By Courtney Emken
co-written by Jen Larson, KPA-CTP
Canine bites are a serious issue that any owner would like to avoid. And the best way to avoid bites is to prevent them from ever happening in the first place. For concerned owners, we’ve put together a guide to teaching bite inhibition: the foundation of effective bite prevention.
Bite Inhibition Is Typically Learned From Dog To Dog
The most natural and efficient way to learn bite inhibition is from dog-to-dog. Puppies play fight constantly during playtime. When one puppy bites the other too hard, the bitten puppy will squeal and then stop playing. Puppies love playtime, and will want to avoid losing their partner at all costs.
The biting puppy will quickly connect the activity to the consequence. They’ll go: “oh, when I bite down too hard, no one will play with me!” If a puppy knows that a certain behavior gets in the way of play, they’ll drop it without hesitation.
The old school method of bite inhibition tried to incorporate this behavior-check. Owners were encouraged to pull their hand away and yelp like a puppy when bitten. While it was a good guess, this method just doesn’t work.
Unfortunately for those old school trainers, puppies are a little too perceptive for their method. Puppies can easily tell the difference between a human yelp and a puppy’s pain yelp. In fact, yelping can even excite the puppy and encourage further biting.
How To Teach Bite Inhibition From Owner To Dog
There are many reasons an owner may have to teach bite inhibition themselves, like:
- An isolated puppy with no play partners
- An adult who didn’t learn inhibition properly
- A dog who gets easily excited then chomps
Teaching bite inhibition from human to dog requires a different approach. Unlike letting puppies sort the matter out themselves, you’ll have to train them manually.
We use patience and impulse control exercises to build towards total bite inhibition. A good beginner’s exercise is inviting your dog to eat from your hand. If they eat gently and remain calm, they get to continue eating. If they chomp on your hand, accidental or otherwise, feeding time is over.
Food bowl exercises, while they don’t directly address the urge to bite, build patience. These exercises teach your dog how to control their excitement and sit still. The more patient they become, the less and less likely they are to bite others.
Another helpful and easy exercise to do is hand-sniffing. Grab a handful of kibble and close your hand around it. Allow your dog to come sniff your hand, but don’t feed them any kibble while they’re smelling you. As soon as they stop sniffing, give them a piece.
This neat little exercise teaches the trick “leave it” without using any cues. So, the dog will begin to develop impulse control on their own. They understand that if they want the food, they need to control their urge to smell and wait patiently. This has been a staple of Bart’s training for years.
If You’re Struggling With Bite Inhibition, Hire A Trainer
Some dogs struggle with bite inhibition more than others. We’ve known people who weren’t able to give a single treat without getting nipped or chomped. If you’re in this situation, professional training is the best option to get the problem solved quickly.
Find someone who has a firm grasp on canine behavior and ask them for advice. Contrary to popular opinion, this does NOT include your vet. They may be experts in pet health, but vets aren’t animal behaviorists. They don’t have the right expertise to teach bite inhibition.
Your dog will probably still bite while learning inhibition. To help owners during the transition phase, we recommend using management techniques. These methods are designed to keep you and your dog out of harm’s way until they’ve learned bite inhibition.
When offering treats, keep them on your open palm instead of between your fingers. This forces your dog to harmlessly lick or scoop the treat up from your palm instead of biting down on your fingers.
If you’re having trouble teaching bite inhibition, or want more tips to avoid a sore hand, please contact us today. We’ve helped dogs of all sizes and temperaments ditch their biting problem.
Finger Snapper by Tony Alter
Finger Pup by Petteri Sulonen
Tiny Bite by blueant808