Bite Inhibition – Part One

Wrapping up our short series of articles on preventing dog bites, today we’ll look at the issue of bite inhibition.

As stated preciously, dogs bite for a variety of reasons: dominance aggression (the dog believes he is in charge); protectiveness; fear; pain; maternal instinct; or simply being pushed too far.

For many dogs, chewing, gnawing, and playful biting come naturally. They are natural puppy teething and exploring behaviours, which must be trained out of the dog before it grows up. What may be a playful nip from a puppy is anything but from an adult dog – and the dog often does not know his own strength – especially if never having been taught otherwise. Adult dogs that mouth people were likely never taught not to do so as puppies. Mouthing is, generally, normal doggie behaviour. Some dogs will, however, bite out of fear or frustration. It can be difficult to determine the difference between play mouthing and aggressive mouthing which precedes a bite. Some signs include:

• A playful dog will be relaxed in his stance and expression
• Playful mouthing is not generally painful
• An aggressive dog will look stiff, with tension in his body
• Aggressive bites happen fast; playful mouthing is a slower process

While an eight week old puppy chewing on your fingers is very cute, it’s important to train the pup to not do this into adulthood. Dogs must learn to curb mouthy behaviours, and that people have sensitive skin, so he must play gently at all times.

Bite Inhibition refers to a dog’s ability to control how hard he mouths, and the force behind it. A dog that has learnt to mouth gently during play will be less likely to bite hard if he ever bites out of pain, dominance aggression, or fear of any kind. Puppies usually learn bite inhibition naturally during playtime with other dogs. When one dog bites another too hard during play, the consequences are instant and easily learned for most pups – the game is over for a brief time-out. Pups learn to control the intensity behind their bite so that nobody is injured and play continues without interruption.

When you play with your dog, allow him to mouth on your hands; continue play until he bites with any force, and immediately vocalise in a high pitched way as if you are hurt. Alternatively, a stern voice should do the trick. Praise the dog when he stops or licks you “better”. Repeat these steps but no more than three times within fifteen minutes. If your “yelp” of “pain” does not work, move to “time-out”. Remove yourself from his vicinity and ignore him for up to twenty or thirty seconds. Once he has learned to be gentle, teach him to not mouth at all…

Come back next week for Part Two of Bite Inhibition…

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