How to stop a dog biting and nipping, by award-winning trainer Ben Randall

Biting and nipping is top of the list of issues that dog owners most fear that they'll have to deal with. Ben Randall takes a look at the problem and the steps to put things right.

A dog that is prone to nipping is probably one of the most difficult issues that any owner has to deal with. Often caused by incorrect training and handling from an early age, this is a delicate issue and one that we approach with extreme caution with regard to the welfare of anyone who might come into contact with your dog while you are trying to cure this problem.

This is exactly the dilemma facing KM, who has written to us from the US via our email address to ask for Ben’s advice on how to deal with her son’s dog’s tendency to nip when he’s asked to relinquish items that he’d rather keep a hold on.

Dear Ben,

My 32-year-old son has a two-year-old French Bulldog that frequently changes from being happy to snappy and snarling. On three occasions, this has led to him nipping adults — thankfully, only superficially. The first was when he had been ripping tissue paper and I reached down to pick the paper up off the floor. He mouthed my arm, but, as I had a thick sweater on, he only made a dime-size hole on the sleeve. The second time was with a friend he had always liked — he was sitting on his lap getting petted when, suddenly, he growled and nipped him on the neck. The third was an elderly friend who had been petting and giving him treats, then, when she turned to leave, he nipped her finger.

We got him neutered, as he was not eligible for breeding due to two heterogeneous back gene mutations, and hoped that might help. However, I went away for a week and when I got back, he snapped at me when I was petting him under his chin.

He is cute and friendly and people want to pet him and give him treats, but the sudden change of mood is so unpredictable and he cannot wear a muzzle due to his flat face. I feel nervous with him in our house and I worry that someone might get hurt. My son wants to take the dog for training and ask a vet to prescribe some anxiety medication, but I am concerned that this behaviour could still occur. The dog has separation anxiety for sure.

Do you think that there is a strong likelihood that training can fix this problem or should he go to a home with one adult that he can bond with? Your advice would be appreciated, thank you. — KM via email

Thank you for writing to me about this and I am so sorry that your family is having to deal with such a tricky situation. Unfortunately, this behaviour is quite common and has a lot to do with incorrect and inconsistent training early in a dog’s life, which is then incredibly hard to undo.

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I see this behaviour a lot these days, due to the fact that so many dogs are being trained through bribery and not using positive, rewards-based methods. The trouble with using treats to, in my view, ‘bribe’ a dog to behave in a certain way, tends to make them behave almost like spoiled children, especially if you ask them to give you something that they are holding in their mouth. You try to retrieve the item in question, but the dog won’t give it to you, because the dog finds whatever it is holding more attractive than the treat or the bribe that you’re offering. And, therefore, it can react in a spoiled or potentially aggressive manner when you try to take the item away from them.

I’ve been perfecting my BG (Beggarbush) foundation methods for nearly 20 years and understand that even experienced dog owners come up against issues that they are not sure how to handle. However, with a little time, patience and careful retraining, I feel that there might be hope for your son’s young dog. I also believe that it is our responsibility to try to do the best we can to correct this behaviour even if, ultimately, you and your family decide it’s best to rehome or euthanize the dog. You can learn more via @beggarbush on Instagram and my dog-training app (this link will let you get a free trial) or ask me your own question by emailing

Ben’s top tips for discouraging a dog from nipping and biting

1. Go back to the fundamentals of training

Firstly, you and your son need to get his dog to trust you and respect your commands — so let’s look at the best way to unpick these troublesome behaviours.

However, to begin with, rather than examining the main problem of nipping, let’s look at his foundation commands, as I am almost certain, from what you have told me, that these will most definitely not be as positive and as solid as they should be, hence why he is behaving in this way.

I therefore urgently recommend that you and your son take a look at my previous articles and re-teach this dog the all important foundation commands, such as:

  1. Train your dog to respond to the leave command
  2. Teach your dog to sit
  3. Get your dog to walk to heel
  4. Get perfect recall with your dog

I can assure you that re-teaching these commands will definitely help, as they will enable you and your son to start to build a better relationship — and a greater mutual respect — between yourselves and his dog.

2. Focus on getting the leave command right

Of the four things listed above, the most vital one — especially in this situation — is the leave command.

Because of a dog’s natural guarding issues, I like to teach this around feed times. So, from today onwards, ask the dog to sit and wait patiently for his dinner, tell him to ‘leave’ the bowl with his food in it, and recall him away from it. Finally, reward him by letting him eat from the bowl.

Once you have perfected this over a number of weeks, take the exercise up a notch by asking him to leave his food after he’s already started eating it, then pause for a few seconds, and ask him to resume eating. As you gradually extend the time that you ask him to wait, he will learn steadiness, control and patience.

Finally, continue working on this drill on a daily basis, hopefully two times a day when he’s fed, until he gets so responsive that you can not only ask him to stop eating for longer periods of time, but you can also remove the entire bowl of food from in front of him without him acting like a spoiled child.

3. Move the training away from mealtimes

Once you’re happy that your dog is incredibly relaxed and calm around food times, I’d then start to randomly drop objects that he likes — it might be socks, tea towels, pieces of paper, anything he’s fond of — around the kitchen or the sitting room. Then, when he goes to grab them, give the ‘leave’ command, pause for five or so seconds, then step towards the item and retrieve it yourself before he can get to it.

It’s crucial here that the items you drop need to be things that are precious to him, things he wants to keep and doesn’t want you to have. Over time — with consistency and repetition — he will learn that, when he sees the item, he will look to you first, with a much more trusting eye, while thinking to himself: ‘Is that hers or mine? I must wait to find out. Either way, I will be rewarded for making the right choice.’ Once you’ve reached that level of trust and respect, the issues that underlie the nipping and biting behaviour should become a thing of the past.

4. Introduce other people

Finally, when he is able to complete all of these exercises perfectly and with good manners and good grace, I would encourage other members of the family to get involved so that he is content and composed at all times and around all sorts of people.

With patience and perseverance, you stand a great chance of creating a better future for this dog — and I wish you all the best with this challenge.

For more detailed advice about Ben Randall’s positive, reward-based and proven BG training methods, one-to-one training sessions, residential training or five-star dog-boarding at his BGHQ in Herefordshire, telephone 01531 670960 or visit For a free seven-day trial of the Gundog app, which costs £24.99 a month or £249.99 a year, visit

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