Have you ever watched how puppies play with each other while they're still with their littermates? They love to bite each other, often on the face. If one puppy bites another puppy too hard, the "victim" will yelp and run away to play with a different pup. In essence, the biter gets a time-out for applying too much pressure with those needle-sharp puppy teeth. If he makes this mistake a few times, then he learns that biting too hard while playing makes his buddies run away from him. Little by little each puppy learns to bite with less pressure to keep his playmates from putting him into isolation. This is one reason that you should not purchase a puppy before he or she is 8 weeks old. It is during the 6th & 7th weeks when puppies are educating each other about bite inhibition with each other. When a puppy doesn't get that information from his littermates, the pup then comes into the home and play-bites much harder with us leaving our arms bruised and sore. You might be surprised to find that new puppy owners sometimes get so frustrated when this happens that they begin talking about giving up the puppy. That's not a good thing!
Yes, we need to teach puppies to inhibit their bites to prevent them from scarring our hands, arms, ankles, and other body parts. But, there's another critical reason why we need to work on this NOW. Dogs are animals! They come hard-wired knowing how to bite! Every dog on the face of this planet is capable of biting a human or another dog. If at sometime in your puppy's life he is ever provoked to use his adult teeth on an individual, we want to make absolutely certain that if he chooses to bite, he will do no damage. Dogs that bite hard and send people or dogs to the emergency room have not learned bite inhibition! Dogs that bite without leaving any marks on human or canine skin have learned bite inhibition.
So, how do we effectively deal with this problem? When puppy arrives you will begin to see this play-biting behavior as he gets comfortable and starts to play with you and your children. I find that puppies bite with harder pressure when (1) they become overly excited about something, (2) someone, particularly a child, plays on the floor at their facial level, (3) someone roughhouses with them, or (4) they are just plain tired and need a nap. We can avoid having puppy bite too hard by working to avoid having the behavior occur in the first place. So with the 4 situations I've listed above, try to avoid getting puppy into any of those situations as much as possible. Situation #2 should ALWAYS be avoided. Children should NEVER be at the same facial level as a child to avoid all facial-bite injuries! When your children play with your puppy, they should be sitting on a sofa or chair or standing tall.
Okay, let's get down to business. We need to plan how we're going to use time-outs to teach puppy not to bite hard. Get into the habit of keeping a leash or dragline attached to your dog's harness (yes, puppies should wear a harness, not a collar, for being leash-walked and being tethered) throughout the day. This dragline should NOT be kept on unless your puppy is being watched and supervised. The dragline should be removed anytime he is put into his crate or left alone for any reason! Please do not forget to remove the dragline when necessary. If you have a table-leg or chair leg that is thick and heavy, you can use that as a good tethering area. Sometimes people have a banister at the stairway that is thick enough to use as a tether spot. You can also consider going to Home Depot and getting a thick screw eye to put into the stud of a baseboard. You can then thread your dog's leash through the screw-eye and have it ready at all times if you need to give puppy a time-out. Don't worry, you can always spackle the baseboard when puppy gets older. Take a leash and thread it either around that table/chair leg or through the screw-eye. Thread the snap of the leash through the loop and pull it straight out. Now you've got your tethering area prepared and ready to use.
Sit down and play with your puppy while he's tethered. The following is going to be your protocol as to how to monitor how hard puppy is biting and how to deal with each level of pressure he's using:
If puppy mouths you using his teeth, but it doesn't hurt, yelp "ouch!" in a normal tone of voice. Immediately stand up and walk a little bit away from him. Do not talk to him, do not look at him, completely ignore him for about 15-20 seconds. As long as he remains quiet and doesn't bark, whine or carry on, you can return your attention to him after that 15-20-second period. Go back to playing with him. If he repeats his behavior, you then repeat your 20 second time-out.
If puppy mouths you, but it DOES hurt, yelp "OUCH!" in a much louder tone of voice. Immediately, walk out of the room and leave puppy completely alone for 30 seconds. Your pup should not be able to see you, hear you or know that you're anywhere nearby. If he remains quiet during that 30 seconds, you can return to him and then begin interacting with him again. If he bites with hard pressure again, repeat the 30-second time-out.
Keep in mind that you do not want to bring any emotional content into these exercises. Please do not use any physical means of punishment to stop your puppy from play-biting. Your purpose in doing time-outs is to teach puppy that when he bites hard, he creates a switch that makes you disappear! Just as his littermates taught him, you will now teach him that when he bites too hard, you will leave him isolated for a short period of time. This stage of training will require a ton of patience on your part, but your puppy will learn from it. Dogs learn by making associations. Dogs are pack animals so they do not want to be alone and isolated.
Instruct all the members of your family to follow through with these training exercises. If the family is together and puppy is with everyone, and then he bites someone too hard, EVERYONE should get up and leave the room while he remains tethered and alone! Support each other when this happens and it will have a greater and more effective impact on your dog.
Little by little, you will notice that your puppy is biting with less pressure. That's a good thing! Figure out what that hardest level of pressure is, and begin performing the same routine of leaving him alone when he bites with THAT level of pressure. Essentially, you are now creating levels of reduced pressure that will change again. Each time you get rid of one level of pressure, begin focusing on the next level, which will be softer and softer. Once your dog learns to have a soft mouth, you can now use your 30-second time-out for the very least amount of pressure for which he'd be using his teeth on your skin.
The end result of teaching bite inhibition is the puppy learns that teeth on skin is never allowed - EVER! If you have children in the house and they are mature enough to work on this training, make sure they are consistent and doing this only under your supervision!
NOTE: If you have a dog that is 6 months or older, you do not now have time to teach your dog to bite without pressure. Because your dog is older and now has his adult teeth, it is imperative that you teach him not to bite at all. He must learn that teeth on skin is NEVER allowed. No matter what pressure your adult dog exerts on your skin with his teeth, you must yelp OUCH and then leave him alone for 30 seconds. He must learn that anytime he places his teeth on your skin, that behavior makes everyone leave him.
Patience, patience, patience! It will pay off. I promise!
Copyright: Renee Premaza 2006
Dog Obedience Trainer & Behavior Consultant (609) 280-9338 www.Jerseydogtrainer.com