You are here:

Canine Behavior/Nipping puppy


I own an 18 week old German shepherd puppy which is not acting to me as a normal puppy. If I am lying on the couch he comes up to me and starts biting. If my hand goes limp, he still bites and even tries to pull with all my hand in his mouth. My arm is full of scratches and black and blues, I'm not exaggerating. What I find abnormal is the fact that he comes towards me with great intensity and that the more I push him off, the more he comes back with greater intensity. It almost looks like he is attacking me, but he's only a puppy! I had a trainer come and show me how to use a clicker and tell me ignore him but it doesn't work. I can't ignore him while he's biting my arm and shredding it! One day I had a neighbor come over as he has had dogs for years and he told me he needed to show who is boss. So every time he laid on the couch and he nipped him, he would get in his face and scold him with a growly voice. Then he even held his muzzle tight. My pup whined a couple of times, more from being uncomfortable than in pain, yet, he still kept coming back! How can this puppy so small care less about a person bigger than him holding his muzzle and scolding him? It's as if my pup wasn't even taking him seriously! my neighbor was surprised and told me I have a problem dog. He doesn't seem to have any fear at all. Any advice on how to stop this biting? Why is he so aroused when I push him off? it's almost scary! he then runs in circles like crazy and has this crazy look on his face as he comes back to attack more and more! I had many puppies with nipping problems but this doesn't seem normal as all! I am at my wits end, I thought having puppies was fun until I got this guy, can it be genetic? He's obsessed with hands, like if I toss him a ball, he'll play but then will suddenly focus on my hands with this look on his face and he'll care less about the ball and start the biting.

Using a clicker to correct a situation that is most likely the result of a VERY POOR neonatal environment requires GREAT SKILL and I very much doubt your puppy was:
*  properly conditioned to the clicker
*  properly associated the click/treat with appropriate behavior instead of what he was ACTING UPON (whether cognitive or not)

Allow me to portray a parallel for you here:
When I was quite young (20s) I had already put a Rough Collie through CDX but, at that time, deficit in acquired behavior problems (genetic) and poor neonatal care was little understood.  So I was given a Doberman Pinscher who, at age 14 weeks, was in a pet store (YES! a pet store!)  She was emaciated, her coat was dry and brittle, she had been docked but not ear cropped (at the time, that was always done; now, should not be done as the AKC has given breed championships to Dobermans with intact ears).  This puppy was a HORROR, literally.  My arms looked like I was a drug addict!  She had "fits" of excitement (as you describe your puppy has): this is COGNITIVE DISSONANCE (which means: I want to, I can't, I want to, I can't).  What "cured" her:  patient positive reinforcement training and time (and believe me, at even 2 years of age she was still exhibiting behaviors I did not "like" but used positive reinforcement to extinguish).

Your puppy has NO bite inhibition.  This is the result of EXTREMELY POOR BREEDING ENVIRONMENT plus, perhaps, some inherited fear biting characteristics.  The angrier YOU get, the more your puppy advances:  this is the intended nature of the GSD, to be "courageous" when challenged (in situations where challenge is clearly understood by the dog).  There are many techniques to teach bite inhibition but, at 18 weeks, your puppy may take more time than would a younger puppy:

In very YOUNG puppies (neonates), certain things work: squeaking and whining (like a dog) and immediately removing yourself.  Unfortunately, as a dog matures, this often is contradictory to what we want to teach.  The dog might interpret your squeaking/whining as a positive reinforcement and will continue or its excitement level (and further loss of cognition) will occur.  So dependent upon your dog's developmental stage (something I can't see from here), the treatment to correct it will need some finessing.

Right now: put the dog on house tab (lightweight leash).  Whenever he begins to mouth/bite, pick up the house tab, hold him at arm's length, remove yourself behind a closed door for up to 30 seconds.  During this period, using positive reinforcement, teach him "attention" and "sit" with positive reinforcement:

Teach him "off" and "take it" (you can then use the acquired "off" response to stop his mouthing but this will take some time)

WHATEVER your reaction is to date, it is inadvertently rewarding or accelerating his behavior: stop and start over.

This is one of my favorite breeds but they really belong in a home with a very experienced owner who understands the nature of the breed, its genetic limitations (due to poor breeding practices) and how to use positive reinforcement training (NEVER COERCION).  This is a breed that is excellent in search and rescue, in defense, in protection, but also a breed that requires a great deal of real sophistication in ownership and training.  Your "clicker trainer" did a poor job, many do.  The use of the clicker appears so simple to so many but it is actually a quite sophisticated teaching tool and depends on two things:  WHAT THE DOG IS THINKING OR REACTING TO AND THE DOG'S BODY LANGUAGE, both of which must be taught if you are using a clicker to correct unwanted behavior.

Dr. Ian Dunbar has a free online Sirius Puppy Training and Dog training course:

This particular adolescent dog, among many other things (both inherited and created), appears to have a very high prey drive.  This is normal for the GSD.  You must learn how to "capture" (harness) it and "cue" it (put it on command) for "find it", "bring it", etc.  This might be the best dog you've ever owned but it's going to take A LOT OF WORK and a PATIENT, LOVING COMMITMENT.

Should you need REAL expertise, look for a certified applied animal behaviorist:

Canine Behavior

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


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.

©2016 All rights reserved.