Puppies leave “Bite School” - their mother and siblings - before they learn the important skill of bite inhibition. As trainers and dog owners we have to pick up where mum left off and teach the puppies how not to use their mouths. Puppies explore the whole world with their mouths, they learn about sizes, shapes, textures and the pain they can inflict when they bite too hard. Puppies need to bite and chew and we have to provide them the correct things to bite and chew on. It is not advisable to give a puppy something of ours that is old for them to chew on, such as a shoe. A puppy does not understand the concept of old, they do however know what a shoe is and shoes and other items of ours should be off limits. Puppy mouthing is cute when they have little pincers but when they reach 80 pounds and have big teeth even mouthing should not be acceptable. It will be hard to explain to the owner that the 80 pound German Shepherd putting teeth on their daughter is ok because “our dog will not bite”. All dogs can bite, they have teeth and if pushed, threatened or they need to defend themselves they will bite. If and when a dogs does bite the damage can be minimal if the dog has acquired bite inhibition.
Teaching a puppy not to mouth and not to bite are two different exercises.
If we stop them doing both right off the bat then they never learn about bite pressure as they do not get to experiment with their mouths, they do not learn what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Bite inhibition is a critical skill for puppies to learn and this is another key reason why puppies need to go to a well run safe puppy class where they can play and learn all the fight and play rituals with their own kind. Dogs teach other dogs great lessons about bite inhibition so playing as a puppy with other dogs is an important part of their education.
Bite inhibition Training
Puppies have to learn at a very early age that they cannot put their teeth onto our skin, clothing or body in any way. They have to be taught a soft mouth. Puppies learn to develop this soft mouth from their mother and siblings through feeding, play and mock fighting. If puppies are taken from “bite school” too soon then they come into our homes without the required knowledge and we have to pick up where Mum left off. Alternatively children or adults inappropriately playing with small cute puppies can encourage biting and only when larger teeth grow in and/or the puppies jaws strengthen does the biting suddenly become a problem as the dog has not learned the necessary bite inhibition.
The following are simple guidelines for owners when they have a puppy that is biting during petting or restraint.
First we address the puppy biting during petting as it is mutually beneficial for the puppy to exhibit behaviors that gain petting and do not stop it. This is assuming we have a normal puppy and not a puppy that is resistant to human contact of a normal nature. Once we have a cue for ‘no biting’ we can then use this if the puppy is biting during restraint and we will have a reinforcement system and criteria for when they release or stop.
Puppies not only bite, they mouth. For a young puppy instruct students to focus on the biting. This means the puppy can mouth, have a soft mouth, but they must not apply any pressure or cause pain. As soon as we have a good soft mouth then we can work toward play mouthing with a leave it or off command. The goal is to teach the puppy that they cannot use their teeth to grasp, manipulate or gain control over a human hand or in fact any other item other than their toys.
- When petting the puppy and he is exploring and using his mouth, as soon as pressure is applied say ‘OUCH’. If the puppy stops then lure them into a sit using a nice treat and reward them
- If ‘ouch’ does not do the job then you will have to create some false pain and associated noises. I recommend a high pitch yelp and pull back the hand. Remove yourself and stop interacting with the puppy. This is exactly what a sibling would do if nipped too hard.
- Return after 30 seconds and continue playing. Your puppy will learn very quickly that nips stop the game and fun ends.
Use the level, tone and pitch appropriate to get results, do not traumatize the puppy.
Do not allow the puppy to play bite anything other than toys. They cannot differentiate between your hands, your cloths and your furniture.
Playing with a puppy that has a soft mouth is an important part of their development; they need to train their mouths to have bite inhibition. If we scare or punish them into stopping any mouth contact at all then we have not done our jobs in teaching them and enabling them to develop good mouth control.
When puppy is only mouthing then we can teach them an ‘off’ or ‘leave it’ command to remove their mouth from us completely. That way they can mouth when they play but we can stop them if necessary.
- Hand feed the puppy using a large soft chewy treats you can hold in your hand
- As puppy is nibbling, remove your hand, if puppy comes to get the treat say ‘off‘ and close your hand.
- When puppy backs away, sits down or stops, reinforce and reintroduce the treat.
This teaches the puppy that mouthing is ok if we allow it.