Have you ever had a puppy gently gnaw on your fingers? When they are cute and little, this action seems harmless. But like many initially charming behaviors, as dogs mature, biting can lead to serious trouble.
Bite inhibition, which refers to a dog’s ability to control the pressure of his bite, is an often-overlooked aspect of puppy training. Many dog owners believe you should immediately shut down any form of nipping, but this complex subject deserves further exploration.
In this guide, we’ll look into what exactly bite inhibition is and why it’s such a crucial part of puppy management. Educating yourself on this could truly change your dog’s life and future well-being.
What is Bite Inhibition?
When puppies in a litter play with each other, it inevitably leads to some nipping. A dog’s teeth are really the main defense against any threats, so they experiment with control of them early on.
If you’ve ever watched puppies at play, you’ve probably seen one bite too hard. The recipient pup will react negatively, likely yelping and retreating.
While this isn’t a fun thing to watch, it’s a valuable part of a puppy’s upbringing. When the dog sees that his teeth inflict pain, resulting in an inability to continue playing, he learns how to manage the strength of his bite.
A pup may also learn this lesson from his mother. If he nips too hard, she will show her displeasure. She might do this by getting up and walking away, taking away her cherished attention. Sometimes, mothers will also growl or nip back at the offending puppy.
Ideally, puppies should start learning this restraint while they are still with their litter. When a puppy is under 8-weeks-old, he’s taking in huge amounts of information about how to socialize properly.
It’s best for him to learn about bite inhibition before his jaw has developed into a strong adult one.
Unfortunately, some pups miss out on the opportunity to be educated by their mothers and littermates. It’s considerably more difficult to teach adult dogs how to moderate their bites.
When a dog does not learn how to control his bites, he’s set up for a lifelong struggle. In some cases, sadly, he will end up being euthanized. A dog who doesn’t understand how to use his teeth softly will inevitably suffer the consequences of poor training.
As with many desirable canine behaviors, this skill is tricky to teach an adult dog.
Puppies who are removed from their litter too early often fail to learn this lesson at the prime age for it. As a result, they have what’s called a “hard bite.” Even without meaning to be aggressive, they end up hurting other animals and people.
Even if they are not trying to cause damage, dogs without this skill can end up biting when trying to accept a treat from someone. They lack awareness of what their teeth can do. With no practice learning to manage their teeth, dogs may be oblivious about how to interact with others.
When a dog displays this ignorance in public, whether with other dogs or with people, it’s usually seen as aggression. Even if he only means to play and not to hurt, it’s very threatening behavior to others.
Since it’s so challenging to instill this self-control in an adult dog, puppy owners need to make bite inhibition a priority.
Why You Should Let Your Puppy Nibble
It’s tempting to shut down any form of mouth play the second you see it. You might be nervous that if you allow any kind of nibbling, your dog will eventually view biting as acceptable.
While this is an understandable concern, the reality is that by allowing your pup to test the “teeth boundaries” on your skin, you’re teaching him in the same way his mother did. If he is never allowed to nibble, he won’t learn what an acceptable pressure is.
Dogs who have learned how sensitive human skin is are better prepared for potential accidents. Even a sweet and well-behaved dog can end up biting out of pain or fear. If the dog has learned how to have a “soft mouth,” there’s a reduced risk of serious injury to the person in question.
Puppies examine the world with their teeth, so it’s only natural that learning to control them can take a while.
Remember that using teeth is an instinctive action for puppies. They don’t mean to harm or do something “bad” when they start exploring through biting. Knowing that your pup is not actively trying to defy you is important as you begin training bite inhibition.
All of this is not to say that you should let your dog get away with anything more than gentle nibbling.
As your dog matures, you’ll also want to decrease the frequency of even the mild mouthing. The idea here is simply to allow your pup some early exploration so he can build an awareness about the capabilities of his teeth.
How Do You Teach Bite Inhibition?
Once you bring your new puppy home, the job of teaching bite inhibition shifts from the canine family to you. Between weeks 8 and 16, your puppy is in a key socialization period. While exposing him to a wide variety of people and places is essential, don’t forget the significance of teaching bite inhibition as well.
Phase 1: Softening the Bite
Educating puppies on bite inhibition is a two-part process. The first objective is to mimic the behavior of the dog’s mother and littermates by reacting negatively to painful bites.
Show your puppy what hurts.
