Teaching Bite Inhibition
Ian Dunbar, a veterinary behaviorist who specializes in puppies, has collected a lot of data on dog behavioral problems. He has concluded that a dog who bites occasionally but has good bite inhibition is a lot safer than a dog who may bite only once in its life but has no bite inhibition. Therefore, he believes that teaching a puppy bite inhibition is key.
Bite inhibition is the puppy’s ability to control the pressure of its bite. Teaching the puppy never to bite at all is bite PROhibition, a different concept. The easiest time to teach a puppy bite inhibition is before it is 12-13 weeks old. Normally, puppies learn this in the litter. They have very sharp teeth for this very purpose. While their jaws are weak – so they can’t really injure their littermates – their teeth are like needles so that it’s painful when they bite. This causes their littermates and mother to react and give the puppy some feedback. This feedback tells the puppy to “lighten up” and the puppy learns to control its jaws very carefully. Once the puppy is out of its litter, we need to continue this process and teach the puppy to use the same skills with human flesh. And, the puppy needs to learn that human skin is more sensitive than dog skin, so they need to be even more careful with us fragile beings.
To teach the puppy bite INhibition, start with a puppy who is awake but not in a wild, zoomy, manic mood. Now play some “mouth games.” Sit with the pup and start playing around with his muzzle or moving your hands around quickly near his head, wiggling your fingers and talking animatedly. Also handle his snout and play around with putting your fingers in his mouth. (This also helps desensitize him to having his mouth handled.) While you play, have in mind a bite pressure that will be “too hard.” Start with a fairly firm pressure – probably one that is actually a little painful for you. Every time the puppy bites down “too hard,” yelp.
That yelp should be a loud, high-pitched indignant sound. Try to replicate the noise another puppy would make if it were nipped. Presumably that sound is going to be especially informative to your puppy because it says “hey – that hurt!” A low pitched “grrr” or “ouch” may still startle the puppy but probably doesn’t communicate as clearly that you are hurt. So practice that HIGH-pitched yelp. Some men, especially, feel silly doing this. It is worth overcoming any reluctance because someone’s face or your dog’s life could eventually depend on this!
Now, when the puppy bites down “too hard,” and you YELP, pause your motion for a second but do not withdraw your hand. Ninety percent of puppies will immediately let up when you yelp, and will startle a bit. Great! Now start playing with the pup’s muzzle or playing “catch my hand”again. Eventually your pup will get excited and chomp down again. Repeat the yelp and again pause without withdrawing your hand. Do this until you have counted ten yelps, then quit and do something fun. Do this 2-3 times per day, and have everyone in the house hold over age 8 do it at times. This helps the puppy generalize the lesson to all humans.
Eventually – maybe in the first session, maybe after 10 sessions – the puppy will just stop biting down “too hard.” This is what you have been waiting for. Now change your criteria. You are going to yelp when the pup bites down “medium hard.” Do the same routine until the pup is no longer biting down “medium hard.” Repeat the whole process when the pup bites down with “any pressure.” At the end of this, the pup should turn its head away when presented with your hand; lick your hand, or just hold your hand gently in its mouth.
In addition to these formal sessions, make sure to use the same yelp when the pup nips in play. Use the yelp when the pup grabs your clothing – as far as a dog is concerned, clothing should be treated as part of your body.
About 10% of puppies do not stop biting when you yelp. Instead they tend to dig in more fiercely. I suspect this happens a lot with terriers, but I don’t have data on that. Anyway, if that happens, get up and walk away every time the puppy bites. You can do the same exercise, but you can’t leave your hand in the pup’s mouth – since you must walk away. Do the exercise in a puppy proofed room such as the bathroom so that you can safely leave the puppy in there for 20 seconds or so until you return.
Practice this until the puppy is simply refusing to bite down.
This will have a lifetime payoff. If you condition the puppy to moderate its jaw pressure before the age of 12 weeks, it will be much less likely to injure anyone if it happens to bite in the future.
This tends to work less well in pups over about five months of age. After that age, use the getting up and walking away method.
Copyright 2003 by Greta Kaplan
Carissa wrote:I think she's pretty good at bite inhibition for the most part now. I let her "mouth" sometimes and if it's just mouthing (no teeth), I don't correct her. Sometimes she'll revert to licking which is fine. It's sharp teeth on skin (which hurts) or grabbing and pulling/tearing clothing that I want to correct. I guess based on the above article, walking away is best when she's like that. Yelping works for about two seconds, then she sometimes bites harder. She's also learning some bite inhibition from my other dog, who corrects her if she bites her ears or feet too hard. But she's also a tough dog with high pain tolerance and doesn't mind her hanging onto her neck skin for long periods of time. I can give her a chew toy and that does work to stop the behavior for the moment (literally seconds, sometimes), but this is something that happens dozens of times a day so I don't always have a toy available at that moment. I'll try the yelping and walking away if that doesn't work and see what happens.
amazincc wrote:Malli wrote:ahem!
Ahem... I'm not Erin, but - game would be over, and said puppy would be ignored. Biting/nipping/mouthing = no fun and no play.
And you know that praising/treating when puppy DOES play appropriately works wonders. If it works for Sepp... it's almost guaranteed for any other knucklehead... err... dog.
amazincc wrote:"Ahem"... as in Erin didn't answer Mallikas question, so "Ahem"... I tried to.
Carissa wrote:She understands bite inhibition when she is calmer, but occasionally forgets about it to some degree when she is excited. By correction I mean something that will let her know that biting is not a good thing. Whatever that may be. I don't think it's ok for her to be biting at all. Why would I want to teach her that it's ok to bite? Inhibition means she doesn't bite with full force. That's 95 - 99 % the case already. But now I don't want her biting at all. My thinking is that if it's ok for her to bite as a puppy, it will be ok as an adult, and I don't want that. Am I off base? Or maybe I'm trying to teach this too early?
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