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herding dog nipping

How To Stop a Herding Dog From Nipping

For herding dogs, nipping is part of their nature. Here’s how to stop herding dogs from nipping you and others.

Has your herding dog started nipping, and you don’t know how to stop it? Or perhaps this is an old issue and now is the time to stop it, but you don’t know how? Or maybe you are about to get a herding dog and want to know how to avoid this behavior? Let’s look at how to stop a herding dog from nipping.

There are several ways you can stop a herding dog from nipping. These include keeping a closer eye on them, socializing them more, and redirecting them with alternatives such as chew toys. Remember, however, that consistency is key and it’ll take some time and effort to alter this behavior.

Almost all dogs, particularly when they are puppies, will go through phases of nipping. While this is normal and not usually a serious condition, it should be stopped so it doesn’t become a lifelong habit.

But herding dogs are particularly nippy, as this behavior is bred into them as part of their work. Let’s look at what you can do to stop a herding dog from nipping.

What is a herding dog?

A herding dog is one of several breeds that have been used to drive, protect, and maintain herds. There are over 30 breeds recognized as herding dogs including, Border Collie, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Norwegian Buhund, Spanish Water Dog, Icelandic Sheepdog, and German Shepherd.

What are the attributes of a herding dog?

These dogs are loyal and intelligent. They can think independently and make decisions without the farmer or rancher present, protecting the livestock. These dogs have been trained to work alone. They will also nip when necessary to keep the animals together, which can be an issue in domestic settings.

What is nipping?

Nipping usually happens when your dog is trying to be part of the pack and is common when playing with children. It’s usual puppy behavior but can be more common in these herding breeds. It will look like biting but isn’t too painful as the dog doesn’t intend to break the skin.

Why do they bite our ankles and feet?

Nipping normally is directed at our ankles and feet in an effort to “herd” you like they would their livestock. This can usually happen when people are running around or playing vigorously. It is your herding dog’s instinct to do this.

How To Stop A Herding Dog From Nipping 

Nipping can occur in a number of situations. How we stop it from happening can vary from dog to dog depending on the trigger.

Pease note that this is just general advice involving basic training practices. If you are struggling to stop your herding dog from nipping or are encountering additional behavioral issues, it’s best to consult a behavioral specialist for more information. Not all dogs will respond to the advice given here.

Step 1: Observe Your Dog 

When addressing your dog’s nipping problem, you will first want to observe them and their interactions. Try to identify what triggers them and causes them to start nipping. Often, it is something that will activate their herding instinct. 

Are there people running? Are there children playing or running? Is it one particular person? Is it other animals or pets? Do cars or bikes cause it?

Look not only at what causes the herding but for any signs that suggest it’s about to happen. This could be your dog crouching, having an intense stare, or dropping its head. Stalking is another sign that they are going to start herding too. 

Once you have established the triggers, you can work to intervene and correct the behavior. Make a note of the triggers and any behavioral changes to help you remember what causes the herding. 

Step 2: Correct The Behavior

Now that we have established the triggers, you can anticipate the behavior and intervene to try to alter or avoid the behavior. There are a few different ways you can do this.

Remember, they might not work for everyone; it can be a case of trial and error. Just be sure that you are consistent with any training methods you adopt. 

Bite Inhibition 

Puppies usually initially learn bite inhibition from their mother and littermates. When puppies bite too hard, their siblings will yelp, or their mother will walk away from them. Through trial and error, they learn just what level of biting or nipping is acceptable. 

When puppies, you can yelp when your dog has a finger or toe in their mouth to show you don’t like it. This works best with puppies in their first few months. Alternatively, you can stop playing with your dog when they nip and ignore them for a short period — roughly 20-30 seconds. The dog should learn that biting and mouthing does not bring positive consequences.

Offer Substitutes 

Another very good option is to redirect your dog’s attention with a toy or chew instead. This works best with repetition and not only can help curb nipping, but can help with their chewing on inappropriate objects like shoes, etc.

As soon as they start to nip you or eye up your sofa to chew, offer them a chew or one of their toys. By substituting a toy for your finger or a shoe, over time they will learn that it is okay to chew the toy but not you or other inappropriate objects. 

This method does takes a lot of repetition and patience, but if you are willing to do the work, your dog’s behavior will change.

