How to gently teach your puppy to control his cute little mouth.
What is Bite Inhibition?
Bite inhibition is a crucial skill that a puppy must develop if he is to live peacefully with his human and dog family. Bite inhibition is the dog’s ability to moderate the force of his bite. While dogs often use their mouths in play, they must learn when they are using too much force. This needs to become a reflex and is best ingrained in puppyhood.
Who begins to teach this?
The dam of the litter aka your puppy’s Mom, along with his littermates are without a doubt the best creatures to begin teaching your puppy how to control his mouth. This is a reason why you shouldn’t take a puppy away from his mother and litter before 8 weeks of age (I prefer to take a puppy home at around 10-12 weeks, but that’s a whole other blog).
During his time with his mom and siblings, when an excited pup bites Mom too hard during a play session, Mom will give a yelp loud enough to startle him. If he bites hard again, Mom might growl and show teeth. She also might bite back. She certainly won’t continue playing with a pup who bites too hard. Out of fear of being left out of the fun, the pup soon learns to control the force of his biting if he wants Mom and other dogs to play with him.
Why do puppies nip?
Puppies explore a lot of their world by playing and a whole lot of this play involves using their mouths. Puppies nip for a variety of reasons and it’s never to intentionally hurt you -although at times, with those razor-like milk teeth, it may seem so. Depending on your puppy’s age, he could be teething -if so, have plenty of chewing toys of different textures available. I find a wet towel twisted and frozen in the freezer really soothes as does a toy stuffed with yummy treats.
If you’ve ever watched two or more puppies play, it’s all mouth! Puppies use their mouths to grab things and this a way in which your puppy is trying to engage you!
How do I control this little Piranha?
Please note that I am not a dog trainer nor am I a dog behaviourist. I am an experienced dog owner and Canadian Kennel Club member. These are simply some techniques I have used and been successful in teaching puppies bite inhibition. There is no substitute for a training class that teaches positive reinforcement.
Although it may be tough to do to your gorgeous new pup, the best way to stop your puppy from nipping is immediate and total rejection. Here’s what I do: First, make sure you have a way to separate yourself from your puppy. An exercise pen (“ex pen”) works great for this, but you can also use a baby gate to block off a part of your home. Once I’m in the ex pen with the puppy, I use a toy or two and play with the puppy. This teaches him that there are things you can bite on (the toy) and things you can’t (me). I praise the playing with the toy, but the second the bite is too hard, I yelp like a puppy. Seriously, I squeal, high pitched and loud. Then I leave the ex pen immediately for 1-2 minutes.
The reason I yelp like another dog is to communicate with the pup by marking the exact behaviour that made me leave. After a couple minutes, if he has calmed down (don’t go back in if he is still barking and excited) I go back into the pen and calmly start playing again. I repeat the process and if he is still biting after several play sessions, I start to make the “time outs” from me a bit longer.
If you are not able to distance yourself from the puppy after a nip (for example if you are on a walk), simply stand up right after you make your sound, stay completely still and keep your arms at your side. After a minute or two, go back to engaging with the puppy. I recommend this technique for small children and ask them to “be a tree” when the puppy nips.
As the puppy ages, I use this technique to stop all mouthing. At first, I only use this for painful bites from a young pup. As he ages, I would use it for medium bites and as soon as he begins to exit the puppy phase of his life (which varies depending on breed), I would use the “yelp and leave” for any mouthing. Your goal is to have a well socialized dog that will never hurt anyone with his teeth.
In order to have a puppy that no longer nips, you and everyone your puppy engages with has to be committed to making the behaviour stop. Consistency is always key for dogs. You can’t allow it sometimes and then not tolerate it the next.
My Tips To Nip Nipping In The Bud.
-Wait until your pup is at least 8 weeks before bringing him home from his littermates and his breeder.
- Because puppy teeth are razor sharp, make sure you don’t pull your hand too quickly out of the puppy’s mouth. Once you make your yelping sound, wait half a second to remove your hand as your puppy will be in the process of taking his mouth off you.
-Have a variety of toys on hand so that a replacement for your flesh is available. Ideally, your puppy will begin to look for a toy when he wants to mouth.
-Allow your puppy to play with other healthy puppies and well trained, friendly and vaccinated dogs. Other dogs are great at teaching bite inhibition.
-Hand feeding treats is a great way to teach a dog how to use his mouth in a polite manner.
-Be sure that giving your pup enough stimulation both mentally and physically.
- Teach your dog to play a non-contact game like fetch.
-Enroll in a Puppy Kindergarten class.