How to Stop Your Dog From Nipping Strangers

by Susan Paretts
A nervous dog is more likely to nip.

A nervous dog is more likely to nip.

Dog image by Westy;] from Fotolia.com

For improperly socialized dogs, aggressive behaviors can be a common problem, especially toward strangers. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as many as 60 to 70 percent of dogs show signs of aggression towards unfamiliar people, including barking or generally behaving in an unfriendly manner. Unfortunately, in some dogs this aggression can lead to nipping at strangers, a potentially serious situation. To prevent your dog from injuring someone else, take steps to keep him away from strangers or train your dog not to nip at them at all with positive, reward-based training techniques.

Step 1

Bring your dog to a veterinarian if his nipping behavior is a recent occurrence or if touching some parts of his body elicits nipping behavior; certain diseases cause irritability or aggression in dogs. Your dog could be suffering from an underlying medical condition such as cognitive dysfunction, hyperthyroidism or have an injury that is causing him to nip at strangers.

Step 2

Confine your dog or keep him away from strangers during situations that typically cause him to nip at them. Some dogs nip at strangers only while they're eating or being groomed, for example. If this is the case, anticipate the triggering event particular to your dog and avoid putting him in situations with strangers during these times. You can also put the dog on a leash during these times to control him and keep him from nipping at other people.

Step 3

Get a friend who your dog doesn't know to help you discourage your dog's nipping behavior. Have her come over and spend time with your dog as a practice "stranger." If the dog attempts to nip her, have her say "ouch" immediately in a loud voice and walk away, ignoring him for 10 to 15 minutes, stopping any pleasant play behavior. Ignore your dog as well after he attempts to nip your friend, to send the message that nipping results in something unpleasant. Repeat this process with your friend every few days over the period of several weeks.

Step 4

Expose your dog to a variety of strangers while he's on a leash. Keep him at a distance from the strangers, giving him praise and treats while he's calm in their presence, but not close enough for them to touch him or for him to nip them. Continue brief sessions of this exposure for 10 to 15 minutes at a time until your dog appears more comfortable in the presence of strangers. Move closer each time. At any point, if the dog attempts to nip at a stranger, immediately pull back on his leash to prevent him from making contact with the stranger, and ignore him for 3 seconds. If he remains calm after the initial attempt at nipping, click and treat him. Dogs with fear aggression will sometimes lash out at strangers because these situations scare him; the idea is to get him to associate strangers with something positive, such as a food reward or play.

Step 5

Place a canine head halter on your dog when you walk him. This will give you increased control over him and prevent him from nipping strangers while you are outside. Get him used to the halter by having him wear it for a few minutes at a time, praising him and treating him with it on until he can wear it for a longer period with no signs of discomfort.

Items You Will Need

  • Leash
  • Dog treats
  • Dog clicker
  • Canine head halter

Tips

  • At a young age, starting at 7 weeks old, expose your dog to a variety of strangers and other dogs to prevent nipping later in life. Training a dog not to nip at a younger age is potentially less dangerous because of the dog's small size; he is unable to inflict severe injury during this time.
  • A dog raised with littermates and a mother dog will be taught polite behaviors and learn that nipping feels unpleasant by his interactions. Encourage playful interactions in puppies under 8 weeks of age by providing the litter with toys to engage their attention and drive to play. Once puppies begin to teethe, discourage mouthing behaviors if they mouth or nip at you during play. Substitute chew toys to provide a way for them to safely engage in gnawing.
  • Spay or neuter your dog to decrease his aggressive tendencies such as nipping.
  • Speak with your veterinarian about your dog's nipping, as she may be able to prescribe a medication to calm your dog, decreasing his aggressive behaviors and making him more open to anti-aggression training.

Warnings

  • Negative attention and abuse in the form of yelling, attempting to hit or hitting your dog as a reaction to his nipping not only reinforces this behavior, but will also increase your dog's level of aggression, possibly causing him to bite rather than nip.
  • Keep a dog that nips strangers away from children, even on a leash, to prevent injury to them.

Photo Credits

About the Author

Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.