Tonawanda News

December 3, 2012

CRITTER COMPANIONS: How to handle a nippy puppy

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — QUESTION: We adopted an 11-month-old puppy with little to no previous training. She is a mixed

breed — basset hound, beagle and daschund. She gets over-excited when playing and gets nippy, grabbing at the toys and then our hands whether we have a toy or not. — Jim & Carol B., Niagara Falls

ANSWER: “Don’t Shoot the Dog” by Karen Pyror is a great book, based on science, to get started redirecting your puppy on more appropriate behaviors.

If you can teach your dog to “station,” it can turn into a powerful tool. If you have a pillow or dog bed that you could train your dog to go to every time you say “station” you could ask your dog to go over there every time she gets excited and starts nipping. This way you can toss her a treat for doing a correct behavior — stationing on the dog bed/pillow — and not worry about your fingers being nipped. Instead of stationing, you could also ask your dog to do another incompatible behavior like lying down, rolling over, etc. When she does these behaviors she can’t be biting you either.

I would also start training with all the treats hidden in a pocket or treat pouch, so your dog doesn’t know the type or size of the treats. When she does good things, you can give her 1⁄4 of a treat or one treat, depending on how great the behavior was. 

No bitting or jumping gets her a full treat. If you measure out how much dog food you feed her you can also use part of the normal diet as rewards. For the time being you don’t have to hand her treats, you can toss them to the ground. 

Another beneficial way to decrease biting is to give your puppy a Least Reinforcing Scenario. This means a time out. If she gets nippy or jumpy you can leave the room or turn and not face the dog. If your dog wants you to stay and play she will have to play nice.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for Christmas presents this year for pets or the pet lover? — Betty M., Ransomville

A: Yes! But you will have to wait a week or so to find out.

Q: What is your opinion on how often a litter box should be cleaned? — Bruce W., Niagara Falls

A: I have two cats, Julian and Princeton, and two litter boxes. They both use both boxes and usually once I scoop it one of them will immediately go in it again! I then scoop that and the cats seem to be “empty” for a while. 

If you notice how serious your cats are about grooming, I bet they would recommend multiple times a day. Health problems aside, having a clean litter box will decrease the chance of accidents. I completely change the litter about once a week, which is usually when soiled particles are too small for the scooper.

Q: My once-beautiful fish tank glass is covered with algae. Should I buy sucker fish to help clean the glass? — Lorraine B., Tonawanda

A: I would not. There are many types of algae eaters out there and although they do eat algae if your glass is really dirty, they probably wouldn’t improve it that much. If you want to have them in your tank because you think they look pretty, then I would buy some.

To start cleaning your tank I would buy a pet store-grade algae scrubber. You can buy one that has a long handle or a magnetic one. I like the long handle version. Then start scrubbing, making sure gravel doesn’t get in between the scrub brush and the glass (this is how internal scratches occur). 

Your water will probably get very dirty. I would then siphon the entire surface of the gravel and take up to 30 percent of the water out. Cleaning the filter or replacing the filter pad is also important. I would wait a day to see how that looks. If the water is still cloudy you can take another 30 percent out the next day. Usually you should do a partial change on your tank about once a week.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to, or search for "Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan" on Facebook.