Many people believe that puppy biting is a bad behavior and that we need to teach puppies not to put their mouths on human skin at all. If we don’t allow puppies to explore human skin with their teeth at all, then we miss the opportunity to teach them how to do it appropriately.
Puppies use their mouths to explore the world and learn about their environment. It is extremely important for them to learn to inhibit the force of their bite when contacting human skin. This is called “Bite Inhibition”.
A puppy that doesn’t learn to inhibit the force of his jaws during a bite on human skin is at a greater risk of maturing into an adult dog that could injure a human if he finds himself in a frightening or painful situation. If, for example, a dog is frightened or in pain during an accidental injury, a veterinary procedure or frightening grooming session, and reacts instinctually using his mouth, it is vital that it be ingrained in his head that the bite needs to be inhibited on human skin.
TEACHING BITE INHIBITION
When puppies are young, they learn “bite inhibition” from their mothers and fellow puppies. If puppies bite while nursing, their mother will often nip them or stand up and walk away, taking the food with her. As puppies play together, when another puppy bites too hard, the sibling will yelp and jump up and walk away from him taking away his fun playtime. Puppies learn from these ways, that there are consequences for biting too hard.
Start practicing the following bite inhibition techniques immediately and consistently from the first day you bring your puppy home.
1. When a puppy bites your skin harder than you would want him to bite a 1 year/old baby, yelp or make a sharp high pitched noise loud enough to startle your puppy and let him know he hurt you.
2. Turn your body away from the puppy and act injured by curling up and whimpering. This may work immediately for the more sensitive puppy. Turn back to your puppy and offer your hand again. If puppy licks your hand, he has gotten the message that he hurt you and he is saying he is sorry. Most puppies, however, especially when they are overexcited and actively playing, may continue to bite your skin using too much force.
3. If the puppy continues biting your skin too hard, get up and walk away and turn your back on and ignore him. If he comes to you and jumps and continues to bite at you, you may need to tether him to a strong piece of furniture using a chain or leash that he can’t chew through or become tangled in (requires human supervision to prevent accidental injury to puppy-don’t leave a puppy unattended). This teaches your puppy that he loses you and the fun ends when he bites you with too much force.
OUTDATED PUNISHMENT STRATEGIES TO STOP PUPPY BITING
Pain-based punishment techniques like clamping puppy’s mouth shut or slapping the muzzle or chin are old-school and not recommended. Your puppy is just doing what comes naturally and will not understand why you are hurting him. These techniques can break the bond you are trying to form with your puppy and can cause anxiety in him and teach him that you are not a safe trustworthy leader that he can depend on. It can even lead to suppressed aggression that can surface at a later time.
Other “Dog Friendly” ideas to help prevent puppy biting:
- Have toys or chews readily available to help redirect the puppy’s mouth.
- Exercise puppy before play sessions to tire puppy out so that he has better impulse control and is less excited during play.
- Avoid “Hand Play” and instead use toys or games (fetch or find-it) to play with the puppy. We can confuse our puppies and inadvertently reinforce puppies biting our hands by encouraging them to see our hands as a toy to bite on and then scolding them for doing it.
- Encourage puppies to take treats gently from your hands by closing your hand over the treat and waiting to open your hand until the puppy backs away from your hand.
- Take a break and allow your puppy to calm down if their excitement level starts to get too high for them to control their impulses. Try taking them for a walk or out for a potty break before starting to play again.
It is important to remember that your puppy doesn’t intentionally want to hurt you-he is just going through a normal stage of development. If you address puppy biting with kindness and non-threatening leadership, you will teach your puppy how to handle his mouth and teeth as he matures into adulthood.