Play With Your Puppy Without Getting Nipped
Updated: Apr 12
He doesn't mean to hurt you, but he does. Those sharp little puppy teeth can do a lot of damage to hands! Puppies often get over-aroused when playing and this can lead to unwanted nipping and biting. To ensure a good time with Pup, choose activities that focus your puppy’s behavior on something other than your hands and body.
Before you start playing, set up the play area so that you can step away easily if Pup gets out of control. An out-of-control puppy needs a safe space to settle, and you need an easy way to get out of Puppy’s space, so he can learn that you aren’t going to hang out with him if he’s nipping and biting you.
The easiest way to do this is with a gate. When you play make sure there is a gate set up so that you can step over the gate so Puppy cannot reach you if he gets out of control. You can also do this by leading puppy to a calm-down area, but it is not as efficient and clear to him what caused the sudden ending of the game.
As soon as puppy gets nippy, just stand up and step over the gate, turn your back on him and wait until he settles down. Turn back when he is not barking or whining, and you can begin to step back over the gate if he doesn’t jump on you. If he jumps, stop, and go back to the other side. Do not return to his play area until you can do it without him jumping on you. If Pup is really struggling with this, you can help him out by tossing a treat behind him if he is not jumping. This will accomplish two things. First, it will move him out of your way. Second, it will show him that if he doesn’t jump he can earn an easy treat. Use a low value treat like dog food or cheerios for this.
You can resume playing when you are able to get back into the area without him jumping or nipping.
Now for the games!
Puzzles are great for puppies because they can be occupied for long periods of time with them, and it completely takes the focus off you. These are especially useful for families with children. Children are often the targets of nipping and rough play behavior because they squirm and squeal and often react in ways that are rewarding for Puppy. He thinks they are playing, and it is fun for him. He is treating them like his litter mates. The good news is that this type of play creates a strong bond for the dog towards the children, the bad news is that getting nipped and pounced on usually does not make that bond mutual.
Puzzles take the focus off the children while still allowing them to participate in playing with Puppy. Children can set up the puzzles for them and even help Puppy figure out how to get to the treats. Click to see some great Puzzles and Interactive Food Toys to get you started.
Chase or Fetch
This is the most basic other-focused game. Just throw a toy and redirect Pup’s focus from you to a game of chase. Some puppies will instinctively bring the item back, but if your puppy does not, it’s not a problem, just keep tossing things and letting him chase. If he really does not care about chasing toys, throw cheerios and let him chase and eat those. If he brings the item back but does not drop it, just throw something else. Keep the throws close to the ground, rolling items is best. If you can roll it past him really close without him grabbing it mid roll he is really going to be inspired to go after it. Trying to get it past him is a great game for kids to play with puppy. I love squeaky tennis balls because the squeak gets their attention and they can't seem to resist them.
Hide and Seek
Puppies love this one and so do kids. If puppy already knows how to stay, you can use that cue while you play, but if not, just have someone hold him or tether him to something while you hide the item. Many dogs will do this for a toy, but if not, you can hide a small treat like a milk bone when playing this.
Hold pup in place with a Stay cue or a tether.
Hide an item.
Go back to pup and tell him to “Find it!”
Make it extremely easy at first since Pup won’t know what that means. You can put it just a few feet away and in plain sight.
Very gradually increase the difficulty. Pretty soon you will have Pup running all over the place using his nose to search out that item! You will be amazed at how good he is at it!
Combine games as Pup gets better.
All these games work together as well. You can hide a treat dispensing toy so that Pup must find it and then work to get his reward. Then he can bring it back to you for you to fill and hide it again. You can hide puzzle toys too in the same way; just be sure to always supervise Pup with puzzle toys. They are not meant for puppy to have without supervision.