It’s very normal and actually seems cute when your puppy nibbles and playfully bites your hand when you reach out to pet him. You’d be excused for perceiving this as a special display of affection in the canine world. This can become a problem though when your furry friend starts to grow up and it’s no longer just fun and games for you. His teeth become stronger and the jaws more muscular; the once fun nibbling suddenly turns into an unnerving session filled with rough bites. This is a problem!
How do I stop my dog from biting or nipping? To stop your dog from this uncouth habit, you have to train him on bite inhibition. Whenever he starts to bite while mouthing you, yell to startle him or distract him with his favorite toys or treats. Alternatively, you can “punish” him with short time-outs or tie him down so that playtime is interrupted. Finally, learn to encourage no-contact games!
In this article, we discuss the different methods you can use to rehabilitate your pooch from the undesirable habit of biting, nipping, and nibbling unnecessarily.
Most pet owners don’t appreciate it, when their dogs continue biting, chewing, and play mouthing their owners hands, feet, or clothes every time there’s an interaction.
Whereas puppies have very sharp teeth that can cause sharp pain, mature dogs can unintentionally inflict more pain and in some cases serious injury while mouthing.
Mouthing and biting can prove to be difficult to suppress when dogs have grown because they are a challenge to control physically and may not be sensitive to our reactions the way puppies are.
If you see an adult dog with a habit of biting and nipping, it’s probably because they were never taught not to do so when still apuppy.
Why do Dogs Bite?
Biting is a normal thing for puppies; they do it when they are playing with their siblings and get the favor returned. Fortunately, by then, the puppies have a small bite force because their jaw muscles have not yet developed. They start to do so at about 4 to 5 months and this is a season that the pup begins to lose their smaller teeth and just like humans they are replaced with new and bigger teeth.
Normally, most puppies will seize play biting by the time they get to between six and nine months. If the puppy has been managed properly. Otherwise, if the owners have been rewarding, or exciting the puppy for this kind of attention-seeking behavior, then the biting or mouthing can persist.
It obviously becomes a bigger cause for concern when the dog is stronger and/or more menacing.
Playful Biting or Aggressive Behavior?
Although it can be said that most mouthing is a common behavior, some dogs may bite out frustration or fear. This kind of biting is often a consequence of aggression.
It can prove a challenge to try and distinguish between normal play biting and biting that borders on aggressive behavior. In many cases, if your pooch is just trying to play, both his face and body will be relaxed. His muzzle might appear wrinkled, but his facial muscles won’t display any tension.
Playful biting is generally less painful than aggressive biting. For an aggressive dog, you’ll notice that his body is stiff. He may crinkle his muzzle and draw back his lips, exposing a set of ferocious teeth. Any growling that may accompany this action can usually be noted by its differing tone from that which the dog growls when playing.
When the dog is intent on being aggressive a bite can be delivered extremely quickly, usually faster than you can move your hand away.
Bite inhibition means a dog’s ability to regulate the force of his biting or mouthing. A puppy that hasn’t been taught bite inhibition is unaware of human skin sensitivity, so he bites like he would any other toy during playtime.
Some animal behaviorists contend that dogs that have learned to use their mouth gently during interactions with people are far less likely to bite hard, even when it is a situation other than playing.
The teaching of bite inhibition is also referred to as a soft mouth, which is something taught to hunting dogs used for shooting, they are taught to pick up dead birds without bruising the kill, carrying it softly in their mouth back to its owner.
Puppies usually learn bite inhibition while playing with their brothers and sisters. If you observe a litter of puppies playing, you will notice a great deal of pouncing, chasing, and wrestling.
Every once in a while, a dog will bite at his playmate too hard and the victim lets out a painful yelp that startles his aggressor. The offender will usually stop playing, as if to think about what he’s just done, and resume playing when the victim initiates another playing session.
It is through such interactions that between each other dogs learn to manage the force with which they bite so as not to hurt their play partner. If they can learn from their canine mates how to be gentle, dogs will definitely learn from us humans.
How do I Teach (soft mouth) Bite Inhibition Training?
