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Friday, 18 November 2011

Nip it in the bud

My son and his wife have a six-month-old Labrador-Collie cross called). (Mother Labrador, father Collie, farm dog). She is quite well behaved on the whole, affectionate and seems intelligent. She has just completed a six-week course of dog training, which she got through okay and came first in a dog competition for Best Trick, jumping through a hoop.

The one problem is that she will jump up at people, gets excited and is inclined to ‘nip’. It’s her way of greeting, not aggressive, but whereas this may be acceptable from a small puppy, it will not be so as she gets older and is now getting her second teeth! And there is the chance that she may jump at a small child or elderly person.

I myself have had three dogs without any problems but must admit I have never trained a small puppy. They were rescued and older.

She has not yet been spayed, I know as they get older, they tend to calm down. She gets on well with other dogs and is okay with children.

What do you suggest? Further training classes? I think she would be brilliant at agility, she has so much energy. We all want to get the best from our dogs, for them to have a happy fulfilled life, which is all too short, and I’d much rather people said, “what a lovely well behaved dog!”

Your comments please.

Valerie Denton, Sanderstead, Surrey


  1. This behaviour is not acceptable and is an indication of poor or interrupted socialisation and may mean removal from the litter mother too early. Working dogs nip to control livestock (this may be innate/learned behaviour the dog has inherited or experienced.

    It's not to do with training as such although Clicker and Disc training can help.

    A good behaviour specialist will sort it out.

  2. I would suggest that your son finds a good training school and continues the training. Training dogs should never end and the activity should never feel like a tedious chore.
    A good training club will cover useful exercises such as preventing 'jumping up' as well as a low impact introduction to agility. Learning a solid sit can stop the behaviour because, although may sound obvious, a dog can not jump when sitting and the dog will not get quite as excited and nip without jumping and leaping about.
    In a situation like this it is worth addressing as soon as possible, before it becomes a rewarding habit for her and before her puppy jaws become fully developed adult jaws.

  3. Unlike Dr David Sands, I would advise EVERYONE to stay away from "training discs" as these are aversive and will cause bigger problems in the long run.

    Nipping is quite a common puppy thing, they do not yet know the strength of their jaws or the sharpness of their teeth; an easy way to deal with it - and to teach the puppy bite inhibition in the process - is for *everyone* to yelp loudly when nipped by the puppy, and look or turn away. This is one of the few behaviours that puppies and dogs do to each other that they understand when a human does it. At first you should only yelp for the harder nips, but as time progresses, and the puppy understands what's wanted of her, you can yelp for the softer and softer bites; until she understands that human skin is really delicate and we shouldn't be putting our teeth on it unless we're really, really gentle.

    And yes, please do continue training! Training is fun, and as long your son & daughter-in-law are using a trainer who uses kind and fair methods, and not aversive methods, the puppy stands to be able to learn a lot and maybe even gain a few awards along the way!

  4. A very common problem. I agree, continuing with a good training school that uses reward-based training should help this problem.

    My basic advice is two-fold. Firstly, don't let the dog loose around strangers until the training is reliable enough to make this behaviour unlikely around them. Second, train "meet & greet". Dog sits as person approaches. If dog gets up, person backs off while owner reasserts sit. Keep practising till person can approach and pet dog without dog jumping up. Treats from the owner are helpful here, as are repeated sit commands as the pup will quickly forget in its excitement that it's meant to be in a sit! Practise with friends and family first as strangers will actually undermine your training by saying that they don't mind and going in to pet whatever the dog is doing!

    Hope this helps.

    Isabel Towers