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Canine Behavior/Puppy nipping and socialization


QUESTION: Hello. I have a 10 month old sheltie I got a couple of weeks ago. Like all puppies she needs to learn to not nip people. I have tried a couple of things to get her to stop. I have tried saying no when she nips and  then handing her a toy to chew on instead. I have tried saying ouch and ignoring her for a few minutes. I know it takes a while to learn, but the problem is that it's getting worse. She is biting harder than ever. Enough to leave a mark on my skin. It is a rare moment when she is not biting and snapping her jaws. She has also lunged at my face a few times. It's a little scary for such a young puppy.  She also does a lot of growling, when playing and when I walk her she jumps at me and growls. Not every time, but often enough.
My other question was about socializing her. I try to take her to meet different people and different places. Some people, she will run to and seem very happy to meet them. Other people she bolts from and acts like they're going to kill her. At the park she watches everyone go by very carefully and won't walk until the person is out of sight. Why is she so suspicious of everyone and how do I get her to break out of it? And why is she happy to meet some people and terrified of others? It's a little embarrassing to have some one crouch down and act friendly to her, only to have her try to run for it.

ANSWER: Please respond ASAP:  THIS IS A TEN MONTH OLD PUPPY OR A TEN WEEK OLD PUPPY?  Use followup feature.

If this dog is ten months old, she is not a puppy, she is an adolescent.  And not at all "like all puppies" at this age and given the behavior you describe.

Don't play with this puppy right now, do nothing to over excite her.
Put a house tab on her: very lightweight leash.  When she nips/lunges, hold her at arm's length and wait for her to stop, then ask for "sit" (trained with positive reinforcement, seen here):

If she growls at any time: stop, turn your back to her, wait for her to come around (cognition will now be engaged) ask for "sit", go on as usual.

At ten months: where did you get this dog, from whom, how
What was her former life like

Socialization cannot be done at ten months of age (but at ten WEEKS, yes you still have an opportunity).  At ten MONTHS the dog must receive counter conditioning.

Be as explicit as you can about everything you know about this dog, your living situation, etc.
Thank you.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Sorry. I actually meant 10 week old. Not sure  what I was thinking putting month.

ANSWER: I don't do private questions but I need many more answers from you before I can guide you.  At ten weeks, this puppy is salvageable.  I want you to prepare for me
1.  where you got this puppy
2.  under what circumstances
3.  if from breeder, did you see breeder in his/her home and dam/sire
4.  what have you done so far to try to stop the nipping and has it escalated to the point where the puppy is now becoming fearful of your response.

Send me your phone number:  I will call you tomorrow, Sunday, 7PM ET.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I got her from a breeder, who had shown her dogs but retired. I got her at 8 weeks and got 3rd pick out five other puppies. I did see the sire and dam, but didn't get to go up them as they were in a fenced in area running around.  She's a very friendly puppy and just wants to play and run around. It's easy to tell she isn't actually trying to hurt you, I just don't think she understands what is ok with people and not ok with people.  She isn't afraid of me when I tell her no or just say ouch and ignore her.  As I said in my first post, she is great with some people, but suspicious of other people. I haven't been able to tell any similarities in either situation.  She's a great puppy, very smart and learns quickly, but sometimes when she plays she just bites too hard and I don't know how to get her to stop using her mouth on people.

Puppy mouthing is the result of being removed from dam and litter mates too soon.  Breeder may have sold other pups at 6 weeks; dam may have been overbred and tired, not able to "discipline" puppies.

Go to Dr. Ian Dunbar's site:

Your puppy is in a "fear" stage right now (normal at that age):

How you handle this must never involve: yelling, punishment, screaming, spraying water or vinegar, crating.  As I suggested, a house tab is easily picked up, dog is easily held at arm's length until it calms then asked for "sit" and rewarded with small treat or special squeak toy kept just for this reason and then taken from the dog after a few seconds.

Dog needs lots of socialization:  "pass the puppy" parties.  Dog must be ignored for ten seconds after nipping, then rewarded for "sit" as suggested.  Dr. Dunbar's site directly addresses hyperactive behavior. He also has a FREE Sirius Puppy Training series online and I strongly suggest you start reading and applying:

He has written many books on many topics relating to proper training and management of problem behaviors.  They are all available on Amazon or

Puppy must attend puppy kindergarten, as seen here:

Dog must be socialized outdoors to other places, people, dogs (NO DOG PARKS).

This puppy appears to have an easily excitable nature; treat it as you would an irritable infant.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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