“Without a doubt, teaching bite inhibition is the single most important item on the educational agenda of any pup.” Dr Ian Dunbar.
Puppies don’t have thumbs, they cannot hold things, they only have a mouth for this purpose, so biting is normal, natural, and necessary puppy behaviour. Play-biting is the way in which puppies learn to control the strength of their bites. Puppies that do not mouth or learn bite inhibition are more likely to cause serious damage as adults when they playfully interact with the family, visitors or other dogs.
A dog that has developed bite inhibition my get involved in many dog fights but none of his opponents will be bleeding or need veterinary help.
Teaching bite inhibition is a double process: Firstly, to inhibit the force of the bite and secondly, to reduce the frequency of puppy mouthing. Ideally these two should be taught at the same time.
Inhibiting the Force of Bites
We have all seen puppies in the litter and at puppy school playing a game: “I bite you- you bite me.” When the bite hurts, a puppy will yelp, stop playing and so immediately teach the other one that it must not use so much force play-biting. We also need to teach our puppy that humans are “sissies,” so an “Ouch” should be sufficient but loud enough for the pup to sit up and notice. When the puppy backs off, stop the activity, look at the spot where he bit, pretend it to be worse than it is, or stop the bleeding. Get the puppy to sit or lie down next to you to say, “Sorry,” before the game can continue.
If the puppy does not react to your “yelp” by continuing to bite and attack, call the puppy a “Bully” or “Bad” or give a deep, growly “Bah” bark, similar to the sound the mommy dog uses to admonish her pups. Leave the room and shut the door. Alternatively, pick the pup up by the scruff of the neck and place it outside to realise that it has lost a playmate.
Return after a few minutes to cuddle and show that you still love your puppy, not the bites. Using the “Ouch” sound and immediately leaving the puppy for a while is a very important action to drive home the fact that you disapprove of hard bites. He soon learns that hard bites stops the fun.
I teach my puppies something like: “I may put my hand into your mouth but you may not do it to me.” By gently pushing a hand into the pup’s mouth I get him to chew “Gently” on my hand with bites that no longer hurt. Any hard bite is met with an “Ah” or ” Ouch” and in so doing try to eliminate bite pressure altogether.
All this should be achieved by the time the pup is four-and-a half months old and has adult canine teeth.
Decreasing the Frequency of Mouthing
Each time you cuddle your puppy he instinctively will start mouthing you again. Now he must be taught that gentle mouthing is okay but he must stop when requested to do so.
Now the puppy must be taught the “leave!” and “take it” command. Offer the pup a treat and just as it wants to take it, close the treat in your fist and say “Leave!” The pup will ignore the command at first and attempt to dislodge it from your hand by nudging or licking your hand. Repeat the command until the puppy backs off then open your hand, revealing the treat and say “take it.” (Do not give the treat to the puppy but let him come forward to take it.) Some trainers prefer to use the “Off” command rather than “Leave.”
Soon it is possible to stretch the period between leaving and taking by saying, “Good dog one, good dog two, good dog three” etc. before, “Take it.” Next the treat is placed on the ground or held in the open hand for the puppy to see it but he may not touch it for up to eight seconds without permission.
The point of this exercise is to not only distract the puppy from mouthing you but to stop doing so on command. Dogs should gradually be weaned off mouthing altogether by age six months. Regular hand feeding should continue because this involves the closeness of human hand and his mouth.
A sharp “Leave!’ must be used for biting clothes, shoes, shoe laces etc. Play-fighting is allowed because there are rules he must obey and gives you control over your puppy.
Play-fighting is allowed because there are rules he must obey. e