When your puppy bites too hard, drop your hand and make an exclamation of some kind. It can be as basic as “ouch!” or even a yelping sound. Just make sure you use the same reaction each time.
Most dogs will stop immediately after a person exclaims in this way. It’s an unusual occurrence, so your puppy will try to make sense of it. He’ll dislike that you pulled away from the playing.
Redirect his attention.
When your puppy stops and looks at you with that confused expression, offer him something appropriate to chew on. It’s handy to have chew toys nearby when you are working on bite inhibition.
Be ready to leave.
If your puppy bites with the same pressure again, make your exclamation and then retreat. Leave the room and separate yourself so he knows it’s not a game. Some puppies will be inclined to chase after you and continue to play. If it’s easier, you can tie your dog up while working on this lesson.
Practice, practice, practice.
As with everything in dog training, consistency is key. Continue to use this method every time your puppy bites too hard. When he bites gently, reward him by staying put and continuing to offer your attention.
Phase 2: Stopping the Bite
Once your puppy has a good idea of the acceptable pressure to use when mouthing, it’s time to decrease how often he does it at all.
Continue to redirect.
Use the same redirection technique as you did in the first phase. Have toys, bones, or other chewable objects ready. Praise your puppy for using them. It’s helpful to play games such as tug-of-war at this time. Keep your dog’s attention on the toys instead of your fingers.
Ask for gentler mouthing.
As your puppy learns to bite softly, gradually ask for less and less pressure. Even if your puppy’s nibble is light and does not hurt, act like it was too rough. As your pup learns to ease up on the pressure, he’ll continue this way until he stops biting at all.
Make sure to move at a slow pace or else your dog may become confused. If you take your time, you won’t risk having to start from scratch when your dog acts out in frustration.
Around this time, you might also consider training commands such as “leave it.” It’s useful to give your dog a task, play a game, or teach a new command. Keeping his mind busy and engaged will mean less bored and destructive behavior.
Lastly, make your life easier by allowing your pup to interact with other dogs in a controlled setting, such as a puppy class. Other dogs can do the same as your puppy’s littermates did by discouraging hard bites. It’s not the same as teaching them how to be kind to human skin, but it will still support the training overall.
What to Avoid
While training bite inhibition, there are some common obstacles or mistakes that you’ll want to avoid. Let’s look at some problems you might face while teaching this particular skill.
Avoid shouting at or physically reprimanding your dog for nipping. Some dog owners are tempted to hold their puppy’s mouth closed after he bites. Much of the time, this only further agitates your puppy into amplifying the pressure. He might think you are escalating the game, or he may become frightened.
Try not to jerk your hand away if a bite stings you. Yes, this may be easier said than done! But by yanking your hand away, you may accidentally encourage your dog to chase it. It’s more effective to simply let your hand fall limp.
Don’t be discouraged by setbacks. There are all kinds of reasons a puppy doing well with bite inhibition might randomly bite too hard again. In a moment of excitement, he may forget his newly acquired moderation. As long as you continue these methods with consistency, your pup will get there.
Don’t be afraid to react noticeably when your pup bites too hard. If you’re unconvincing in your protest, you won’t be able to startle him into changing course. In order for this technique to be effective, your puppy has to be caught off guard by your reaction.
Don’t forget to redirect your pup. Offering your puppy alternatives for chewing and engaging his mind with games makes a world of difference. It will speed up every aspect of your training.
As time-consuming as bite inhibition training–or any puppy handling–can be, it’s always worth it in the long run. Having a dog who respects the sensitivity of human skin and knows “a little goes a long way” is beneficial not only to humans, but to the dog as well. It’s not fair to expect a dog to inherently know how tender he needs to be with his teeth.
If your puppy is slow to learn this skill, try to be patient. Know that you’re not alone and that every dog will move at a unique pace. By kindly instilling this knowledge at a young age, you set your puppy up to thrive as an adult.
Want to speed up your pup’s bite inhibition education?
One of the most effective ways to teach anything to puppies with minimal attention spans is to play training games. Just like with children, you can make the learning process an entertaining experience in order to keep their attention.
Constructive games with clear rules and positive rewards will advance your pup’s skills much faster than you would expect.
We’ve put together our top three games for teaching bite inhibition. Once your pup has practiced these games, you’ll see swift improvements in impulse control, gentleness, and overall respect.
All three games have straightforward instructions as well as an explanation of how they will guide your puppy into learning bite inhibition.
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