Bite Inhibition for Puppies

Bite Inhibition for Puppies

One of the most important things you can teach your puppy is bite inhibition.  Learning bite inhibition means that your puppy is learning to CONTROL his mouth — NOT learning not to bite.  If your puppy learns to control his bite now, if, as an adult dog, he is ever in a position of having to bite someone, he will not inflict serious damage to the person he bites – hopefully nothing more than a simple puncture wound.

First, we must always remember that a dog’s mouth is his primary tool — used for hunting, eating, playing and defense.  It is a very powerful tool — designed to crush bone!  If a dog feels afraid and trapped, he WILL BITE.  It is unfair for us to expect a dog to never bite, under any circumstance — their mouth is their only protection.  With those thoughts in mind, it is easy to see why we must teach our dogs to control their mouths.

Puppies in a litter do a lot of roughhousing.  If a puppy bites his littermate too hard, the littermate will yelp.  If the puppy continues to bite too hard, the littermate will quit playing with him.  If the puppy bites his mother too hard, she will reprimand him.  This puppy is learning bite inhibition.

If you are grooming your dog and he puts his mouth on your hand or arm but doesn’t hurt you, he is telling you he does not like what you are doing.  This dog has good bite inhibition.  We usually do not understand what our dog is telling us, and ignore the warnings.  This is when we hear “he bit me with no warning at all!”  Actually, he probably did give plenty of warning, the owner just didn’t realize it.

To teach your puppy bite inhibition, follow these steps:

  • When playing with your puppy, pay attention to his bites and figure out what his “normal” range is.
  • When he bites harder than “normal,” yelp in a high pitched tone (as if you were a littermate).  Your puppy should immediately stop biting.
  • Resume playing.  If your puppy again bites outside the “normal” range, get up and walk away from him — stop the play session.
  • You can resume playing again after a couple of minutes of time-out.
  • Within a short time, your puppy’s “normal” range should decrease and not be as hard as it was before.  When this happens, re-assess his “normal” range and repeat these steps.

Eventually, you will train your puppy not to bite at all, but in the meantime, you’ve trained him to be aware of how hard he bites, and you’ve taught him that there are consequences for biting too hard.

It is important that everyone who has contact with your puppy follow these steps — particularly family members.  It is difficult to teach young children to assess a level of bite, so you can instruct them that if the puppy bites too hard, they should quit playing with him altogether for a few minutes.

Raising Canine has a school for dog trainers which focuses on operant training for dogs, dog behavior, working with clients and addressing client compliance, and the science behind behavior modification.