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Teaching a puppy "no bite"

Dogs will use their bite for many different reasons. There is no difference in this based on breed, age, or size. It is a natural behavior that all dogs possess; they use it to explore their surroundings, release frustration, protect themselves, and correct others. People tell me all the time “my dog would never bite.” This simply is not true. They all have the potential to bite and will if the situation arises. That being said, even the toughest of dogs can be conditioned to use their mouths softly with proper conditioning and management.

What is bite inhibition?

The definition of bite inhibition is to control the amount of pressure a dog delivers with a bite. This is typically taught at a very young age by its mom or littermates. If a pup bites too hard during play, a littermate will yelp and walk away, stopping play. A mother dog tends to growl and walk away, again stopping play; thus learning a hard bite means no more fun or attention.

Today it seems more and more puppies are taken away from mom at the age of 6 weeks. While some of these pups are rescues, others come from irresponsible breeders or puppy mills. If you are reading this, I am assuming you have already gotten a puppy or adult dog that has a very “hard” bite. I believe no matter the situation, all puppies and adult dogs can be taught “no bite” with a proper program and patience.

If you have a puppy (under 4 months of age), it is important to have appropriate chew items for your pup. It would be unfair to expect your new puppy to just avoid chewing things. They must be taught, just as we teach our children, what is right and wrong.

There are many different toys out there and I would recommend buying a couple different textured toys. For our pups, we provide a puppy kong, a stuffed toy, a natural bone, and a rope tug. The different textures provide different sensations for your pup’s tender mouth.

1. To start the “no bite” program, have your pup on a leash and sit down on the floor with them.

2. Have a couple of toys available and start to play with them. I highly recommend not using your hands, as this will teach them it is ok to bite skin.

3. When engaged in play a puppy tends to become overly excited and will bite your hands instead of a toy. At this point, sharply & firmly say “no bite”. Use the leash to pull them back and stand up and walk a couple of feet away.

4. Ignore them for 30 seconds. A puppy at this young age has a very short attention span. There is no need to ignore them longer.

5. After 30 seconds, re-engage them in play and repeat the above steps. After a couple of these play sessions, you will notice they will not continue to bite.

If your pup “chases” you as you walk away, bites at your pant legs, or continues to lunge at you as you are getting up; quickly pick up just their front end off the ground and in a louder tone say, “NO BITE!” while looking directly at them. When picking up their front end, it is very important your hands are placed on either side of their chest under their front paws. Your thumbs should be located on the front of their shoulders to control their movements. Do not lift the dog’s whole body off the ground; just their front legs need to be up. Do not put your nose to theirs, as you will get a bite to the nose. I keep them at least 6 inches away from my face to avoid contact.

The second they relax put them down and calmly re-engage in play. Some pups will throw a temper tantrum and look like a fish out of water or they may possibly scream and growl. It is important you do not feel bad here. Rarely have I seen a pup throw a tantrum longer then 45 seconds. Some puppies will immediately go back into bite mode when allowed down, just repeat until they give up. It usually will not take more then 3 times for a pup to get tired of not getting their way.

Many people will grab a puppy by the “scruff” of their neck and “shake” them thinking this is appropriate. It is not. A mother dog does not “shake” their pups by the scruff. Dogs that grab and “shake” are doing so to “kill” or cause serious injury to another dog, not correct them. A mother dog will hold the pup still until it calms down, not try to “kill” it.

The next step is teaching them how to “turn off”. After engaging them in play stop play at 1 minute. Calmly say “enough” and walk away. Re-engage play after 30 to 45 seconds by saying, “let’s play” and repeat the above. The reason for this type of conditioning is to teach your pup excitement control. If you practice this daily, your pup will learn to “auto-shut off” when excited. We do this with all of our dogs not just the pups.

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