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Positive Dog Parenting

by Rolan Tripp, DVM and Susan Tripp, MS/P

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What is normal?


All dogs bite. Nipping and play biting are normal canine communication. Nipping starts when puppies explore the world with their mouths and teeth. However, nips may also result from fear. Some puppies nip during play or play solicitation (asking for play by nipping).


Never hit your dog or cause fear or pain during play sessions to prevent your dog learning to bite from fear or anger.


Puppies learn early how to fight, play and escape danger. By just a few months of age, puppies begin to practice rough play with each other. In nature, puppies play in order to exercise and build muscle, nervous system, and respiratory organs. Therefore, the goal is to teach appropriate play not to stop play altogether.


A angry or scared dog may bite and then run to hide. An angry or highly aroused dog may bite continuously until the human retreats.


Why is it important to teach gentle play behaviors?


Many dog bites go unreported. People tend to forget that domestic dogs are animals that need instruction on how to be gentle with humans.

Allowing a puppy to play bite or scratch your hands or legs may lead to aggressive adult dog play.

Dog Play Body Language

Dogs use a variety of body language signals to display playfulness. An individual dog may show any combination of these play signals:

  • Play Bow - Slapping both front legs on the ground with the rump up in the air.

  • Exaggerated Looking Away - Focusing on you while pretending to look away

  • Pawing With Front Paw - This is the solicitation gesture; roughly means "Please."

  • Prancing ZIG And Zag Leaps - Lots of energy and joy.

  • Chase Behavior - Canine equivalent of starting a tag game

  • Play Facial Expression - Distinct once you start looking for it

  • Frequent Role Reversal - Pushy dogs acting submissive to signal non-threatening play

Your dog needs daily interactive play sessions for healthy physical and mental development and aging.

What to do

Play with your adult dog daily for at least 15 minutes to allow natural behaviors, healthy exercise and quality time with you. Keep play interesting by varying the game and toy every few minutes. Toss in an occasional treat to make the game more fun. Your goal is a tired, panting dog.

  • Do not accidentally teach your dog that nipping is an effective way to start play

  • Do not allow rough play or play without rules.
  • Stop play if it escalates to canine teeth touching human skin. Turn your back on your dog for the count of 10. Then, crouch and extend a hand for a gentle make-up sniff. Praise gentle behavior.
  • Not all toys are meant to be chewed!  Plush toys are meant to be tossed, pounced and cuddled.
  • Try to keep 3 or 4 safe toys out and available at all times.  Rotate these toys to keep them more interesting to the dog. Reserve some toys for interactive play only.

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