How to Stop a Dog From Nipping

While it can be playful, nipping in dogs is a behaviour that can sometimes escalate or be a sign of underlying issues. Whether your dog is nipping other dogs, visitors or you, it’s a behaviour many dog guardians struggle with. We’ll explore the differences between nipping and biting, the reasons behind this behaviour, and modern, ethical strategies to address it.

What is the Difference Between a Dog Nipping and Biting?

Nipping and biting, though similar, are distinct behaviours. Nipping can be a gentle, warning-like action, often seen in playful exchanges. Quick, light nipping is meant without the intention of causing harm.

In contrast, biting is an escalation of body language involving deeper, potentially harmful use of a dog’s teeth on skin. Understanding this difference is crucial in accurately identifying and addressing your dog’s behaviour.

Reasons Behind Nipping in Dogs

Nipping in dogs can occur for many reasons and take several forms. Some dogs nip other dogs while interacting with them, while other pups might nip visitors when they come into their home. Dogs may also nip their guardians as a way of communicating with them. The reasons behind these different forms of nipping behaviour are as follows.

Why Do Some Dogs Nip Other Dogs?

Playful behaviour: Young dogs often nip during play as part of their learning process.

Herding Instinct: Some breeds naturally nip as a herding technique.

Overstimulation or Fear: In stressful or overwhelming situations, dogs may nip to signal discomfort or their need for space.

Why is My Dog Nipping at Visitors?

When dogs nip at visitors, it can indicate either excitement or distress. It’s crucial to observe your dog’s body language. Is their body loose and wiggly, appearing playful, or are they stiff, cautious and showing other signs of anxiety or fear? This understanding will guide your response to modify this behaviour.

What Does it Mean if a Dog is Nipping You?

As well as nipping other dogs and visitors, dogs might sometimes nip their guardians. This behaviour has a few reasons, and it can mean different things. These include:

Nipping as Communication

If a dog nips you, it’s often a form of communication. They might be seeking attention, expressing discomfort, or trying to play. Pay attention to the context in which your dog nips you and other signals to interpret this behaviour accurately. Dogs only have so many ways of communicating with us; sometimes, they must use their mouths.

Nipping for Attention

Dogs may nip to get your attention. This behaviour suggests they lack physical exercise, mental stimulation, or social interaction. Addressing these needs often reduces attention-seeking behaviours like nipping.

Sudden Onset of Nipping

If your dog starts nipping “out of the blue”, it’s vital to investigate the cause. Environmental changes, health issues, or stress can trigger this behaviour. A thorough assessment of recent changes and a veterinary check-up can help pinpoint the cause. If you are unsure, it is best to contact a qualified behaviourist to help you understand why your dog is using this communication method.

Strategies to Stop Nipping in Dogs

You can take several approaches to modify this behaviour in your dog. The approaches below are ethical and effective; with time, patience and consistency, you can help stop your dog from nipping.

Positive Reinforcement

When your dog chooses other ways to communicate with you other than nipping, immediately respond, making a fuss over their behaviour to reward them.

Manage the Behaviour

If you know that your dog nips in specific situations, aim to keep your dog out of these situations or leave whenever possible.

Positive Exposure

For dogs who nip when they experience anxiety, slowly and gently introduce your dog to different environments and people to build confidence.


Ensure you meet your dog’s innate need for appropriate physical and mental stimulation. Make sure they are well-exercised and have plenty of playtime. This can reduce boredom and stress, making them less likely to nip.

Meet Breed-specific Needs

Some dogs, such as herding breeds, are bred to nip. Instead of trying to stop them from performing this instinctive behaviour, provide them with an outlet for the behaviour that is constructive and safe, such as play with a flirt pole or a herding ball.

Professional Help

If nipping persists or escalates, consult a behaviourist for personalised guidance. If you would like to work with me, visit my website here.

Wrapping Up

Understanding and addressing dog nipping requires patience, consistency, and compassion. Recognising the reasons behind this behaviour and applying modern, ethical training methods can foster a healthier, happier relationship with your furry friend. Remember, every dog is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Stay observant, responsive, and adaptive to your dog’s needs for the best results.

Struggling with your dog’s behaviour? Discover how Renee can elevate your wisdom and transform your relationship by visiting

Renee Rhoades MSc, dog behaviour expert

About Renee Rhoades, MSc

Renee Rhoades, MSc, is a distinguished authority in canine behaviour and welfare, recognised for her unwavering commitment to improving the lives of both dogs and humans. The founder of R+Dogs, a virtual dog behaviour consultancy, Renee offers cutting-edge private coaching and online courses to dog guardians worldwide. Renee specialises in transforming fearful and high-energy dogs, addressing aggression, reactivity, generalised anxiety and hyperactivity.

Beyond client-focused coaching, Renee is also the co-host of DogLogical, a podcast dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of our dogs. In addition, she extends her expertise by mentoring fellow dog professionals, contributing to the growth and development of the industry.

Struggling with your dog’s behaviour? Discover how Renee can elevate your wisdom and transform your relationship by visiting