Bite inhibition is the ability of a dog to control the force of her bite, and whether a puppy exhibits this trait depends on both genetics and environment.
A puppy can usually inherit the potential to bite gently from parents who are genetically programmed to mouth softly. The puppy also learns how to develop bite inhibition from their parents and littermates through playing and socializing.
Problems arise if a puppy is separated from her mother and litter-mates when she is still too young (before 7-8 week old) – she may not be able to learn how to control her bites, in which case training by a human parent is essential.
(The best training of course is given by the pup’s mother and litter-mates, so if possible do not adopt a puppy who is younger than 7 or 8 weeks old.)
How to Stop Puppy Biting
Always use positive training to stop puppy biting – punishing the puppy (e.g. holding her muzzle tightly closed, using a choke collar, or hitting the puppy) is cruel and ineffective and may even have the adverse effect.
Your puppy may learn to fear you or your hands and sometimes a fearful puppy can turn into an aggressive dog.
To stop your puppy from biting, here is what you can do:
- The training is best done in a play pen so you can walk away easily without your puppy following you.
- Begin petting your puppy gently and playing. If she is biting on your hand, continue playing only if the bites are not causing pain.
- If the bite is painful, calmly say “Ouch!” and exit the pen.
- Wait 20-30 seconds to let your puppy calm down. Then go back to the pen and calmly resume playing.
- As long as her bite is not hurting you, continue playing.
- Any time her bite hurts, say “Ouch!” and exit the pen. Give longer time-outs if necessary.
Once your puppy has learned to control her hardest bite, you can use the same method to control her moderately hard bites, then medium bites, then even softer bites, and so on.
This way to stop puppy biting is effective because it mimics to some degree the behavior of the mother dog and littermates when a puppy bites too hard.
For example, if a puppy is biting too hard while feeding, the mother dog may stand up and walk away. Or when litter-mates are playing together and if one pup is playing too rough, her littermate may cry out and stop playing.
Stop Puppy Biting While Feeding Her Treats
When you are training your puppy (e.g. obedience training, house training), you need to give her treats as rewards. However, a puppy with a strong bite can bite hard on your fingers, sometimes she may even draw blood!
Here’s what you can do as temporary solutions:
- Put your treat in your palm and close your fist. If your puppy bites hard on your hand, say “Ouch!” and walk away without giving her the treat. Only open your hand and feed the treat from the palm of your hand when her mouth softens. Over time, your puppy will learn to soften her mouth if she wants a treat!
- Feed treats from a metal spoon. This keeps your fingers out of your puppy’s mouth and teaches her to be gentle. Most dogs don’t like biting metal.
- It is not difficult to stop puppy biting but it does take time. Be patient and remember – do not punish the puppy for biting. Always use positive training!