Bite Inhibition

Between 9 and 13 weeks of age, your puppy is likely to be a land-shark and you may resemble a pin cushion. This is normal! In fact, if you are not experiencing this, even more reason to listen up, because you need to be experiencing this. Well, technically, your puppy does.

Puppies use their mouths to explore the world; they use their mouths as we use our hands.The only difference is that they are equipped with razor-sharp weapons!

Before our puppy reaches the age of 14-16 weeks, we have a critical and time-sensitive job to do. We must teach our puppy how to use their mouth gently.

Now, I know. You might say “But I don’t want my puppy biting at all! How do I make it stop?”and while I understand your frustration, I promise you, this is not what is best for you, your puppy, the public, and future dog-friends.

In four weeks, we must work through a process called “Bite Inhibition Training” and this is far more important than potty training, leash walking, crate training, and any manners you have on your wish list.

Teaching your puppy to use a softer mouth during play won’t come back to bite you later.

In fact, it’s the best thing you can do for them. They need to learn bite inhibition in three different contexts:

  1. With other puppies around the same age (under 16-20 weeks)
  2. With people
  3. With adult dogs who are friendly and tolerant

What do we risk by not teaching them this skill? We risk having a dog who does not have a variety of strengths of bites, from warning nips all the way up to bone-crunching bites.We need them to learn the difference and to choose the warning nip throughout their life when they need it.

“But my dog will never bite!”We all wish for this to be true, but the reality is that all dogs bite. They bite when they are afraid, threatened, or injured. It’s not to say that your dog is guaranteed to bite, but it’s certainly to say that your dog is not guaranteed not to bite.

Let’s look at how we can bite-proof your puppy now for a lifetime of safe dog-guardianship. Here is how it looks:

Weeks #1 & #2

  • Allow mouthing and nipping
  • Keep hands still and boring
  • If it really hurts, say “ouch” in a flat tone and leave the LTCA (long-term confinement area) for a couple minutes or go do something you need to do – emails, phone call, laundry, meal prep, etc. Completely disengage from play.

Week #3

  • Allow mouthing and nipping
  • Keep hands still and boring
  • If it hurts a little, say “ouch” in a flat tone and leave the LTCA (long-term confinement area) for a couple minutes or go do something you need to do – emails, phone call, laundry, meal prep, etc. Completely disengage from play.

Week #4 & onwardWhen playing, if your puppy bites, immediately say “ouch” in a flat tone and leave the LTCA (long-term confinement area) for a couple minutes or go do something you need to do -emails, phone call, laundry, meal prep, etc. Completely disengage from play.

Some additional tips:

MealtimeHand feed a small part of each meal to teach them to be gentle when taking food, using a similar system: holding one kibble between your thumb and pointer finger, offer it to your puppy. If they try to snatch it do not let it out, simply say “ouch” in a flat tone and put it behind your back for a second or two. Try again, only releasing the food to a gentle mouth.

ToysBe sure that your puppy has a rotation of safe and appropriate novel toys that you switch up daily to keep them interested.

PunishmentNever respond to biting with punishment or corrections – we want our puppies to bite now so that they can learn how hard is too hard and default to a softer mouth or a gentler bite if they do need to use their teeth in the future. This includes holding their mouth shut, swatting or smacking them, yelling at them, shoving them away, holding them down, or forcing them in a crate.

No bitingIf your puppy isn’t biting at all during this period (9-14 weeks, you can encourage some gentle roughhousing so that they learn this skill. Don’t take a lack of biting as a sign that your puppy is “good” or “well-behaved” – biting is normal and exactly what we want and need to see during this time.

DelayingDon’t make the mistake of missing out on this critical exercise. Once a dog is past this age,we cannot change their ABI (Acquired Bite Inhibition). It is for life.If your dog does not learn this skill, we risk having a dog who bites hard when startled, or feels threatened. This is not ideal

ChildrenChildren under 6 years of age should be closely monitored with a puppy or a dog. Never leave dogs and children alone together. Even for a second. Dog and baby on the scene? Human adult is in between. Say it with me! A great resource is www.familypaws.com Children 6 years and up should be taught not to roughhouse with a dog of any age. A couple of great resources are www.doggonesafe.com and www.livingwithkidsanddogs.com

Zero toleranceZero tolerance for biting at this age is not realistic, nor is it safe. We want our puppies to exhibit “normal” behaviour so that we can shape it into what we want and not extinguish it until they need it…and they will. Trust in the process.

Teach “Kisses”Smear a teaspoon of plain cream cheese or xylitol-free peanut butter on the back of your hand. Hide your hand behind your back. Say “kisses” and then present your hand to your dog. Once they’ve had a couple little licks, say “thank you” and hide your hand behind your back. Repeat until your hand is free of sticky food and move on.

This is a great exercise for older kids (6 years and up) as well. (Of course, be mindful of allergies and ensure only the back of the hand is used – never the face!)