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Bite Inhibition

All puppies love to play by being mouthy and biting or chewing anything they can get their sharp little teeth into. These sharp teeth are the reason that it is crucial for puppies to learn bite inhibition (controlling the force of their bite) during the first few months of life. Normally this is learned naturally and effectively through contact with mom and other littermates. If the puppy bites mom during nursing mom can roll the dog over to correct it or just get up and walk away. Hungry puppy learns very quickly to control those teeth if it wants to eat. Likewise, when playing with littermates, if a puppy gets bitten too hard it will yelp and stop playing. Once again puppy learns that biting hard means the end of something good.

Normally if puppy stays with his littermates for the first 2-4 months of its life it will learn bite inhibition. This is why it is so important for dogs to meet and play with other dogs. A group obedience class is usually the best way to properly socialize dogs, and reduce possible bad behaviors in the future even if the dog stayed with its littermates for a long time.

When it comes to humans, a new puppy or dog may never have learned that hard biting on humans is never allowed. When a puppy bites you during play it’s almost never an aggressive bite, it is just play.(You would know if it’s an aggressive bite because the dog would be acting aggressively i.e. growling.) Dogs play using their mouths because they are like its hands. They touch and grab and lick, it’s one of the ways they interact with us and the world. It’s up to the dog owner to teach the dog bite control if the dog hasn’t learned this on its own. Usually puppies and dogs will bite our hands because that’s the way we interact with them during feeding, grooming, playing etc.

The best approach to teaching a puppy or dog bite control is usually adopting the behavior of one of the dog’s littermates. If the dog gets too mouthy and bites you too hard during play, exaggerate a loud yelp or cry and immediately stop whatever activity you are doing. Turn away and ignore your dog. Sometimes this takes a bunch of lessons, but most dogs will learn it over time. At first the goal should be getting the dog to reduce the force of the bite. Then the goal is to reduce the frequency of biting. Expect that it will take a few days to a week. Hitting a dog after a bite is the worst thing you can do because the dog’s intent was play not harm. A hit from you therefore, confuses the dog and it may even react defensively, this time biting you with intent.

In general, teach the dog that playing with dog toys is better than playing with hands directly because the game lasts so much longer. Play with a Frisbee, rope, Kong, ball etc. Don’t use your hands as a dog toy. Most puppies bite you accidentally and that’s how you both learn. If you have already received an accidental play bite so you know how hard it is, and you want to deliberately elicit a bite to teach the dog bite inhibition, only then should you play directly with your hands. You will probably get a bite and it probably won’t hurt that much and the puppy might learn faster. Wear long sleeves and protective ace bandages or gloves if you’re afraid.

Remember: All family members must be consistent; a bite equals a cry from you and the end of play and attention.

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