Socialize Them 

Socializing your dog with other dogs is a fantastic way to help curb this behavior (not to mention it’s essential for them to become a well-adjusted dog). Be sure that your puppy has been properly vaccinated before letting them mingle with strange dogs.

You can start as young as 16 weeks by taking your puppy to dog parks or on playdates. Allowing them to socialize with others can help them learn the right behaviors and stop nipping. 

If you are an anxious dog owner, start by introducing them to well-behaved dogs that you know or by taking them to your friend’s or families’ homes to introduce them to dogs you know and trust. 

Impulse Control 

A dog’s impulse control should be worked on early in their development and frequently. Teaching your dog basic obedience commands like stay, leave it, and wait are vital to helping with a puppy’s impulse control and help with their nipping too.

Not only will a dog trained in basic obedience be generally better behaved, but you will have a command to give them for an alternative behavior when they start nipping.

As soon as you sense that your dog is about to nip, you can give them a “sit”, “down”, or “heel” command and they will comply with that instead of nipping. Much like substituting a toy for nipping, you are redirecting the dog to an acceptable behavior.

You can also call your dog when they are about to nip, and then reward them with a treat for coming when called. This is a positive reinforcement training technique that will eventually teach the dog that choosing not to nip results in a reward.

Because herding dogs have strong impulses, teaching them to not succumb to them can be difficult. But herding dogs are generally very trainable and will enjoy learning the alternative behavior.

Start out in easy situations and work your way up to more difficult ones. For instance, if your herding dog is triggered to nip when they are around running children, don’t start out at a public park with dozens of kids playing soccer when trying to teach them not to. Maybe find a friend with one child who is walking, and start there.

As your dog gets better with easy situations, gradually put them in more triggering situations so they can improve. Be sure you allow plenty of time and different environments where you can work on your dog’s impulse control. Don’t be discouraged. Eventually your dog will discover the benefits of not nipping.

Don’t Forget The Love

Remember that training is taxing on you and your dog. You aren’t going to get anywhere without positivity and plenty of love for your dog.

Be sure to work at their pace and remember the treats when they have behaved correctly. The more love and affection you show your dog, the more likely they will obey you, making training that bit easier! 

Don’t make it worse!

Your reaction to their behavior is vital and will determine whether you can nip the nipping in the bud or not. You will want to avoid running and shouting when your dog behaves like this.

If you are running or yelling, your dog may think it’s a game and carry on. This behavior makes it even harder to get your dog to stop nipping and can leave you with even bigger behavioral problems.

Enrichment opportunities

As we mentioned earlier, distractions are key, and can work to redirect their attention. But you will also want to consider some enrichment opportunities that can distract your dog, but also keep them stimulated and encourage cognitive development.

If you spend a lot of time out of the house, then your dog could be nipping as they are bored and lonely. Here you will want to consider a dog sitter or have a family member or friend pop in to keep the dog company. Remember, these dogs are social animals and do not do well on their own.

There are plenty of enrichment activities you can do with your herding dog that isn’t that different from the suggestions we mentioned earlier and can be used to control your dog’s nipping too. You can try some of the following:

  • Keep your dog’s favorite toy in your pocket. When they start to nip, stop moving. Pull the toy out and wave it to distract them until they latch onto it.
  • Take a large and durable hanging toy and attach it to a tree. Your dog will love playing with it outside. But be sure that this is supervised at all times.
  • When outside or at an enclosure, bring a large ball for your dog to roll or chase. Yoga balls or exercise balls are a great option and your dog can herd this around a green space for plenty of enrichment!

It’s worth setting up an enrichment schedule for your dog too. You can have a different activity every day, whether it’s food, environmental, or toy enrichment to help distract them from nipping and hone other skills like their recall. When taking on any new activities be sure that your dog is supervised at all times and any potential hazards are removed.

You can use the distractions we suggested earlier too and incorporate them into this plan such as a visit to the dog park one day, puzzle toys filled with food another day, and rubber toys the next to keep them busy. With just a little imagination, you can keep your dog entertained for hours and should help to curb the nipping.

Final Thoughts 

Stopping a herding dog from nipping is not an overnight process. Nipping is part of how your dog would behave in its natural herding environment; they don’t know that it is wrong. So have some patience, and use these techniques to minimize that behavior.

By identifying their triggers for nipping, you can then avoid those situations initially and gradually teach them not to nip by providing better alternative behaviors when presented with the triggers.

Superb Dog Editor

Superb Dog Editor