My dog will never bite … yeh sure… – according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), more than 4.7 million people per year are bitten by a dog. Lawsuits, medical bills, and sometimes dog euthanasia are common results from this unwanted – and often avoidable – behavior.
As with any dog training issue, how easy or difficult it is to train a pup not to bite will vary with the breed, age and individual temperament of the dog. But there are some common techniques that will usually help suppress biting behavior. One crucial advice: if possible, start young!
Puppies bite and that’s normal. Puppy’s biting is also a necessary behavior as it is the way they will develop ‘bite inhibition”.
Bite inhibition, sometimes also referred to as a soft mouth, is the ability of your dog to moderate the strength of its bite to cause little or no damage to the subject he bites.
By training your pup bite inhibition, you teach your pup to use his mouth softly with others. This is crucial as it can mean the difference between a little snap and a serious bite incident in the future.
Bite inhibition training
In normal circumstances, a puppy starts learning bite inhibition when he is still with his mother and siblings. When a puppy bites too hard while nursing, the mother dog will stand up and leave. Biting a littermate too strongly while playing will lead to the termination of the play activities.
Initially, the bitten pup will yawl and bite back. Normally this sign will be sufficient to alert the other pup to stop biting. If he continues, the bitten pub will quit the game and leave. As such, the pup’s behavior is corrected.
As a human, we can use a similar procedure to teach our puppy not to bite. At first, you need to learn your pup to bite “gently” with a soft mouth. In the second phase, you need to reduce the frequency of the nipping and biting.
Step 1: Teaching to bite gently and not to hurt people
If during play, your pup bites a little too hard, let him know by a simple “Aaah”. This should surprise your pup and he will normally back off. If he continues biting, then say “Aaah” with a very firm voice, get up and leave the room. Ignore your pup and give him a time-out. Doing this will teach your puppy that biting too hard makes the play stop. After a minute, return to the room and start playing again.
From time to time your pup might be really over-excited and will continue biting. Never allow such “out of control” play sessions. Stop immediately and give your pup a proper time-out.
When your puppy does back off after your first “Aaah”, then command your pup to come to you and start playing again.
Keep repeating this process every time your puppy bites. Gradually, start doing the “Aaah” procedure for slightly softer bites. Eventually, your pup will learn to be extremely gentle when playing with humans.
Step 2: Stop the biting
In this step, you teach your pup that mouthing is okay but that he needs to stop when you say so. You can learn your dog this behavior, by teaching the command “Off”. You can use food to train this command. Hold some food in your hand, say “Off” and if your pup does not touch the food in your hand for just a few seconds, praise him and reward him with another treat. Never give the piece of food you are holding in your hand. Practice this several times.
Once your pup masters this, then gradually increase the number of seconds up to 10, 20, ….. Repeat the command “Off” during the “non-touching” period and praise your pup if he ignores the food. If your pup wants to take the food, close your hand before he can get it and restart again. Once your pup ignores the food completely, you praise him and reward him by giving him another treat.
Once your pup understands this command “Off”, you can use it for several things: for not eating garbage laying on the ground during your walk, for not picking that medicine that accidentally falls on the floor, … That is the reason why you can not reward your pup with the piece of food you are holding in your hand when learning the “Off”- command. You will never let him eat the waste, the medicine, …
Now you can also give your puppy the “Off” command any time he starts to mouth your hands. In this way, you can slowly phase out mouthing behavior entirely.
Another useful training method to use for biting (or other inappropriate behavior) is redirection. The idea of this training method is to redirect your puppy’s attention away from your hand, body, … towards something else that he is allowed to bite (chew toy) or another activity (play fetch, …).
By immediately redirecting the pups attention the moment he starts biting, you turn the “inappropriate” behavior into a normal one.
Redirection is also a good method when you notice your pup is in a persistent biting mood. In that case, even before he makes contact with you, offer him chewing toys and avoid he starts behaving inappropriately.
The importance of a puppy class
There are a lot of good reasons why your puppy should attend a puppy class. Providing the opportunity for your pup to exercise his bite inhibition is definitely one of the most important ones if the pups are allowed to play for a moment after the class. There are no better trainers than other puppies.
As soon as your pup bites too hard, the other puppies will teach him his behavior is inappropriate by quitting the game. A puppy class is thé way to let your puppy socialize with other dogs in a “controlled and safe” way. As playing with other pups is the one thing your puppy loves the most, he will adapt his behavior as the other ones don’t let him play along otherwise.