Young puppies use their mouths to explore the world and to play with their littermates. That includes both mouthing and – ouch! – biting. We can teach our puppies bite inhibition by using variations on the strategies that other dogs use:
- A mother dog will permit her pups to mouth her, but if one should hurt her more than she thinks is okay, she will let the puppy know by growling or perhaps by grabbing and holding the puppy.
- Another adult dog may act in a similar manner, with a young or a more mature puppy. It might also snap at the youngster.
- Littermates playing together sometimes cause pain, and typically the hurt puppy will yelp – and loud enough that there is no doubt that it is unhappy. It may also move away from the puppy that bit it. So it doesn’t take long for most puppies to begin developing bite inhibition, so others will play with it.
Chances are that any puppy you get that grew up in a litter did begin to learn to mouth more than to bite. But it won’t know if the same rules apply to humans.
That’s where your work begin. Try yelping when bitten, and once the puppy responds to that – which may take some practice – then try yelping when the pup even mouths you. You can try growling too. I like yelping better because I find it easier to make a quick loud noise at the very moment of the bite, so the puppy understands more easily what I am indicating. I’ve also used moving away from a puppy quite effectively, because then the fun stops.
One of my very favorite puppy training DVDs, Sirius Puppy Training, talks about bite inhibition and other important puppy socialization lessons: