Dealing with a snappy puppy

Dealing with a snappy puppy

While even the largest of puppies cannot really inflict serious damage with their teeth until they are older, puppy teeth are sharp and can deliver a nasty nip if they decide to snap at you! However, the main issue with a puppy that is prone to being snappy is that as they grow up, they are likely to retain and amplify this trait and potentially become dangerous, or at least short tempered and hard to trust.

Curbing puppy snappiness while they are still young and most amenable to learning and behavioural modification is the best way to ensure that you are not storing up problems for yourself along the line, and in this article, we will look at how to do this. Read on to learn more.

Bite inhibition

Bite inhibition is the name given to the natural learning process that all puppies go through when learning to control what they do with their teeth! When they are very young, they are unable to make the connection between biting, mouthing and nipping and the pain that this produces, a skill that they develop with time. The feedback that they get when they nip at their dam, littermates and human handlers in the form of a yelp tells them that they need to curb their teeth, while also learning from being nipped by the other puppies that nipping causes pain.

This is a natural part of the learning process all young dogs go through, and not indicative of potentially aggressive or snappy tendencies.


Puppies explore the world with their mouths, particularly when they are very little, and they like grasping and holding things with their teeth, chewing, and sometimes nibbling or nipping.

This is the stage where it is important for you to help your pup to learn their bite inhibition, by yelping or saying “no!” when they catch hold of you. This should stop mouthing, nipping and snapping early on if you are consistent with it.

Puppies and play

Your puppy needs to learn to view your hands as the givers of rewards; treats, petting and cuddles, and not rough play and biting! Don’t use your hands to encourage your puppy to grab them or wrestle with you, and if you want to play games like tug of war with your puppy, use a rope or other toy and not your hands!

If your pup chews their way up the rope or nips at your hands to try to win the game, take the play down a notch and tell them “no.”

Offering positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement teaches puppies about boundaries and impulse control without scaring them or needlessly exposing them to negative experiences. When your puppy makes contact or advances on you in a good way, without snapping or mouthing (such as if they sniff at you or lick you) reward them with a treat or lots of praise. Ignore them and turn away from them if they then begin to get too busy with their teeth and mouth!

When your puppy explores the world and faces new experiences within it, they will naturally run into stimulus that may at times cause them fear, anxiety or uncertainty, all emotions that can potentially lead to snapping. When your puppy is faced with something that is no genuine threat to them but that they have an issue with, ignore fearful or defensively aggressive behaviour, but reward them strongly for keeping going, and tackling the issue without the use of teeth.

This will, in time, give your puppy the skills and confidence to view new things with interest and excitement rather than regular trepidation and potential aggression.

Puppies and aggression

There are various different motivations behind aggressive behaviour in the dog or puppy, including a bid for dominance, or fear, threat and protective instincts.

Puppies very rarely exhibit dominant aggression, even if they are likely to when they are older, as when your pup is small, everyone else (human and canine) is bigger and older than them, and falls above them within the pack structure. However, in rare cases, puppies may exhibit signs of aggression and snappiness, particularly if they are poorly socialised or have witnessed this behaviour in their dam or the other dogs that they spend a lot of time around.

If this seems like your pup, or your pup simply doesn’t pick up the appropriate cues from their littermates and handlers about when it is time to stop, you may need to consult a canine behaviourist who can assess your dog and help you to get to the root of the problem.

Dealing with the issue as early as possible and before this behaviour becomes fixed in the mind of your pup is infinitely preferable to trying to untangle a potentially dangerous, snappy behavioural mess further down the line.



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