Dog agility lends itself to a high percentage of herding breeds. Though they are not the only ones to get nippy when the excitement level increases, it is the most common with them. Pair that with the other common factor of handlers that choose herding breeds tend to love speed and thus drive their dogs. Unless the handler knows how to “nip it in the bud,” nipping can become a very annoying problem on course.
Many times nipping is a sign of frustration that can be caused by many factors, but most commonly is from a dog not knowing where they are going next. This can happen a lot with high-drive, high octane dogs who want to go and go fast. This can happen when the handler gives their dog late directions, but it can also happen with dogs that think they how to run the course better than the handler. In both cases the dog thinks they can hurry things along by nipping the heels of the handler. After all, it works on the cows…
To combat this type of nipping the handler needs to either keep the run at a lower arousal level or learn how to stay far enough ahead of their dog with directions to avoid the dog insetting frustrated. Keeping the dog running slower, as odd as it sounds, will allow the handler to learn how to stay ahead of their dog. As both become proficient at a slower speed they can try adding a little more speed.
Some dogs nip because they have never learned that nipping is unacceptable social behavior. They are still responding to stress, so you need to discover the source of the stress while letting your dog know nipping is not tolerated. Many handlers choose to remove the dog from the current activity for a bit of a “timeout.” Some will also try redirecting the dog to a toy, though this cannot be done in the competition ring. Once the source of frustration is located, the handler should eliminate or lower the source to a level the dog can work at. Once the dog is proficient at a low level, the stress should be raised slowly.
Be consistent and fair with your dog removing, redirecting, and proofing until your dog understands and your team moves past this temporary road block.
We would like to point out that if these methods do not work and your dog is aggressively biting that you seek professional help in reconditioning your dog’s behavior. These tips should be administered at the first thoughts of nipping. Should it escalate beyond your ability, seek help immediately. You do not want to practice bad behavior.