Tips to Train a Dog to Stop Nipping People Who Try to Pet Him

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 28, 2022

stop nipping

For this LA dog training session, we taught 5 year-old Dalmatian Nino to stop nipping people who try to pet him.

Since Nino had a bite history, I arranged for his guardian to meet me at a park instead of his home. The guardian had said that he is fearful and anxious, and whenever I work with dogs like that, I prefer to meet them in a large, open, outdoor area. The distractions help the dog avoid focusing on one thing and the open space makes them feel more relaxed.

To my surprise, Nino was very relaxed, and not at all what I expected; in a very good way. Although you could see he was slightly aroused, he offered relaxed body language; his eyes were soft and squinty, he was not breathing heavily, his mouth was open, ears in a neutral position, and his tail was wagging at a medium height.

Tips to Teach a Dog to Stop Nipping People

I started things off by explaining how I read dog’s body language. The first thing I do is look at the dog’s head; is the nose tilted up or down? Usually when a dog feels good or is proud it’s nose is elevated.

Then I look at the ears; are they in the normal position or are they pinned back? When a dog feels uncomfortabel or reactive, most ears move back and pin closer to the head.

Is the dog licking his lips or yawning? Those can be signs of anxiety or stress too.

Next I look at the dog’s overall body; is it tense or relaxed? Is it leaning in one direction or another? Is the dog, panting, holding its breath or breathing normally? Dogs are normally wiggly and giggly, if you see a dog go from relaxed / wiggly to tense and still, that is a big warning sign.

Next I look at the tail; is it up and stiff and stationary or is it wagging? If it’s wagging, is it wagging from side to side or staying on the left or the right, or moving in circles? You can learn alot about how a dog feels by watching its tail position and movement.

Being able to read your dog’s body language is crucial anytime you have a reactive dog (its actualy helpful for all dogs). I recommended the guardian start paying attention to her dog’s body language in the above categories in different scenarios. If you can learn what your dog looks like when it is relaxed, then you can start identifying differences when it is anxious, fearful, reactive, etc. Spotting signs of distress or discomfort and getting the dog away is a great way to stop dog nipping of hands.

I frequently remind my clients that all dog behavior is trying to achieve something. In Nino’s case, I think that he was nipping at people because he does not like hands approaching his face. When I had his guardian pet him o top of his head, I noticed that he shyed away when her hand came down. She did mention that when he was naughty, she would occasionally sometimes lightly spank him. This is unfortunately a very common behavior from humans, but the problem is, it can often cause dog’s to be Handshy. It very well could be a contributing factor as to why Nino nips at hands that reach to pet him.

I recommended his guardian stop the spanking and instead use a kissing sound to get his attention, then use hand targeting to get Nino to come over to her and away from what she didnt want him getting into.

Next I went over a hand targeting exercise with his guardian and super smart Nino picked up on it right away. Within minutes, he was touching her hand as it was coming down instead of turning or shying away from it.

Once he seem to be comfortable with the exercise, I practiced it with him as well. At first, this made his guardian nervous, but I pointed out that he had relax body language, and that when I was offering my hand so that he coudl make the chaoice. There is a big difference between me moving my hand to a dog and holding my hand out to the side and the dog coming to it on his or her own. When the dog does the action, you know they are comfortable and on board.

Next we talked a little bit about dog consent, as well as the best places to pet a dog; specifically not on top of the head. If the guardian can learn how to read his body language / cut off signals, and then immediately increase distance, Nino wont have to go to the next step; an air bite or nip. The more that Nino practices having people stop reaching for him when he offers cut off signals, the less likely he will be to feel the need to nip, or bite a hand.

His guardian may also want to practice this handling exercise we teach our students in our puppy classes. If you have a dog who nips hands that reach for them, you should check out this free positive dog training video.


Being a Dalmatian, we spent some time going over some creative forms of exercise like feeding him out of a snuffle mat, or a Omega paw treat ball or using a lick mat when guests are visiting his home. We often only think of walks as a way of exercising a dog like the tug game and fetch, but mental stimulation exercises are other good options.

Getting a dog the right amount of exercise before people come over can make a big difference when it comes to dog behavior (but all dogs need regular exercise). Especially if you have a high energy dog like a Dalmatian.

Nino’s guardian was doing a good job of taking him out for an hour walk each day, but I recommended that multiple short walks, spread throughout the day would be much more effective. I would also like her to Google scent games and find a few that she can practice with him. These are nice ways for the dog to use its nose which drains a lot of energy. The guardian already does this by hiding treats around her home, but there are many other games that she can introduce like cookie in the corner.

I also recommended that the Guardian start using the marker word all the time and celebrating desired behaviors when Nino offers them wihtout asking. The more that a dog is rewarded for things that we like (sitting, laying down, coming, giving us eye contact, picking up toys, etc), when we don’t ask for them, the more the dog is likely to offer those behaviors to ask for attention. This is the foundation of teaching your dog manners, and how to be polite in society.

Id love to see the guardian celebrate each time Nino picks up a toy. After a while, she should be able to recognize when he is about to pick one up. When she knos that is the case, she can introduce a word like “snag” before he picks up the item. After some practice, she should be able to tell Nino to “snag” when people come over and he will pick up a toy, keeping his mouth occupied. I also suggested she get a squeaker toy or two. Many dogs like to grab them and bite down until they hear the squeak when they are anxious, nervous or aroused. This is a great habit to get Nino into.

I think that Nino‘s guardian was very relieved when I told her I did not consider him an aggressive dog at all. I think he was simply put in situations where people were not listening to him, or failing to read the body language that he was offering.

He may never turn out to be the dog that everyone can go up to pet, and that’s totally fine. If his guardian starts to manage the situation and immediately increases distance between him and things that he does not feel comfortable with, as soon as he offers cut off signals, the hand nipping problem shouldn’t continue to be an issue.

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This post was written by: David Codr