Puppy Training Biting!

German Shepherd puppy practicing bite inhibition on adult dog.

Puppy training, biting, in particular, is something that you need to get under control when your puppy is fairly young.

Sometimes it can seem overwhelming when you don't know how to stop the biting but don't worry, it's perfectly normal and can definitely be trained.  Puppy biting, mouthing, and chewing is all part of their growing up process.

Teaching bite inhibition is the best way to stop your puppy biting.  Now, let me explain what I mean by bite inhibition and how that should factor into your puppy training. Biting each other is how puppies learn how much pressure is tolerable and how much is too much. 

By biting each other during play, puppies learn that biting too hard hurts their siblings and stops play. They soon adjust their bite strength to a softer bite and play resumes. That's how they learn and that's what we need to mimic.

Bite Inhibition

Bite inhibition, sometimes referred to as a soft mouth, is a behavior in carnivorans whereby the animal learns to moderate the strength of its bite.

It is an important factor in the socialization of pets. ...
  Source: wikipedia.org

Puppies and bite inhibition should go hand-in-hand as it's literally in their DNA to bite. Puppies will naturally practice biting behavior with their mother and litter mates at the age of 3-12 weeks. If you haven't already done so, read the page on Puppy Care for more detailed information.

Most owners take their new pup home, and away from their litter mates, before 12 weeks which means that we interrupt this crucial bite inhibition stage and learning opportunity. Guess what that means....the pup you bring home, will now continue with his natural biting desires on you.

Puppy Training - Biting Soft

If you want to be a savvy owner you can help them (and ultimately you) greatly by giving feedback on how much pressure they can use. Mother Nature gave puppies those needles for a reason. Yes, they hurt but they don't do much damage as Mother Nature also gave puppies weak jaws.  That's why you need to address the puppy biting while he is still young!

For their benefit, and yours, puppies simply must know how to bite softly before they enter adolescence. Adult dogs use their mouths to play with each other all the time. A pup that hasn't learned bite inhibition i.e. his bite tolerance, is going to get into all sorts of trouble as an adult if he is biting his fellow canine pals hard. Let alone what it could do to a human.

Before I go into the steps necessary to teach your puppy bite inhibition, let me start by saying the obvious, only adults should practice this. Never let a child practice bite inhibition and don't leave children alone with the puppy. Puppy training for biting should only ever be done by an adult. OK, that said, lets talk about the steps you need to follow and why.

Steps for Puppy Training - Biting

Puppy training bite inhibition.
  1. First, the hardest part, let your puppy bite on your hand. As soon as he bites a little too hard you need to screech OUCH, and immediately leave the room for 1-2 minutes.  Puppies understand the screech as this is similar to the noise their litter mates would make.  By leaving the room you are again mimicking the reaction other puppies would give to a puppy that is biting too hard. He will be isolated.
  2. When you return, continue the play and let him bite you again.
  3. If he bites hard again, repeat the process. In fact, you will need to repeat this again and again but your pup should eventually get it and start biting softer.
  4. Next step, is to start to screech OUCH when he is biting softer, and again leave the room.  Your puppy will soon learn that even his reduce bite strength is biting too hard. The result for him is that the play stops and he is left alone and he won't like that. But don't make it longer than 2 minutes otherwise he will have forgotten what he did in the first place!
  5. Again, repetition is required before your puppy should start to bite even softer.
  6. Multiple people should now practice this with your puppy, excluding children of course.
  7. Once your puppy is consistently biting softer it shows he is demonstrating self-control and you can start to screech OUCH and leave the room for even softer bites.
  8. Repeat these steps gradually teaching the puppy to bite softer and softer until he mouths with very little pressure.
  9. Once he has got this and is biting with very little pressure, you can teach him "don't touch" command by redirecting him to a chew toy or other toy when he goes to bite you, saying the command "don't touch".

At this point, and with sore fingers, you may be thinking why not just teach your puppy the "no bite rule first?  Well, there is a reason for that.  First off, its a tall order as puppies have a great need to bite and a short attention span to learn things so the gradual approach is much easier.

Secondly, if you do manage to teach your puppy not to bite at all they will be left with a "hard mouth" and if they ever bite, it will be a hard bite.

What is a Hard or Soft Mouth Anyway?

"Soft mouth" means that your pup/dog will bite with soft pressure.
"Hard mouth" means your pup/dog will bite hard with full pressure of their jaws.

Owners and trainers that use the "no bite" method are only suppressing the behavior. Unfortunately suppressing behavior does just that. Suppresses it, not eliminate it. Given the wrong set of circumstances any dog can bite.  

A bite is at the far end of the "leave me alone" spectrum for dogs and any dog can reach this threshold. Whether it be due to pain, stress, vet visits or just a communication misunderstanding any dog has the potential to choose biting as a reaction.

A dog that has learned bite inhibition is less likely to cause serious damage than a dog that has been taught to suppress his bite altogether.

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