Enchanted Waterdogs

Home of the Lagotto Romagnolo

Nipping and Biting

Biting & Nipping is NEVER acceptable.....           

It is natural for dogs to use their mouths to "play" and to "communicate". This is one of their only ways of doing either with their littermates. When we bring them into the human/dog pack they have to learn new rules. It is up to us to teach them that their "mouth on people" is NOT acceptable. They don't know any other way, and we have to teach them. You also cannot rough house with the puppy because you are giving mixed signals. First you say, "don't play with the humans like your litter mates" and then you turn around and play with them like dogs, and encourage them to bite and growl (I hate this by the way). Do not give them mixed signals or they will never learn the appropriate way of behaving. I have had people actually come to my house and do that with the puppies. It is extremely upsetting. While you may think it is cute to make a little puppy mad, it is not. If you take a puppy home and start doing this, that puppy will soon learn not to trust you, and will develop differently than if the puppy was properly trained. Kids are bad about this, so it is imperative that you do not allow the, to interact with the puppy in this way. 

All pups, of all breeds, are naturally mouthy. Older dogs, of all breeds, who have never been taught that different rules apply with the human/dog pack will remain mouthy. How your dog behaves it entirely up to you. 

When they are pups, the dogs have razor sharp teeth that can break the skin with only minor contact. They are still playing, but people will often be mad if this happens, and accuse the pup of being aggressive. 


When they get older, if this initial predisposition has not been modified, these same innocent incidents can become actual bites, but with no more malicious intent than as puppies.

The problem is OUR perception, at this stage, that the dog is BITING. The reality is that they are just bigger & stronger. Of course, the repercussions to us are worse.  This is why we must deal with the mouthiness immediately. We start working on it here, and curb what we can. For that reason, many never do it. 

Puppies learn "bite inhibition" from their mom & littermates. Watch puppies play with each other or their mom, really rough and tumble, then, suddenly one puppy squeals/yelps and there is a skirmish. Or, mom will roll the pup over and correct them.

The pups are learning what is too much in the mouthy play. This is how they learn "bite inhibition", and the amount of mouth pressure that can be used without causing pain or harm.

A puppy will learn "bite inhibition" from their mom and littermates from the 6th through the 8th week, which is imperative to their development.  However, they still only know to use their mouth to play and communicate, so it is up to us to teach and reinforce that their mouths on people, is not acceptable.  Consider that the pups' mouths are like their hands. Using their mouths is all they know by the nature of being a dog.

The pups seem to be obsessed with our hands.


The reason is our hands are the major way we interact with them. We use our hands to feed them,  give them treats,  pet them,  brush them, comfort them, etc. Therefore, our hands become one of the most constant & important interactions we have with the pups. They use their communicator (mouths) to interact with our communicator (hands). Therefore, it is up to us to help teach them the appropriate manner to play with our hands.

There are a few ways to deal with this but best way to do this is to emulate the littermates and mom.

This means any time the pup/dog mouthes on you must YELP, as if in pain!  The pup/dog will startle, eyes as big as half dollars. At this point, tell them calmly, but firmly

NO BITES (stern lower voice mimicking a growl), then "Good Puppy" (soft sweet soothing tone)

Initially, this will have no meaning to the pup/dog. They will almost immediately resume playing in the same manner they were playing previously. It will take numerous repetitions over several sessions before they connect your "pain yelp", and NO BITES with THEIR MOUTHS. You must be 100% at this, meaning you cannot let any instance of their mouth on you pass without reacting to it as described.

If you do, you will only create confusion for the dog, and they will likely never understand that it is their mouth on you that is causing this reaction (pain yelp) from you.  Be consistent.

Know that the "yelping/pain" sound you make is intended to make a point (emphasis), to teach bite inhibition & appropriate mouth contact.

IF you overdo the yelping, if it occurs almost constantly when interacting with your pup...they will become "desensitized" to the sound. The "yelp" will cease to have any effect.

To avoid this, you try being more careful when playing. Help them to make contact with the toy instead of your hands. 

Consider an infant. When you put your hand in front of their face, they will reach for your hand. But, their hand/eye coordination is not well developed. Consequently, they will miss your hand, grab your hair, your tie, your shirt, your necklace or earrings, etc. The same holds true for the pups. If you do not help them, when they are playing with you, and a toy, they will invariably get your hand instead. It is up to you to help the pup "hit their mark", the toy. You are far more coordinated than they are. Help them make contact with the proper item. This will minimize the frequency of their contact with your hands & this will minimize the frequency of your need to do the "yelp". Do not allow the puppies to mouth on you when they are little even if it doesn't hurt. That gives mixed signals. I am still guilty of it occasionally, with a teething pup. Their gums hurt, and they will chew on your fingers. It doesn't hurt so there isn't an immediate realization that you are doing something incorrectly. 

Also, we need to consider the pups' obsession with our feet. When you are walking, your hands are out of reach. They can jump up to make contact with your hands, which they will do. However, they will also be drawn to your feet. Your feet are right at their level and they are in motion. The feet has to be the absolute best toy ever invented for the pups. Realize that your feet are in motion, the pup is in motion and may be constantly lunging to catch this great toy. When they do this, their pup mouths & razor sharp puppy teeth will make contact with your ankles. They will snag their teeth on your pants legs, socks, & shoelaces. They are not trying to bite, they are playing with the greatest dog toy ever invented (your feet)

Understand that pups/dogs will make mouth contact in almost any scenario, but especially in the excitement & stimulation of playing. They will go for the "toy" and accidentally, get your hand or feet/ankles. Often times with pups or even older dogs that supposedly bite a family member, what actually occurred is that the pup/dog went for the toy, you zigged/they zagged and, contact! What you do and how you do it are important.

Also, consider that your moving hand in play sessions and your feet moving when walking can actually excite the pup/dog, and, they will go for the moving toy/critter, your hands or feet. It is not biting, but it must be dealt with. They have to understand what is expected of them.

Again, I must stress that a pup using their mouth is absolutely normal. The only way they will know different is if YOU teach them the difference.

They will learn quickly, but you must be consistent.

It is crucial to deal with mouthiness IMMEDIATELY! The YELP process will work for puppies & older dogs. 

Have patience! The yelping along with a swift "NO BITES" generally does the trick, but they must not be encouraged to have bad behavior.

DO NOT "HIT" THE DOG for doing what is normal to them. Do NOT slap out at them or kick out at them!! This will and can result in your dog becoming extremely hand shy or fearful & distrusting of people.

Instead, TEACH them, give them the chance to LEARN what is and is not acceptable in their human/dog pack. Dogs naturally learn how to survive with a "dog pack"

WE place them in a human/dog pack where most of their instinctual "rules of nature & survival" are different, so we must teach them what we want. It is an innate part of them to want to learn how to exist with their PACK.


  • Do not let even one instance of their "mouth on you" pass without explaining this is NOT acceptable. 
  • The human/dog pack rules are often contrary to the natural instincts of the dogs. To their credit, the dogs will adapt to your rules, but only, IF YOU take the time teach your dog. 

Above all be consistent, be understanding, be patient, and be fair. The dogs want to please us. Give the dogs the chance to learn what pleases you and what is expected of them. You will be doing your dog & yourself an enormous service.