Teaching Bite Inhibition in Two Phases
For those of us who have ever raised a young puppy, we know firsthand what a struggle it can be to deal with their never ending desire to mouth and bite during play! In general, people tend to deal with it in one of three ways:
1. People tolerate the pain, thinking, “It’s a part of puppy hood—it won’t be like this forever!”
2. People encourage rough play biting, thinking, “He’s just a pup—we shouldn’t take away his fun!”
3. People punish their puppy anytime he mouths, thinking, “We don’t want him to be a biter!”
What is the problem with these common approaches, you ask? None of them teach a puppy how to inhibit its bite!
So, what exactly is bite inhibition?
When a puppy has bite inhibition, he has learned how to control the amount of pressure he uses with his mouth anytime it comes in contact with the skin of a human. That means a controlled, soft mouth during play AND a restrained, muted bite if he ever uses one in response to sudden or overwhelming fear and/or pain.
Did you know?
It’s critical that a puppy remains with his mother and litter mates until he’s at least 8 weeks of age. This way, he’s already begun to learn how to control the pressure of his teeth for when he plays with other canines; they yelp in pain, he backs off and learns to be gentler next time, in order to keep playing. This is a start, but it’s not enough; we must provide puppies feedback about what is acceptable when it comes to putting their mouths on people!
The 2 Phases of Bite Inhibition:
1. How to Shape a Soft Mouth
The message to your puppy: “Humans are very sensitive to pain and their skin is very delicate, if you hurt a human, your playtime and interaction will be immediately interrupted.”
• Play with your puppy within a confined play area. If the pressure of your puppy’s teeth causes even the slightest bit of pain, let out a painful-sounding “OUCH!” (even if it didn’t hurt that much).
• Take your hand away and call your dog a “Bully!” to mark the moment he’s lost his playtime for being too rough. Quickly leave the room and shut the door behind you for about 1-2 minutes.
• Return to your puppy and resume playtime, but be ready to say “OUCH!-Bully!” and leave the room again the moment he delivers even the slightest amount of painful pressure to your skin.
When your puppy reaches 4.5 months of age, he should no longer use painful pressure with his mouth.
2. Maturing out of Play-Mouthing
The message to your puppy: “Now that you’ve learned how to have a “soft mouth,” the frequency of play mouthing must significantly decrease by the time you are 6-8 months of age.”
• Occasional, gentle play mouthing is okay, but at this stage, your puppy must agree to stop when you ask him to do so. This means teaching your puppy that “Off” means to give up whatever is in his mouth (your hand or arm) and give you some space.
• Train “Off” by holding a small treat in your hand. As your puppy backs away from it, say “Off.” Have him wait for a 1-2 seconds, then say “Take it” and then allow him to eat it. Practice this until he can easily back off and wait for the 2 seconds, then start asking him to wait for 3-5 seconds, then 7-10 seconds, and so on, before having him take it.
• Once your pup has perfected “Off,” you can start rewarding him with toys that you can play with together, instead of a treat. This redirects and rewards his focus to mouthing on toys—a very wonderful thing for adolescent and adult dogs to do!
• If your puppy ignores “Off,” it is crucial that you declare “OUCH!-Bully!” and leave the room immediately! Your puppy must know that he always loses his favorite thing—interacting with his favorite human!—as soon as he starts mouthing too hard or won’t stop when requested.
Be a Responsible Puppy Parent – Consider Worst Case Scenarios!
It’s up to you to prepare your puppy for the rest of his life as a dog. Accidents happen, doors shut on tails, people step on paws, kids make mistakes. If your puppy doesn’t learn bite inhibition, he may react with a bite that causes severe damage, which can present life-threatening consequences to both the bite-recipient and the dog.
If you need greater assistance with your puppy’s bite inhibition, or have an adult dog that lacks bite inhibition, it is highly recommended that you seek professional help from a Certified Pet Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed, rather than attempt to train bite inhibition on your own.
Written by Caitlin Lane, CPDT-KA
This post was written in response to the numerous emails we received asking us how to teach their puppy bite inhibition, after reading “My Dog Would Never Bite..” Please email us if you have further questions.