Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby: How do I stop nipping when I encouraged the behavior?



Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby
How do I stop nipping when I encouraged the behavior?

Dear Tom,
We have a two-year old, 17-pound Cavapoo with a bad owner: me!
Since she was a pup, we have played rough, wrestling and playing “dodge the nips” with my sleeves and forearms. We both have had a blast. Because of social distancing during the worst of the pandemic, this aggressive play at home was not a problem. But, predictably, as our socializing has increased she wants to play dodge the nips with friends and strangers approaching to pet her. However well intentioned this behavior it is not welcomed by most!
What can we do?
Concerned pet owner

Dear Concerned,
This being America, land of litigation, I’d be more concerned if “Cavagirl” was an 80-pound Lab wanting to play “stop my nips if you can”. Nonetheless, this is a game that needs to be stopped NOW. First thing I’d suggest is substituting “dodge the nip” with “tug of war” with one of her toys. It will have similar playful growling and violence without teeth chasing flesh. It also affords you a great time to teach her “drop it!” on a very positive basis. Without letting go of the toy you’re both tugging on, with your other hand put a treat next to her nose as you stop tugging and say “Drop it”. If a milk bone isn’t worth her while to let go of the contested toy, ratchet up to a piece of hot dog. I might also suggest that when Cavagirl meets new people you ask them to tell Cavagirl to sit for the treat, that you supplied.

Your tug of war play will give you the rough housing you both enjoy, minus the concern. Give her a kiss for me.

Dog Charmer Tom

Cooperstown author Tom Shelby will answerpet owner questions on dog training. Email your questions to

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