Oh, puppy biting… seriously how are those little teeth so razor sharp?! And they put EVERYTHING in their mouths!
Bite inhibition is a fancy way of saying teaching your puppy what they can bite and how hard they can bite. It’s another very important skill to teach your puppy when they are young so you can avoid trouble later! It might seem cute now when your puppy grabs your shoe and drags it across the house, but it will be much less cute when your grown 70 lb dog treats your shoe closet as their own personal buffet.
So how do we actually teach this? It’s not as complicated as it sounds!
When your puppy puts something in their mouth that they shouldn’t, give them a firm NO (not in your playtime voice or giggling because it’s cute; in your serious mom/dad voice), then present them with an item they are allowed to chew (a toy or bone), and praise them for picking up the new acceptable item.
Now, it helps if you can keep all non chewing appropriate items (clothes, shoes, towels, etc) out of puppy’s reach, and only leave out the things they’re allowed to chew.
But what about when they chew on your fingers or hands or feet or hair or nose? The 2nd element to bite inhibition is teaching puppies how hard they can bite without hurting us– this is really helpful for playing with your adult dog safely and teaching them how to use their teeth appropriately when we hand them treats or toys!
There are a couple levels to this, because, again, every dog is an individual, and what works for one may not work for others. Start at level one and go up if it isn’t working, but when it works, stay at that level.
Level One: make a sharp yipping sound or high pitched OUCH when your puppy bites you, imitating the sound the other puppies in their litter would make if they got bit too hard. Sharp high pitched sound and pull away from the puppy. This should send the message “that hurt and I don’t like it!” Then give them something appropriate to chew on. You can also try an interruptor like canned air or a squirt bottle.
Level Two: if they don’t take the alternative chew appropriate item and continue trying to bite you, playtime is over. Stand up and walk away from your puppy, removing all your attention (don’t look at them or talk to them at all). Ending playtime shows them that using their teeth on you is no fun and will encourage them to stop.
Level Three: some puppies are a little more hard headed and may get even more amped up from these strategies, chasing after you and trying to grab your ankles/feet/pants. For these feisty guys, there is a great strategy called TMG where when the puppy bites you, you firmly hold their mouth closed (without hurting them) until they calm down. Read about it here. This can be a little trickier to master on your own since your timing is really important to make sure the puppy understands the cause/effect– another great reason to go to a puppy class is to be able to ask the trainer to help you with this if it becomes an issue.
Mouthy puppies don’t grow out of it without training from their humans, and mouthy dogs are problematic! This is a great skill to teach your pup early to prevent injury and help your pup become an appropriate well mannered adult dog!
Check out all the blogs in our puppy series: potty training, socialization, bite inhibition, desensitization