If you have a puppy you know all about sharp, pointy, razor sharp shark teeth constantly tearing at your flesh, or at least that’s how it feels sometimes. You probably also want to know how to stop it.
So lets get this out of the way first: Your puppy does not bite you because they are bad. They don’t bite because they are aggressive. They don’t bite because they are dominant or don’t see you as a clear leader or alpa. They don’t bite to hurt you make angry.
They bite because they’re puppies. They bite because they explore the world with their mouths. They bite as a way to communicate. They bite hard because they haven’t learned bite inhibition. They haven’t learned bite inhibition because we as mom’s and dad’s haven’t taught them yet. In fact, unwittingly many people reinforce hard biting without even realizing it.
If a puppy bites their mom or one of their litter mates too hard the litter mate will yipe and move away, effectively communicating the bite got too hard and they don’t play with bullies. Thus puppies learn bite inhibition, or to control their jaw muscles and how hard they bite. If a puppy does not learn bite inhibition before they get their adult teeth and they bite, the bite will do damage. Thus there is more importance to teaching bite inhibition than just protecting our own skin. (Although that is important too! Just ask my arms right now!)
So how do you go about teaching a puppy not to rend your flesh? Here’s what not to do: Do not grab your puppy’s muzzle, holding it shut. Do not pinch your puppy’s lip or dig your fingernail into their gums. Our dogs need to be able to trust a human hand coming towards their face so always keep a hand reaching towards your dog a positive experience.
The most effective way to teach bite inhibition is to have a zero tolerance of hard biting policy. There needs to be a consequnce for hard biting. The consequence is all fun ends. Teach your puppy the same way their litter would teach them. If your puppy bites you remove yourself from the puppy. You can exclaim, “Ouch!” but combine that with a consequence. The consequence of biting is mom or dad goes away, game over. I use the cue “Too Bad!” then walk away from Calvin.
“Too bad” is my timeout cue and I use it when ever a dog is going to be put in timeout. For biting it’s usually easier to just put your puppy down and walk away. If the puppy follows you close the door or leave them behind a baby gate. If the whole family is there everyone must ignore the puppy. If the puppy is gets attention from another family member after biting hard they will keep biting hard. The same is true if the puppy is allowed to bite dad hard, but not your 8 year old. Consistency is very important. The more consistent the whole family is the faster the puppy will learn not to bite hard.
You can prepare a timeout area for your puppy. This can be his crate, but can also just be an xpen, the bathroom with a baby gate across the door, or any barren, boring, puppy proof space. If using a timeout area, be quick about putting them in there. If you’re outside and have to take the puppy inside he won’t know what the consequence is for. The consequence has to come within a couple of seconds of the hard bite.
Now I’ll take off my dog trainer hat and put on my puppy momma hat and just say, this is hard to do consistently. It’s hard, but it works. My personal survival tip is to keep a toy in my pocket at all times. If the biting gets wild I redirect to the toy. Bullies, cow tails and ears, trachea tubes are all my best friend. Keep healthy chews on hand to give them when they’re having a hard time. Pay attention to the times your puppy is wildest. For Calvin that’s 9:45 PM. If he’s not in bed by then, all bets are off. All bite inhibition ends by then. He gets wild and crazy. My solution? Put him to bed at 9:30 PM.
It also helps me to remember age affects a lot. He’s 14.5 weeks old and entering fear imprint period, I know things in his brain are changing. I also know things will get better and then he’s going to start teething and it will get worse again. Not a hopeful thought, but a fact none the less. Remembering those things helps me be consistent.
As a puppy momma the thing I most want to say is please don’t get mad at your puppies. As a trainer I see so many frustrated puppy moms and dads. I get it. I’m living it and puppies are a full time job, but they don’t bite you to hurt you. They bite you cause they don’t know any better and it’s fun! For them anyways. So if you’re frustrated by the time out put your puppy in timeout you’ve waited too long. Timeouts are for instruction, for training and should be done with matter of fact calmness. Remember they are only puppies for such a short time, enjoy it if you can!