There are various techniques to teach your dog how to control his bite. Consider the following approaches:
• Introduce time-outs
• Use a toy
• Use a leash
• Stay calm
• Give him treats
• Stop wrestling
To stop your dog from nipping and biting, allow him to mouth your hand as you play with him. Continue doing this until when you feel him biting hard. Immediately let out a screeching yelp when he does this, to let him know that you are being hurt.
This should scare your pooch a little and cause him to seize mouthing you. If the yelping doesn’t seem to have an effect, try yelling out “Bad boy” or “Stop it” in a stern voice as an alternative.
Remember though it is important to praise your pup for stopping if he does so, then resume playing. Repeat this procedure until your dog gets the hang of it and learns how to inhibit his bite.
Time-outs are an effective way of mitigating mouthing behavior in adult dogs. Whenever your dog bites your hand during playtime, yelp loudly to startle him. Remove your hand when he turns around to look at you and ignore him for a while.
If he goes back to mouthing you, stand up and leave the room for about a minute then return and engage him in another playful session. Continue repeating this process when he bites again until when he stops biting.
The harder the bite, the longer the time-out! You need your dog to learn how to control his bite, so that you feel insignificant bite pressure when he is mouthing you.
Distract him with a Toy
If your dog keeps biting at your toes and ankles when walking around the house, carry his preferred toy in your pocket. As soon as he ambushes you, stop moving and take out the toy. Wave it in his face enticingly until he grabs onto the toy.
Repeat this until when you no longer have the toy. The moment he mouths you, stop moving; by this time, he’ll have learned to stop mouthing even without the toy as a distraction.
Praise and reward him with his toy for stopping. In this case, you are getting your dog used to seeing people walk around the house without him nipping and mouthing at their feet.
Use a Leash
For a puppy that persistently follows and bites you whenever he gets the chance, you need to put on the leash and then tie the leash to something immovable.
Play with him attached to the leash and attached to a piece of furniture so that he can’t move beyond a certain distance. When your dog bites, stop playing and move away to a point he can’t reach.
DO NOT leave the room; you don’t want your pooch to get too nervous. The point here is to teach him a lesson by being just out of his reach and not allowing him to play. Wait for him to settle down then walk back and continue with your play.
Most people assume that you have to yelp or scream out loudly whenever your pup bites at your feet or hands to let them know you are in pain. This is not always the case.
Do you know what else makes this type of noise? PREY! See, you have to remember that even your cute canine at home is a predator at heart. Their predatory instincts might prompt them to continue biting even when they hear you yelp.
Screaming, therefore, will not always stop your puppy from biting; it might actually encourage, them in some cases.
A dog can be quite nervous if you say nothing and just stare at them.
Give him Treats
Dogs normally mouth on people’s fingers and hands whenever they are being stroked, scratched, or patted. Moving your hand or slapping your dog gently when he bites might be misconstrued as a type of game.
Instead of doing this, keep your hand still and distract him with treats on your free hand. The dog will automatically let go and reach for the treats. Repeating this will help your pooch learn not to mouth people when he’s being petted.
Do not wrestle
Sometimes we make the mistake of acting like other dogs when we are clearly not! You can’t blame your furry friend for treating you like an equal when you engage in rough play every time you guys are playing. The thing is, your pet just can’t help it; his teeth come in very handy during this session of play!
The other problem with wrestling with your dog is that if this is a play mode then they will consider that a child may want to play too. This can be when children can get seriously hurt. Then the dog gets put down for being a dangerous dog, when all he was doing was playing.
Rather than wrestling with your hands, encourage no-contact forms of play like tug-of-war and fetch. Games like tug-of-war teach your puppy how to deal with arousal and frustration. Keep his tug toy in your pocket so that whenever he starts to mouth, you can shift his attention to the toy. This will condition him to look for a toy anytime he feels like biting or mouthing.
What if my Dog continues to Bite?
It’s almost unavoidable that your pup will once in a while use his teeth on you; it’s just their way of exploring. However, if you’ve tried all the above bite inhibiting techniques and your dog is still playing rough and biting hard, I advise you seek professional assistance from an animal behaviorist.