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How to Teach a Deaf Dog Not to Bite (Bite Inhibition)

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

How to Teach Your Deaf Dog Not to Bite

How to Teach Your Deaf Dog Not to Bite

Why It's Important to Teach Bite Inhibition to Deaf Dogs

Why should you focus on teaching bite inhibition to a deaf dog? Bite inhibition is very important, as it can make the difference between a nip and a serious bite—whether directed at another animal or a human. This is something that all dogs should learn, regardless of their hearing abilities. Not knowing this skill can be very detrimental to a dog.

Puppies Learn Bite Inhibition From Socializing

In a normal litter of puppies, bite inhibition is learned when the puppies interact with each other or with mom. Occasionally when puppies play, one puppy may nip harder than expected. When this occurs, the victim of the bite will likely yelp in pain and withdraw from the game. The message is pretty clear: "Ouch! That hurts! You wanna play rough with me? Well, I won't play with you any longer." This valuable socialization starts quite early, even before puppies are sent home with their new owners at 8 weeks.

Timeout after timeout, the biting puppy starts to learn a very valuable lesson: If they want to play with their littermates, they must be gentle. This lesson is further emphasized by the mom-dog, who will likely growl and move away from the annoying pup if they play too rough. Additionally, a sharp nip to the mother's teats often means that mom will get up and leave, which can mark the start of the weaning process.

Deaf Puppies May Pick Up on Other Cues

Deaf puppies won't hear their littermates when they yelp in pain. While their littermates may move away, the deaf puppy may not fully understand why. The yelp is what clearly communicates to the puppy that they are being too rough. This puppy may not learn how to gauge the pressure of its bite. Rest assured, many deaf puppies learn these lessons perfectly well in other ways—perhaps because they have learned to pay attention to a littermate's body language or have learned from a timeout.

It's Never Too Late to Start

However, not all is lost when you end up with a puppy that hasn't learned bite inhibition. After all, there are many pups who are singletons and orphans who also may lack bite inhibition because they didn't have littermates or a mom to teach them these valuable lessons. In this case, it's up to you to roll up your sleeves and teach proper bite inhibition. This requires further refinement, as human skin is much more delicate than canine fur.

Tips for Teaching Bite Inhibition to Deaf Dogs

It's a common myth that deaf dogs tend to be more dangerous because they constantly startle and bite. According to the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund:

Deaf dogs adapt to their hearing loss and become comfortable with their surroundings. In the same way, a hearing dog can be startled by a loud noise, a deaf dog can be startled by an unexpected touch.

Upon being startled, a deaf dog will, most likely, move suddenly or simply turn their head as an orienting response. If they were sleeping, they may appear disoriented. Very few deaf dogs actually become aggressive and bite.

Counter-Conditioning and Desensitization Can Help

The chances of a bite can be significantly lowered by working early to desensitize and counter-condition the deaf puppy to being touched unexpectedly. This means walking up behind the puppy and touching him or her and then immediately popping a treat in the dog's mouth the moment they turn around. Treat after treat, the dog soon looks forward to being "startled."

The Deaf Dog Education Action Fund further adds that the precautions deaf dog owners take not to startle their dogs are more acts of compassion rather than from a fear of being bitten or attacked. A survey further conducted by The Deaf Dog Education Action Fund found that:

[O]wners of deaf dogs were having problems with [their] deaf dogs, other than the typical dog problems all dog owners face, like housebreaking, chewing or digging.

This means that if you own a deaf puppy, it's important to condition them to believe that good things will happen when they're "startled." But, as with any dog, it's important to teach good bite inhibition. So, should your dog bite one day, the level of damage will more likely be minimal.

How to Train Bite Inhibition

So, how do you train bite inhibition in a deaf puppy? First and foremost, use gentle methods. Countless dog owners, at times, give up easily because they claim that saying "ouch" has no effect. So, they feel the need to resort to harsher methods such as grabbing the puppy by the snout or alpha-rolling them. Fortunately, there are better, more effective ways that won't create a defensive or fearful pup:

  • Give your pup a timeout: If your pup bites too hard, get up quickly and turn around. You may need to exaggerate and be a bit more dramatic in your body language. Express your displeasure through your body language and facial expressions. If your pup keeps biting, leave the room. Once your pup calms down, re-approach and repeat as needed.
  • Redirect biting to toys: Puppies have a need to chew and they tend to explore with their mouths. Great toys for redirection are balls, tug toys, and flirt poles.
  • Teach them how to take treats gently: Your puppy will learn that they get treats only when they're paying attention and mouthing gently.
  • Try bite-inhibition games: You can employ various games that teach bite inhibition from an early age.
  • Socialize, socialize, socialize: Socialization is important and necessary for all dogs of any developmental phase or any age.
  • Consult with a professional: In difficult, challenging cases, you'll want to seek the aid of a positive, reward-based trainer to help you out.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 25, 2013:

And it's unfortunate several deaf dogs are still put to sleep because it's assumed they are more dangerous and unable to live in a household with children;(

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 25, 2013:

This is an important topic. Although I don't have dogs, I do have a deaf cats so I am attuned to the different needs of a deaf animal. They need different, more focused training and attention as well as patience and understanding.