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Nipping Biting

How to Stop a Shih Tzu From Nipping and Biting

Overview

One of the most frustrating behaviors to contend with is nipping or biting. Owners can be very taken aback that such a cute, adorable Shih Tzu can seemingly aggressively nip. How can this be coming from such a cuddly little breed? 

Fortunately, there are some techniques to stop nipping behavior. In this section we will cover:
  • The difference between nipping and biting
  • Why a Shih Tzu may be nipping
  • How to stop nipping in 2 steps
  • What to do if your Shih Tzu is aggressively biting

Nipping Vs Biting

These words are often used interchangeably by owners. However, there is a big difference between the two. 

Knowing what's happening will help you determine how to react. 

Before we look at the definitions, keep in mind that in regard to actions a Shih Tzu takes toward an owner that 99% of the time, the puppy or dog will have a nipping problem and not one where they are biting. 

Nipping: Quick snaps of the jaw. If a person moves out of the way fast enough, this may be in the air (if so, the teeth will clack together). If the Shih Tzu makes the mark, the nip is often to an owner's hand or lower arm. 

Blood is rarely drawn or if so, it will be due to a small scratch or minimal puncture. 

Typically, there is just one nip. If there is more than one, there is a certain duration between them. 

Biting: A serious aggression issue in which the dog locks his jaw down onto a person. Teeth sink into the skin. Blood is drawn due to a moderate or severe puncture. 

Even though a Shih Tzu is little, this is a fierce action that rightfully scares owners. 

So, as we touched on, most Shih Tzu will have a nipping problem. While every dog breed is capable of severe aggression which includes biting, it is very rare with this breed.
This said, we'll first dive into how to fix nipping, and then will go over what to do if your Shih Tzu is actually biting. 

Reasons for Nipping

Most of the time, it will be a Shih Tzu puppy that has this problem. Typically, by the time the pup reaches the 1 year mark, his reasons for nipping, along with lessons learned, will have caused the behavior to cease.

However, there are times that an adult Shih Tzu will start nipping as well. 

There are 3 main reasons why a Shih Tzu of any age will nip; note that more than 1 cause may be applicable to a Shih Tzu, so you'll want to consider all of these:
1. Health issue. 

Many times, the onset of conditions or illness have no outward clinical signs. It can be a few days, or even more in some cases, before there are enough symptoms that owners notice something is wrong. 

When a dog is not feeling well, he can feel vulnerable and this causes him to enter a defensive mode. If anyone comes too close, he may nip out of instinct. 

This may be accompanied with a growl.

2. Improper hierarchy. 

If a Shih Tzu either thinks that he is the leader of the house (Alpha) or even believes that he is in the running to become the leader, he may try to exert his preferences by nipping. 
shih-tzu-biting-on-toy
Archie, at 8 months old, photo courtesy of Leia Quinn
If there's too much commotion around him, if people come too close to his bowls, or even if he wants to rest and someone is trying to brush him, he may nip to say 'Leave me alone' or 'Leave my things alone'. 

However, a Shih Tzu that fully understands that his human is the Alpha would not be so bold. The dog may look sullen or try to retreat elsewhere, but will not nip. 

3. Play behavior exceeding acceptable limits.

This is the #1 reason in regard to a Shih Tzu puppy nipping at his humans. 

While it may not seem very friendly to you, very young puppy incorporate nipping into their play when tousling around with their littermates. 

Usually during this time, pups learn which levels of force are acceptable and which are not. However, as a pup grows stronger, his teeth become sharper, and when the object of the nip is your hand and not a pup with a coat to protect him, nips can indeed hurt. 

When you couple this with the strong oral sensations that a teething puppy is experiencing, you have the perfect recipe for the creation of a nipping machine. 
male-and-female-shih-tzu-dogs
Rusty & Rosie, 
both at 6 months old,
photo courtesy of Christine

Ruling Out Health Issues

If you even suspect that there may be a health issue, you'll want to bring your Shih Tzu to the veterinarian right away. 

