The Playful Chewing vs. Puppy Bite Inhibition
Mouthing and biting is a normal part of being a puppy but is clearly unacceptable in an adult dog. Teaching bite inhibition is the single most important item for any pup. The pup must be taught to inhibit the force of its biting behavior so that it develops a soft mouth, and then to inhibit the frequency of its mouthing, so that the adolescent and adult dog learns never mouth or bite any person or their clothing.
The information below is appropriate for puppies (up to about 18 weeks, with their first set of teeth) that have not yet learned to inhibit their playful biting. For this program, it is important that EVERYONE who interacts with your dog, (e.g. ALL family members and ALL other people) follows the same rules. Children should be closely supervised to ensure that they are following the rules too. Your dog must learn that he should not mouth or bite ANYONE.
This program is broken down into three steps, to be followed in order:
1. No painful bites.
2. No pressure with teeth.
3. No mouthing at all.
Puppies normally develop bite inhibition through interaction with their littermates. When a puppy bites another puppy too hard, the second puppy will yelp and discontinue playing. In this way, the first puppy learns not to bite so hard. When you take a puppy from its litter, humans (you) take the place of littermates and need to continue the teaching.
1. No painful bites. In the same way, you as humans must act like fellow littermate and let your dog know when he has bitten you too hard. You should yelp in order to startle your dog and then walk away from your dog and ignore him for about a minute. Ignore means no looking at your dog, no speaking to your dog, and no touching your dog! If necessary you can leave the room for that minute (a ‘time out’) so that he has no chance of play biting you while you are ignoring him.
Dogs vary in their general sensitivity and it is important that you startle your dog APPROPRIATELY when he bites. If when you yelp your dog immediately comes back to bite you again then you are not startling your dog enough: Try a louder yelp or try shouting ‘ ouch’. Similarly, make sure that you do not startle your dog too much. If your dog runs away and hides when you yelp then you are most likely yelping too loudly: next time try a quieter yelp.
2. No pressure with teeth (gentle mouthing only). Once your dog has learned that painful bites are unacceptable and has stopped doing them, you can progress to training your dog that any pressure of his teeth against your skin is unacceptable. Use the same procedure of yelping and then ignoring for about a minute.
3. No mouthing at all. Once your dog has learned that he should not exert any pressure with his teeth against your skin you can progress to training your dog that ANY mouthing at all is unacceptable.
Depending on the age and temperament/breed of your puppy, the time it takes to reach step three will vary from a week or two to a few months. Here are some guidelines to help speed the process along:
Never hit your dog (his nose or any other part of him) in response to his mouthing or play biting! Not only is this unnecessary but also it will likely encourage him to continue biting you, either in play or in self-defense.
Do not forget to provide appropriate chew toys and bones for your dog and praise him for chewing on these. In this way, your dog will learn not only what is UNACCEPTABLE but also what is ACCEPTABLE in terms of using his mouth.
You may find it helpful to use a taste deterrent (available from pet shops) on your hands or clothing while you are going through this program. First, make sure that the product is actually distasteful to your dog. (Some dogs like the taste of taste deterrents; cheap whiskey or Bitter Apple seem to work the best).
Once your dog has successfully completed all stages of bite inhibition you will want ensure that your dog CONTINUES to have good bite inhibition throughout life. Therefore it is a good idea to handle his mouth daily (open it and touch his teeth and tongue) and reward him for being gentle.