Nancy Kerns: Hi! I am Nancy Kerns, Editor of The Whole Dog Journal. Today I am going to discuss bite inhibition in puppies.
Bite inhibition is one of the most important skills or reflexes that a puppy has to develop in order to live peacefully with other dogs and with humans. Bite inhibition is the ability of a dog to unconsciously control the force of his bite, something akin to a reflex established and engrained in puppyhood.
Canine behaviorists theorize that dogs have evolved to normally develop by inhibition for good reason. In canine society dogs normally use escalation of force to effectively get their messages across without inflecting serious injury upon each other which is important for the survival of the species.
So how do you ensure that your puppy learns this critically important skill? First, don't take that pup away from his mom and littermates before he is at least eight weeks old and preferably a few weeks older. Nobody teaches a puppy how to control his bite as well as mom and other puppies.
In the first stage of helping your pup develop good bite inhibition you have to no just allow but actually encourage your pup to mouth you.
It hurts when their teeth are sharp, but it's important for their brains to process the sensation of mouthing other living bodies as well as the instant and total rejection that results when they bite into flesh too hard.
As long as your pup is biting with pressure that's tolerable, play alone; but if he bites so hard that it really hurts, say, ouch, and end the game, step outside the reach of his tether or exit the expense so he can't follow you.
The ouch isn't intended to stop the biting, it only marks the behavior that tells him what he did that made you leave. Wait a minute so he can calm down and then return and calmly resume playing. If he is barking and aroused, wait to return until he settles.
As long as he bites softly continue playing. Any time his bite hurts, say, ouch, and leave. If several repetitions don't seem to reduce the hard biting give him longer timeouts to give him more time to settle.
Over time as he learns to control his hardest biting, you can raise the bar. Use the same methods to gradually shape a softer and softer mouth. When he is no longer biting hard enough to hurt, use your ouch technique for moderately hard bites, then medium ones, and then finally as he outgrows the puppy stage at five to six months for any bite to skin it all.
The goal is to train a dog that will never hurt anyone with his bite.