Even if your puppy or dog just recently had a visit, something may have developed from then to now. 

Other signs that there may indeed be some sort of health concern, includes but is not limited to: decreased appetite, lethargy, retreating, and favoring a certain part of the body. 

How to Stop a Shih Tzu from Nipping

Stopping a Shih Tzu from nipping at you is not overly complicated; however, it is important to follow each step to a T. If not, you will have limited or temporary success. 
In addition, you should only continue forward if all possible health issues have been ruled out. 
#1 Establish Proper Hierarchy
Even if a Shih Tzu is nipping due to overly aggressive play this will be part of the fix. And, if your Shih Tzu is very intolerant of being touched, or nips in frustration, this will most certainly aid in reversing things.

First, you should understand why this works. 

To all canines, there is order. It is simply the canine way, and is the only way in which the world around a dog is interpreted. 
With the den (household), lives the pack (household members, including all humans and animals). The pack has a leader (Alpha) and everyone else are under him (the Betas). 

In multiple-dog homes, the group of animals have an 'Alpha Dog'; however, that dog never holds higher authority than the true Alpha of the pack. 

The Alpha (this will be you) is never disrespected and orders are not disobeyed. They only way that it is even possible for this to happen, is if his place is being challenged. 

Therefore, if a Shih Tzu puppy is nipping, but has a solid understanding that you are the Alpha, he will very quickly learn the upcoming lessons. 

And if an older Shih Tzu is acting aggressive and nipping, he may be testing your authority, in which case this corrects his perception. 
shih-tzu-is-tired
Susy, at 2 years, 4 months,
photo courtesy of Andrea Lalo
Please note: The following advice is NOT applicable to dogs that are aggressively and violently biting
How to do this:

1. The #1 method revolves around food. To a dog, food is everything. Canines know that it is their life source. They know that food equals survival. And this is true even for toy breeds like the Shih Tzu that may not eat very much (it is all relative). 

Therefore, how you feed your Shih Tzu makes a huge statement. 

For every single meal and every single snack, your Shih Tzu will need to obey a 'Sit' beforehand. If your Shih Tzu does not know how to sit, do not worry. A dog will learn this extremely fast when his meal is involved. 

Holding food at nose level, and slowly moving it up, while gently pushing down on his rear and giving the command 'Sit' is all it takes. 

2. Another good method, when used in conjunction with the former, is how you exit and enter the house. The Alpha always has the privilege to do this first. So, if you've been letting your Shih Tzu take the lead, he may be doing so literally. 
3. How your take your Shih Tzu for walks also sends signals. Keep your Shih Tzu on leash and harness (not collar), and keep the leash short enough that your dog remains by your left side and not out in front of you. 
If you'd like recommendations for a high-quality food & snack, and a great adjustable leash & a super-comfortable properly sized harness to help implement this advice, our recommendations are below. 
If you do not see the images, try a refresh. And on mobile, you may need to turn your screen horizontally, to see all 4. 
#2 React Appropriately if Your Shih Tzu Nips
These next steps will be much more effective once you have established yourself as leader as explained in step #1. 

Prepping:

A huge part of this training is to have items that will refocus a puppy's attention. 

While treats can do this, it is extremely temporary. Instead, you'll want to have something that not only grabs your Shih Tzu's attention but also keeps him focused on it. 

The best way to accomplish this is to have certain toys that are 1) super interesting 2) meet a pup's needs if he is teething and 3) are only reserved to distract after an attempted nip. 

If you try to do this with toys that your dog already has, it will limit success. You'll also want very engaging toys for this to do the trick. Those that speak or make funny noises, or those that satisfy a teething puppy's strong urge to chew are great choices.

Ahead, we will show some great recommendations for this.

Implementation: 

There are 2 parts to this. The 1st is if you can pull your hand away before the nip occurs. The 2nd is if you could not pull away fast enough. 

