentally “bites” your hand. It’s such a soft bite that it doesn’t really bother you.
However, it’s not so cute when your puppy turns into a 6-month-old dog and the bite hurts a little more. Not only is it no longer acceptable, but it could be dangerous to let this behavior continue.
It’s especially embarrassing when your dog won’t stop nipping at your visitors. You want your visitors to have a good time, but if your dog continues to nip at them, it can become frustrating.
So why does your dog nip at visitors? And how can you put an end to this behavior?
Why Dogs Nip at Visitors
Anxious or Fearful
Your dog may react out of fear or anxiety and may not know better. There could be something triggering about your visitors, perhaps even something they’re wearing, like a hat or gloves.
Watch for the telltale signs of anxiety in your pup, such as avoiding eye contact, tucking his tail, or being very skittish.
Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong, it could just be your dog’s temperament or personality.
Previously Abused or Mistreated
When you rescue or adopt a dog, you don’t know what his background is and how he was raised. You might know part of his story, but not all of it.
You can do your best to make him feel loved and comfortable, but it’s going to take time and patience on your part. There are specific things you or your guests might do that could remind him of his past, such as reaching for his head to pet him, making quick or loud movements, and yelling or raising your voice.
Signs that point to past abuse
- Frequently cowers in fear or urinates when nervous
- Aggressive behavior or overly submissive
- Too thin
- Matted fur or fur loss
- Untreated skin or medical conditions
If your dog had any of these signs when you rescued or adopted them, there’s a chance your pup was mistreated in the past.
Try to get as much information as possible about his previous environment from the organization you adopted him through.
The above warning signs paired with your intuition and what you know about your dog’s history are enough to question mistreatment.
Excited or Playful
Dogs (especially puppies) just want to play no matter the time or the place. They don’t exactly understand “personal space” the same way you do.
Your dog may nip at visitors who interact with him to let them know he wants to be their friend. While this isn’t necessarily bad, it can lead to future behaviors of biting too hard or difficulty training it out of him if it goes on too long.
Sick, Hurt, or Not Feeling Well
When you feel really sick, or you’re in pain, odds are the last thing you want is a bunch of people coming over. And for your dog, that usually means a bunch of people touching him.
If your pup is recovering from an ear infection, a cold, or anything else, it might be best to let him have his space for a little while.
You can let your guests know that he’s not feeling well or even put him in a separate room until he feels better.
Defensive or Feels Threatened
There is nothing unusual about a dog feeling threatened or territorial as it is built into its nature. You might get annoyed when your dog pees on every tree or bush you pass on a walk, but this is the same thing; he’s marking his territory.
Even more so, his home is his safe place, and your guest just entered his zone. Have your guests give your dog some treats. Your dog will quickly learn that your guests are friends, not enemies.
Form of Expression
We all express ourselves in different ways. For your pup, that may be a little nip. It doesn’t always mean anything. It could just be his personality coming out. Even though it might not seem like it, your dog is showing his love or affection to you (aw!)
Getting Your Dog to Stop Nipping at Your Visitors
Now that you know some reasons for nipping, hopefully it makes you more empathetic towards your dog when he does it.
Of course it’s frustrating, but when you know that it’s usually not your dog’s fault (unless you’ve trained him for a while and he’s not listening), then you will be more patient and loving towards him.
Nipping should be “nipped in the bud” (pardon the pun), but it’s going to take time. So, where do you start?
Find The Root Cause
There’s always something deeper going on that’s driving the nipping, whether it’s one of the reasons listed above or not. Depending on what you suspect the reason to be, it changes how you approach training.
For example, if your dog is nipping because he was previously abused and is scared, you’d want to start by helping him feel safe. If the reason is that your dog is sick, then you need to give him time to heal.
Nipping is not a one size fits all issue. Sometimes it occurs because your dog hasn’t had proper socialization with other humans. Your dog’s breed might also be more prone to nipping (such as herd dogs).
Puppies are wild and seem impossible to train (much like toddlers). However, getting a puppy means you can teach them how you want to from the very beginning.
Regarding nipping, the earlier you train your pup not to do this, the better. Nipping isn’t dangerous in and of itself, but it can cause serious harm or injury once your dog starts biting.
Training Your Puppy to Stop Nipping
Teach your pup about bite inhibition (moderating the pressure of his bite). Mimic the sounds and reactions of their littermates. When puppies play with their siblings, the other pups squeal or yelp if bitten too hard. Pick a word like “ow” or a quick, high-pitched sound that you can use when your puppy bites too hard so that he’ll let go.
Don’t punish your pup. It’s not his fault – he simply doesn’t know any better. Instead, focus on when he does something good and reward him for it. You could take away his toys or stop playing if he’s nipping your hand instead of chewing on the toys, but don’t yell as it’ll just scare him.
Switch out your hand for a teething toy. This teaches your puppy that it’s okay to chew on the toy but not okay to chew on your hand.
You can always leave the room. Similarly to ending play time, you can simply say “all done” and walk away to let your puppy know that you will not tolerate nipping or biting.
Create a Calm Environment
Even we, as humans, need to take a breather and regroup from time to time. Your dog probably won’t do this for himself, so it’s up to you to do it for him.
Some things you can do are play calming music, use a low soothing voice, or take him for a short walk to get some of his energy out.
When you have people over, have your dog sit calmly and quietly and only let him approach your visitors if he’s seated and able to remain still.
You can invite friends over that can practice with your dog over and over until he gets the hang of it.
“Nip” it in the Bud
I know this is the second time I’ve used that pun, but I can’t help myself! When it comes to dogs nipping at visitors, it’s important to make sure you take care of the problem as soon as possible. Not only is it annoying for the visitors, but it’s embarrassing for you.
Start by figuring out the root cause of the nipping. Once you know the root cause, you can figure out the solution.
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