James Livingood has been a dog sitter for several years. He has written numerous articles and a book about the topic because he loves dogs.
Dogs use their mouths to explore their surroundings. Sometimes, this is not as romantic as it sounds! They may chew on your favorite carpet, devour your brand new pair of heels, or gnaw your grandmother’s chair beyond repair. In addition to the potential financial (and emotional) damage that can result from chewing on things they shouldn't, dogs' mouths can also put them in danger. They can eat rocks, forks, pacifiers, rubber ducks, and even pieces of underwear. Marriages have even ended due to a dog’s eating habits. Why do dogs chew like this?
Besides being massively destructive, dogs can also act like crocodiles. They can bite our clothes, our hands, our arms, our feet, and even our legs. And, boy, does it hurt! If you’re the proud owner of a puppy, you know from experience that those tiny needles puppies call their teeth can be very painful . . . and did you know they’re meant to be painful? Puppy teeth were designed to cause pain—they’re extremely sharp and pointy. If they weren't, puppies wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn an extremely important skill: bite inhibition.
Teaching Your Dog Bite Inhibition and How to Be Gentle
Bite inhibition is something you want your dog to have. Simply put, it’s the dog’s ability to control his jaw by reducing the pressure he applies as he bites. If your dog has a poor bite inhibition, he will cause a great deal of damage if he bites someone. On the contrary, if he has acquired perfect bite inhibition, his bites may feel like soft tickles.
Unfortunately, this is not directly related to a dog’s level of aggression. If your dog has an aggression problem but has effectively learned how to inhibit his bites, the rehabilitation process may be relatively simple. However, if he bites with no control or restraint whatsoever, you may need to be concerned. Sadly, bite inhibition can be very difficult to teach in an adult dog; it should ideally be acquired during puppyhood.
How Biting Stops Naturally
Let’s imagine you happen to own a puppy! Oh, the joys of sharing your life with a puppy—the never-ending pee and poop and especially the constant biting! This is the perfect moment to continue the process of teaching him bite inhibition. Yes, you read it correctly. If your puppy had the opportunity to stay with his mother and brothers until he was eight weeks of age, he should have some bite inhibition by now.
When a puppy's teeth start growing, they will hurt the mother when they try to nurse; she’ll make sure to let them know by pushing them away. When they’re playing with their siblings and bite too hard, the other puppies may yelp and move away; henceforth, they realize they need to be gentler, otherwise, the fun is over! If your puppy was kept away from his siblings, he never had the chance to experience this, which means you have a lot of work to do!
Teaching Bite Control
Here are the methods to help teach bite control:
- Never allow teeth to skin contact.
- Shout "ouch!" if it happens and stop playing.
- Make life boring (i.e. Don't grab items and pull them away).
- Prevent temptation.
- Seek professional training.
How do you teach your puppy to control his tiny, needle-filled mouth? First of all, never allow him to turn your hands into chew toys. His teeth should never touch your skin! If you’re playing with him, make sure you offer him a toy; if he bites your hand (even if it’s accidentally), stop the play session immediately.
You can let him know he did something he’s not supposed to by saying “ouch!” and moving away. Wait five minutes and then try again. After a few repetitions, he’ll probably be more careful during play sessions. People tend to play-fight with puppies, using their hands to tease them; this should be avoided! Remember, your hands are not chew toys! You can use rubber toys, rope, or plastic toys instead—the list is endless.
Teaching Your Puppy What Is a Toy and What's Not a Toy
Some puppies also enjoy biting our shoelaces; they’re so fun to play with! If your puppy does this, stop moving. Avoid dragging him around, otherwise, you’ll only make him more excited. Make it boring for the puppy! Stand still and wait. If he lets go, reward him by allowing him to play with an appropriate toy. Make sure the toy is more interesting than your shoes; if he’s not into toys, offer him a yummy treat.
If he doesn’t let go and keeps pulling the shoelace, you have to redirect his attention. Waiting won’t help since he’s having so much fun by himself! Grab a piece of food (or a very interesting chew toy), say “let go!” and place it right in front of the puppy’s nose. He’ll probably lose interest in the shoelace and won’t hesitate to grab the treat. Once he gets the idea, be careful not to create a behavioral chain. He may learn that in order to have the treat, he needs to bite your shoelace; this is not the purpose of the exercise! To prevent this, simply ask him to sit or lay down before giving him the treat.
Prevention and Persistence Are Key in Training
Like in any other behavior problem, prevention is the key. If your puppy is very excited and you think he’ll jump right at your hands, offer him the toy beforehand; if he’s running toward your shoes, offer him the chew toy! Persistence and patience are extremely important; make sure to respect your puppy’s learning rhythm!
On the other hand, if your dog has already reached adulthood, you may need to contact a professional. Things aren’t as easy with adult dogs, especially if they bite due to frustration or fear. Ask for help! A certified behaviorist or positive dog trainer will certainly help speed up the training process. Don’t wait until your dog hurts someone; a dog with poor bite inhibition can cause serious wounds if motivated to inflict a bite.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.