1) If you've avoided the nip: 

1. Withdraw away to make distance between you and your Shih Tzu. 

2. Offer one of the toys that is reserved for this situation. 

3. When your Shih Tzu mouths the toy, give praise and allow your puppy or dog to enjoy it. This will teach a puppy or dog that there are much better options for to focus his biting urges on. 

4. As time goes by, if you see that certain toys keep your puppy busy and would be valuable additions to his toy collection, move them there and keep a new one for times with attempted nips. 

Expect a teething puppy to be pleased with a good teething toy to the point that his chewing urges are directed there, and not to you. 

2) If the nips occurs:

1. Loudly and firmly say 'No!'. This will be equivalent to the 'yip' that your puppy heard from a littermate that was bitten to roughly. 

2. Ignore your Shih Tzu for 3 full minutes. This MUST be a full and complete ignoring of the pup. This means no eye contact and no speaking. If needed, rise from a sitting position, to gain physical authority and prevent further nipping. 

This is because the goal is to have the pup worried that you, the Alpha, are considering banishing him from the pack due to the offense. 

3. After the 3 minutes, speak to your puppy normally and continue on with the interaction you had previous to the nip.

4. If the pup nips again, repeat your reaction again. This can be done 3 times before needing to increase the 'banishment'. 

5. If 3 nips have occurred and your Shih Tzu is still out-of-control or if he keeps coming at you without allowing you to take pause, you will want to give a time-out.

This works best if you have a playpen for your Shih Tzu (which is highly recommended for a host of reasons, including housebreaking as quickly as possible and as a part of the methods to resolve separation anxiety).
But, if you do not have a playpen yet, you can use gates or other methods to keep your puppy in one spot. Note that your Shih Tzu MUST be able to see you. If not, he will not realize that he's being ignored. 

Timeouts should last for 15 minutes.
Once you let your Shih Tzu out from his playpen, go back to what you were doing when the nip occurred. This is particularly relevant if you were grooming your dog or performing a task that is vital to his care. 

You will want your puppy or dog to keep learning this actions = consequences lesson.  
If you'd like recommendations for the aforementioned playpens and effective toys to keep a Shih Tzu engaged, our recommendations are below. 
If you do not see the images, try a refresh. And on mobile, you may need to turn your screen horizontally, to see all 4. 

If a Shih Tzu is Biting

True biting is very different than nipping. And you may feel a bit uncertain about which of the two are happening. 

If you are in doubt, there is a good chance that your Shih Tzu is nipping. If so, please refer back to the detailed advice on this, and be sure to follow all steps as closely as possible. 

If your Shih Tzu is biting, this often is clear due to the sheer aggression that is being displayed. Household members, and particularly young children or elderly adults, may be down-right scared. 

With a biting problem, there is a nervous vibe, and you may feel that your Shih Tzu is truly out-of-control. And as much as you may hate to admit it, you may be thinking of your dog as being vicious and dangerous. 

In these cases, as much as an owner wants to hear a cost-free answer, aside from having the dog removed from the house, the only real resolution and the only one that keeps your household members safe, is to hire a professional canine trainer who specialized in aggressive behaviors. 

You may need to segregate your Shih Tzu up until that time to prevent bite injuries. 
You may also be interested in:
Housebreaking - This is the most important training that owners will need to do. By following some important guidelines and sticking with a solid routine, a Shih Tzu can be trained in a matter of weeks.
Shih Tzu is growling - This breed is considered very happy-go-lucky and is typically not an aggressive dog. However, some Shih Tzu may show unwanted behavior including growling.  This should be dealt with early as soon as it begins. 
Shih Tzu licking problems - Just like any other habits, things can get out of control. A dog may obsessively lick himself or his owners. In some cases, this is due to a health issue, most often allergies that are causing itchy skin. 
Shih Tzu Isn't Barking - What it means if a Shih Tzu doesn't vocalize and things you can to to help a dog find his voice. 
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