Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He also trains dogs, mostly large breeds and those that suffer from aggression problems.
What Is Bite Inhibition?
I was wrestling with an adult male Siberian Husky at a home I visited the other day, and I was truly impressed with the dog's powers of bite inhibition. What is bite inhibition?
Despite the fact that he was enjoying himself, growling and putting his teeth on my arm, never once did he put even a slight pressure on my skin. The dog understood how to control the pressure from his bite.
Did the owner teach him to play with such finesse? No, the dog learned how to be polite from his mother. Puppies learn this when wrestling with their mother and littermates and should know enough to not bite hard by the time they are sixteen weeks old. Not all dogs are around their mothers long enough to learn this skill, however, and it is one of the most important things your dog needs to learn.
How Do You Teach Bite Inhibition?
Teach That Biting Has Consequences
Let your puppy know that her play bites hurt and that the bite has consequences. No, I do not suggest you hit your puppy. Using physical force on her is most likely going to cause her to bite even more. Yell “Ouch” (a behaviorist I once heard lecture suggested you say it like “Oww-oww-oww-oww” in a very high-pitched tone), tell your puppy to sit/down/stay, and then stop playing with her for about five minutes.
(I think this is the perfect time to give your puppy something to chew on. Kong toys work great, and you can put something inside that will make your puppy interested in chewing the new toy.)
Why do I suggest walking away for at least five minutes? Five minutes is a long time for a little puppy. If your puppy is not obedience trained yet and will not sit/down/stay, you should leave the room for about five minutes after yelling “Ouch”.
What do you do when the dog follows you and bites you as you walk out of the room? A good suggestion is to reach down and pick up the puppy (after removing him from your leg or jeans, gently). Hold him away from your body but do not give any sort or attention to him, and you certainly do not want to caress him in any way. As soon as he stops struggling, put him down and then leave him alone. If he grabs you again, you'll have to repeat the whole process. Eventually, any puppy is going to learn that biting is equal to “game over”.
- Yell "Ouch."
- Stop playing with the puppy.
- Give her something else to chew on.
- Leave the room for at least five minutes.
Teach That Biting Hard Has Consequences
Teach the puppy to stop putting any pressure on when she starts to bite. After your puppy has learned that biting has consequences, you can also teach her that biting hard has consequences, too. When she is mouthing your hand, wait for a bite that has a little more pressure than the others. It does not need to be a bite that hurts, just enough so that she will know the difference. Yell “Ouch” again, and stop playing with her and leave the room.
When Is the Best Time to Teach Bite Inhibition?
Bite inhibition training should take place during the sensitive socialization phase; by the time your puppy is 16 weeks old, she should understand this concept. Training needs to continue after this time, however. The best way to continue with this training is to play with your dog. Every time she dares put her teeth on you and uses even a little pressure, make a big deal about it. You should not scream at her, scruff her, or “alpha-roll” your friend. Just let her know she has gone beyond the limits of good play, stop playing with her and walk away.
Dogs Who Learn Bite Inhibition Are Less Likely to Deliver a Serious Bite
Any dog may end up biting. If your dog ends up biting someone as an adult, however, and he has not learned bite inhibition, the bite will be more severe and he is much more likely to be killed by the authorities. In a study done by Dr. Ian Dunbar, dogs that are taught bite inhibition are statistically more likely to bite, but they are also less statistically likely to be involved in a serious bite. They may nip, but they are not likely to bear down and draw blood!
A dog belonging to a neighbor was never taught this skill, and my dog is not even willing to play with her anymore. Another local dog, a Fila Brasileiro that can fit my dog's head in her mouth, plays rough but never hurts my dog and understands how to inhibit her bites. It makes a difference, both to the humans and the dogs, and dogs who do not learn bite inhibition will end up as social outcasts.
If you introduce a new puppy to your household, teach bite inhibition early. It is going to make a big difference in your relationship with her.
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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.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on October 16, 2018:
LJ, without seeing your dog it is difficult to tell what is triggering his growling. You should ask your vet for a referral to a local animal behaviorist. If no one is available consult an experienced dog trainer so that you can evaluate your Pits behavior together.
Here is an article with more info, but you really need to call a local person. https://pethelpful.com/dogs/make-my-pitbull-less-a...
LJ on October 14, 2018:
My 8 month old pit bull growls and barks at me when I give her commands. How do I stop this? I’ve only had her for a short period of time as she was adopted after being abandoned.