Training Dogs And Humans For A More Enjoyable Life Together

By Susan Smith, East Valley Dog Training

Answers to questions are based on the information provided. It’s always a good idea to have your pet thoroughly examined by a veterinarian when having behavior problems. Although I can give general information and management suggestions on serious behavior problems such as aggression, issues such as these can be a very serious problem and a certified dog trainer should be consulted. 

My family just got a new puppy, who is 8 weeks old. She’s constantly biting everyone and everything! How do we make her stop?

One of the most important things you can teach your puppy is bite inhibition.  Learning bite inhibition means that your puppy is learning to CONTROL his mouth — NOT learning not to bite. If your puppy learns to control his bite now, if, as an adult dog, he is ever in a position of having to bite someone, he will not inflict serious damage to the person he bites – hopefully nothing more than a simple puncture wound.

First, we must always remember that a dog’s mouth is his primary tool — used for hunting, eating, playing and defense.  It is a very powerful tool — designed to crush bone!  If a dog feels afraid and trapped, he will bite.  It is unfair for us to expect a dog to never bite, under any circumstance — their mouth is their only protection.  With those thoughts in mind, it is easy to see why we must teach our dogs to control their mouths.

Puppies in a litter do a lot of roughhousing.  If a puppy bites his littermate too hard, the littermate will yelp.  If the puppy continues to bite too hard, the littermate will quit playing with him.  If the puppy bites his mother too hard, she will reprimand him.  This puppy is learning bite inhibition.

If you are grooming your dog and he puts his mouth on your hand or arm but doesn’t hurt you, he is telling you he does not like what you are doing.  This dog has good bite inhibition.  We usually do not understand what our dog is telling us, and ignore the warnings.  This is when we hear “he bit me with no warning at all!”  Actually, he probably did give plenty of warning, the owner just didn’t realize it.

To teach your puppy bite inhibition, follow these steps:

  • When playing with your puppy, pay attention to his bites and figure out what his “normal” range is.
  • When he bites harder than “normal,” yelp in a high pitched tone (as if you were a littermate).  Your puppy should immediately stop biting.
  • Resume playing.  If your puppy again bites outside the “normal” range, get up and walk away from him — stop the play session.
  • You can (and should) resume playing again after a couple of minutes.
  • Within a short time, your puppy’s “normal” range should decrease and not be as hard as it was before.  When this happens, re-assess his “normal” range and repeat these steps.

Eventually, hopefully by age 5-6 months, you will train your puppy not to bite at all, but in the meantime, you’ve trained him to be aware of how hard he bites, and you’ve taught him that there are consequences for biting too hard. Just a note – this must be trained prior to your dog getting his adult teeth. Once that happens, it’s too late to train bite inhibition.

It is important that everyone who has contact with your puppy follow these steps — particularly family members.  It is difficult to teach young children to assess a level of bite, so you can instruct them that if the puppy bites too hard, they should quit playing with him altogether for a few minutes.

Finally, you should maintain his bite inhibition skill throughout your dog’s life. You can do this by initiating roughhousing – I do this in the winter when I’m wearing long sleeved sweatshirts, so my arms are protected. Other than during these games, your dog should never put his teeth on someone, uninvited or under extreme duress.

Susan Smith, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer in San Tan Valley, AZ, specializing in pet dog training as well as cat and parrot training—from obedience behaviors to serious problems such as aggression. She can be contacted at Sue is also the owner of Raising Canine, LLC which provides professional education to animal trainers.