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The importance of biting in puppy training

posted 28 Sept 2012, 07:44 by John Lawrenson   [ updated 28 Sept 2012, 07:45 ]
"Help! My puppy keeps biting me!" is a common call here at Treat 'Em. What most people don't realise is that chewing and biting are completely natural (and necessary) puppy behaviours that, at least initially, should be permitted (not with children).

Ok, I know that seems a little odd, but there is a very specific reason why your puppy has such needle-sharp teeth, and that reason is called bite inhibition.

Bite inhibition is the process by which your puppy learns that it's teeth can hurt, and so learns to regulate how hard it actually bites, particularly with people and other dogs. I can't stress enough the importance of this time in your puppy's development. The wrong attitude during this phase is crucial to your dogs future development.

Ever see a dog fight? Wonder how after all that noise, fur and biting both dogs can generally come out without a scratch? Good bite inhibition.

Ever wonder why if a scared dog bites a person there's generally very little damaged caused? Good bite inhibition.

Dogs have an incredible amount of control over their jaws providing they have been taught that biting hurts in early puppyhood. Usually these lessons are learned with their litter mates during play sessions where one dog might bite his brothers ear a little too hard which results in a squeal and loss of a play mate for a short while. In turn, your puppy's brother probably also bit him on the ear, again, teaching your pup what being bitten actually feels like.

Now I'm not advocating biting your puppy's ear, far from it, however, until your puppy has been cleared for vaccinations and can attend a well structured puppy class, you are going to have to subsitute as a littermate for a few weeks. The main way to carry this out is to do the following:

  • Start by actually letting your pup chew a bit whilst in a kitchen or similar room. Eventually he/she will give you a bite that's a little harder than the others. When this happens give your best, high pitched puppy yelp impression "OWWWOWWCH!", stop playing with pup, throw a strop (my favourite bit) and leave the room, closing the door behind you. Give puppy a couple of minutes to think about what a wolfish bully he/she's been, then reenter the room, ask for a nice sit or down, then make friends and start again.
  • Over time, puppy will begin to think "Wow, these people are wimps......better go easy on them." and start to soften the strength of the bites. This is where you have to be clever and unleash your inner actor/actress. Start focussing on softer and softer bites, still wait for slightly harder ones, but over time this should reduce in frequency. Keep up the puppy yelps and leaving routine and you'll soon find your pup hardly wanting to bite at all.
  • The next stage is to focus on reducing your pup to mouthing (mouth on hands, but no teeth pressure), if you get this far by 10-12 weeks, you're doing great. if you're struggling, give us a call for a one to one session or puppy pack.
  • Next up is focus on clothes and hair. Puppies quickly figure out that these things don't have nerves to hurt, but do make you hop like a clown.....brilliant! It's very important you pretend that biting at your clothes, dressing gown, and hair are all very "painful" and upsetting to you to avoid the ankle biting behaviour we all know and love.
  • Once you are down to mouthing, you should begin to phase out your pup being able to put mouth on skin at all (especially with kids in the house) as when excited control can be lost. If your pup is still mouthing by 20-22 weeks you are going to have problems as big teeth start coming in to play, so really get your practice in.

Fortunately, by 12 weeks, you should be able to attend one of our lovely puppy classes. Puppy classes not only allow your pup to learn all the important communication skills, but will accellerate bite inhibition massively. If you can't enrol on a Treat 'Em class then please invest in one elsewhere. It will be one of the best investments you can make.

If you would like information on how to choose a good puppy class then feel free to get in touch, or check out our classes.