Baby Bitey - Fostering Bite Inhibition

Raising your Couch Wolf from a puppy gives you the added perk of working on life skills from a young age. One of the most important life skills your dog should learn is bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is the ability for your dog to control the amount of pressure that they use with their teeth when interacting with humans and other animals. Good bite inhibition can mean the difference between taking treats gently and having a piranha in your house. It also establishes an understanding of bite pressure that can save your skin if you trip over your dog and they grab you out of fear and self defense.

Bite inhibition starts with mouthing. This behavior is completely natural and is the primary way your puppy interacts with the world. During the teething phase they are also biting and mouthing to relieve sore gums and work out loose teeth. It is during this phase that our puppies are learning how hard to bite things. It is normal for us to want to curtail this for the sake of skin, sanity and the degree to which we are willing to “antique” our possessions. But don’t try to rush things and don’t get too frustrated. Remember that your puppy isn’t mouthing or biting to be mean, to hurt you, or to be troublesome. It is simply how they explore the world at this age.

Photo by Couch Wolves member Val Fronst

Photo by Couch Wolves member Val Fronst

Be careful and considerate about how you react to mouthing. It is paramount that you do not try to “imitate momma dog” or anything else like that. Do not hold your puppy’s mouth shut, scruff your puppy, or pin your puppy. First, you are not a dog, nor their mother and the puppy knows this. Second you are not teaching your puppy anything other than you are scary and that investigating their world is dangerous. This can and does lead to a lot of problems down the road.

Instead, take a more hands off approach and teach your puppy more functional consequences. This is done by showing your puppy that they lose the one thing they want to much, if they mouth → YOU! Simply put, place your puppy on the floor, in a pen, or on the other side of a gate if they bite down too hard. Make sure your puppy still has things to occupy them that are appropriate to chew. This isn’t punishment in the scope that your puppy loses all things. They should just be losing you.

Photo by Couch Wolves member Joy Morris

Photo by Couch Wolves member Joy Morris

Be consistent. Don’t keep petting or holding your puppy while they chew on you because it isn’t convenient to put them down. Don’t try to ignore the biting hoping they will stop. Be quick about reacting to hard puppy biting by getting away from them. It is so important that your puppy learns they lose you for biting down hard. This lesson is hard wiring how they will use their teeth on you in the future. So stick with it.

As a side note, contrary to popular suggestions, don’t yelp when your puppy is biting you. For a lot of puppies this actually makes them think that you are playing and will come back harder and faster next time. Also refrain from using words like “easy” or “no bite”. These words require the puppy to perform the behavior you don’t like you get this kind of feedback and attention which can actually reinforce the biting. Instead just be consistent and get away from your puppy for hard tooth contact.

Photo by Couch Wolves member Michael Bechert

Photo by Couch Wolves member Michael Bechert

Be just as consistent when handing out treats. Hand them to your puppy slowly. If they go to grab or bite down, freeze. Don’t pull away as this will increase the likelihood of grabbing and biting down in the future. Just freeze and wait for your puppy to relax before continuing your motion to deliver a treat. This isn’t just teaching bite inhibition. It is also the first foundations of impulse control. Stick with it and don’t be in a hurry. Learning takes time.

Finally be cautious with tug games. This warming is not because of hierarchy or any of the other bogus warnings out there. This warning is simply to be considerate about bite pressure and missing. If your puppy is sloppy when they play tug and they miss and grab you, end the game. It is important not to confuse your puppy that your clothing and body parts are part of the game. If teeth touch you during tug, let go and walk away. Don’t worry about the puppy “winning”. Losing you is means no more games, and no more winning. They will learn quickly what caused this and be more careful in the future.

How is bite inhibition going in your puppy’s development? Tell us in the forum.

PS we love cute puppy pictures <3

PuppiesMolly Sumridge