You may have heard of it, you may even know it’s quite important, but what exactly IS bite inhibition? And why is it so crucial for puppies to learn bite inhibition??
Puppies bite, it’s just a fact of life, all puppies bite. Some more than others and with varying intensities, but generally speaking they all perform the behaviour at some stage. When puppies are young they will bite their littermates through play and social interactions, all the while learning what is and isn’t acceptable between one another. They will give sharp ‘yelps’ when it hurts, thereby teaching each other ‘that hurt don’t do that!!’. However, once your puppy is home with you, we want to limit the amount of ‘biting’ they do, and we definitely want to limit the pressure of the bite.
Puppy teeth hurt!! A lot. They’re like tiny little needles. Puppies use their teeth to explore, find out about the environment around them, and to communicate, teeth and mouths are pretty powerful tools for a puppy in many different ways .
So what is bite inhibition? It’s the ability to control the pressure of a bite. You puppy will have already learned some degree of bite inhibition from his littermates and mum, it may hurt when your puppy bites but he doesn’t crush the bones in your hand does he? No, because he has some level of bite inhibition. He COULD crunch your hand to pieces, but he doesn’t. But we want to further this. Us humans are sensitive creatures, and our pain threshold will likely not be as high as that of your pups littermates and mum!
You really want to be well on your way to teaching advanced bite inhibition by the time your puppy is reaching approximately 5 months old. It’s important not to simply ‘tell your puppy off’, this may well stop him biting you, but this won’t stop him biting others, especially important to remember if you have children. Gradually acquiring advanced bite inhibition is far more preferable and effective, and safe. We don’t want to ‘stop’ our puppy using his teeth altogether, we want to control his bite. If in the future your dog is in a position where he will feel the need to lash out and bite in defence (we hope this doesn’t happen of course!), we want our dog to bite with as little force as possible causing minimal damage.
The aim is to take away any reinforcement, ANY reinforcement, for any kind of hard biting. If all attention is removed, and by ‘attention’ I mean any kind of interaction, even a ‘no!’ or a touch, the reinforcement stops. Reinforcement, through interaction with your puppy via games, strokes etc, will ONLY occur when your puppy mouths gently or licks. Any hard biting means no interaction, which in turn means no fun for your puppy! As time goes on, by around 6 months, step by step we can up our ‘bite inhibition limit’ a little bit at a time, and any mouthing at all will become a ‘no go’ area. So by the end all attention is removed for any teeth contact with your skin, however gentle.
This is a process done over a period of months, please don’t think teaching bite inhibition is something that will be done in 2 days, it’s definitely not. As with many aspects of puppy behaviour, modifying certain things takes time, patience and consistency. You MUST get everyone in the family involved and everyone must react in the same way to your puppy biting. Otherwise your puppy will happily learn not to bite hard on YOU, but not your children, or your mum etc. Your pup will need consistency in the way behaviours are dealt with if you are to effectively manage them. Otherwise it’s just confusing for him and he doesn’t know if he’s coming or going! And he certainly won’t learn anything.
There’s lots of reasons your puppy will bite, including over-tiredness, over-stimulation or over-excitement, teething and boredom. These are all things which can be managed and catered for! Just get in touch for more information on the management of puppy biting and bite inhibition!