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How To Teach Bite Inhibition

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Stop Puppy Biting

Pups need to know biting hurts!

Photo credit © Amy Shojai, CABC

All dogs bite and chew, but it’s important to teach bite inhibition and stop puppy biting before it gets out of hand. What’s baby-cute or aggravating in your new pup becomes dangerous once he grows up.

Needle-sharp puppy teeth easily rip clothing and tear flesh, but an adult dog’s jaws also can break bones or worse. Even friendly dogs cause terrible injury if not taught how to pull their punches. One accidental bite could label your puppy as a “dangerous dog” and result in an expensive lawsuit, increased insurance rates, and costly medical bills. Teaching bite inhibition not only protects people and prevents heartbreak, it could save your puppy’s life.

Dog Bite Behavior

All dogs squabble (just like people do), but proper training prevents dog bites. Dogs have exquisite control of their jaws and know exactly how close they can snap without making contact. Adult dogs don’t miss unless they mean to, and air-snaps and bites that DON’T break the skin are calculated canine warnings.

Dogs mouth objects, other pets and people during play or other social interactions using a soft or "inhibited" bite that causes no damage. Learning to master the power of their jaws—bite inhibition—allows dogs to make important points and resolve differences without hurting each other, or you. Don’t expect to stop mouthing altogether, but do teach your puppy the legal limits.

Doggy Teachers

Puppies must learn bite inhibition technique while young. Other dogs are the best teachers and puppies learn by interacting with Mom and siblings. The other pups yelp and bite back if the youngster chomps down too hard, and Mom-dog stops the games if he’s too rough, so Junior learns limits.

Orphan puppies, singleton pups without littermates, or puppies taken very early from their mother may not learn these lessons. Pups also can get over-excited or tired, and chomp down too hard during play, even when they know better and mean no harm.

Pups that are startled or fearful may lash out instinctively. When the scary object (other dog, child, mailman) goes away, they feel rewarded and thereafter may bite first to get their way. By teaching your puppy bite inhibition, you can prevent a host of potential behavior problems. Here’s how to teach bite inhibition.

How To Teach Bite Inhibition

Teaching requires effective communication. Puppies simply don’t know their teeth hurt. Yelling or physical punishment won’t explain what’s wrong and can make biting worse. Grabbing, pushing, hitting or other contact with a biting pup makes him think you’re just playing rough, too--and hurting him can damage the bond you share or prompt him to retaliate even more. Yelling can be interpreted as you're “barking” just like him, and escalate his excitement.

  • Explain in terms your puppy can understand. While he won’t know specific words, use exaggerated body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice to get the point across. Puppies don’t want to hurt you, and they don’t want the games to stop, so use this to teach a powerful lesson.
  • Instead of yelling when the biting becomes uncomfortable, say "oooooooooh" in a gentle tone of voice, and then pout. Say, "I don't like that you hurt me!" with as much emotion as possible. Whimper if you can manage. This works especially well with tough pushy puppies.
  • If the mouthing hurts, YELP!!! just as another pup would announce pain. Don’t pull away from him as that encourages a game of “tug” that you won’t win. If the YELP!!! doesn’t make him let go, push IN toward his mouth to prompt his gag-reflex so he’ll release.
  • Immediately after your YELP, give the pup a time-out. Thirty-to-sixty-seconds is long enough for him to get the message. Confine in a small room out of sight before giving another chance and resuming the game. If he again bites too hard, repeat the yelp and time-out to teach the lesson that BITES make the fun STOP.
  • It may take several repetitions before he figures out the cause/effect that HE controls the game and can keep the fun going by acting like a gentleman. Once the pup mouths gently, praise him and allow the attention to continue.

Practice “Good” Bites

Once your puppy develops a soft mouth, teach him to stop mouthing on request and never to initiate mouthing. Periodic training sessions are essential throughout his life. A good drill might be to allow the pup to mouth for 15 seconds, then say "off" and offer a food reward or toy. He must stop mouthing to get the reward, which also pays him for stopping. After he takes the reward, he can resume mouthing for another 10 to 15 seconds if he likes, then repeat the exercise.

Bite inhibition doesn't mean stopping the mouth behavior altogether. That's too much to ask, and would be equivalent to tying your hands behind your back. Any dog may bite if provoked. But a dog with good bite inhibition that bites will cause no harm. And that's a comfort zone owners owe to themselves and to their dogs.

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