Ever wonder why puppy teeth are so sharp? It is so they learn “bite inhibition” which in simple terms, means learning to become soft mouthed. Puppies that do not learn bite inhibition have varying fates as adults. Dogs that bite are not generally well tolerated in our society.
So how do puppies learn bite inhibition? Their mom and litter mates play a key role until they are adopted into their predominantly human home. When a puppy is playing with their littermates or mom their mouths are like hands. When those sharp puppy teeth are used just a little too roughly, direct and immediate feedback is given. Littermates will yelp and retreat or aggress.
The puppy soon learns that if he wants to play he has to be gentle. The puppy receives similar feedback from his mom. She will vocalize signaling to the puppy that they have done something wrong and then she will behave in a way that assists in correcting the puppy’s behavior. When the puppy is behaving correctly, he gets positive attention from his mom and littermates.
The mistake us humans make is to invent new rules to try and teach puppies not to bite. Their pack in nature gave them a fantastic start. It makes the most sense for us to continue the work that has already been started for us.
As our reward, the puppies learn quicker and don’t develop any other undesirable behaviors as a result of us trying to correct their puppy biting.
How do we do it then? It’s simple! Act like a puppy … not literally of course.
When you are interacting with a puppy, always have toys around to substitute for your hands. When the puppy goes to bite your hands, have the toy there to put in their mouth instead. If they still bite you, vocalize LOUDLY (high pitched is best), pull away and walk away from the puppy completely.
Do not pay ANY attention to the puppy at all during this time. If you remain in the same room, stand tall and with your back to the puppy. If done dramatically enough, the puppy will stop biting you and appear shocked.
Wait 30 seconds and return to the puppy to play again. Repeat the process until the puppy learns that he only gets to play with you if he does not bite.
You may have to increase the “in between” times of play if your puppy is not catching on. Most importantly, be consistent. It is easy to confuse an animal with inconsistencies in our behavior.
Extra effort in the beginning will have great rewards. You will have a soft mouthed puppy that will grow into an adult dog that has learned bite inhibition. Not only will they be better equipped to have positive interactions with other dogs, but with humans as well.