Bite inhibition is best taught very early on. In fact, the process begins with the puppy’s littermates. As they play, they naturally “mouth” each other — that is, they use their mouths to nip at each other. Their little teeth are plenty sharp, so it hurts, but their jaws are relatively weak at first so mouthing doesn’t do that much damage.
When one puppy does hurt another one, often the hurt one will stop playing for a while and move away. By this happening repeatedly as the litter grows up, puppies learn bite inhibition, that if they pretend to bite but use less force, the games continue. So the puppies begin to develop what’s called a soft mouth. This is one of several reasons that it’s important for puppies to stay with their mothers and littermates for a couple of months or more after birth.
The puppies’ mother or other adult dogs in the household will also correct the mouthing. If a puppy bites them, they may growl, curl their lips at the puppy, or get up and walk away.
Your Role in Training Bite Inhibition
If you get a puppy of whatever age, one of the first things for you to do — and it will naturally happen in the first day, most likely — is to determine just how far along your pup is in learning bite inhibition. At this stage, you are not looking for NO mouthing or biting. It’s actually much better for their training process if they will learn to develop a gentle bite. This is because if your dog should bite later on in life, the bite will do far less damage if the mouthing process has been allowed to develop into that ability to bite gently.
Of course, all this takes time and you will be enduring some sharp nips in the process.
Puppies often mouth when they are excited, or when they first wake up to an exciting new day. At those times, or at any time that your puppy mouths, here is what you or your children can do. Kids are more likely to be mouthed than adults because they are more lively than we are.
Say “ouch!” or yelp like another puppy would. Or say NO in a stern voice. Then stand up if you aren’t standing, and turn away from the puppy. Put your arms around your chest, to be less interesting to the pup. Stay like that, silently ignoring your puppy for around half a minute. Then resume interacting in a gentle manner.
Ian Dunbar has a wonderful DVD on training puppies which explains this in a lot more detail. Bite inhibition is actually one the very most important things you need to teach your puppy, and he explains why. See my review of Sirius Puppy Training here. One of the things I’m happiest about regarding this website is that hundreds of people have bought this program and presumably gotten their puppies off to a better start in life. But with or without that DVD, keep at the bite inhibition process and within weeks you will see progress.
Want to go right to the DVD? Here’s a link to it at Amazon.com: