Biting Problems

posted: by: Dr. Joanne Carlson Tags: "Clinic Specials" "News" 

A child, while running across the room, trips and falls on top of a sleeping dog. The dog lets out a startled yelp and ...
Two household dogs have an argument over a bone (or a favorite sleeping spot, etc.). The argument becomes serious and ...
A dog just couldn't resist the steak thawing on the countertop. You come into the room and immediately try to wrestle the juicy prize from the dog's jaws and ...
How would you finish the above scenarios? Anyone's dog could become involved in such a scene. How would the dog respond? The possibility of a serious bite(s) is strongly indicated in each instance. There is something though that could prevent a tragedy from happening in each of these scenes - Bite Inhibition.


Bite inhibition simply means that through training (dog induced or human induced behavior modification) a dog is not likely to use the full strength of its powerful jaws. All dogs can bite. They can't kick, punch, pinch, or push. They bite. Any dog could be provoked to bite by some instance in its life. Bite inhibition is insurance against the possibility that such a bite will be devastating to the one bitten. It is the responsibility of every dog's owner to see to it that no one is harmed by their dog. So teach your puppy bite inhibition, it is a very good way to protect you, your dog, and those around you.
Bite inhibition is the most important lesson a puppy can learn in its entire life! What you will be doing is continuing a lesson that puppy's mother taught him and that was constantly reinforced with his littermates.
Granted, puppies seem to like little biting, mouthing machines at times. They explore the world and your hands with their mouths. Fortunately puppy bites can hurt (with those little needle teeth) but do little damage due to the weakness of the jaws. Nature seems to have planned it this way. While doing little damage, puppy bites that inflict pain bring a strong response from its mother and littermates. Morn and the other pups will sharply reprimand the offender and abruptly leave him. Puppy learns that it is OK to use its mouth, but he had better learn to use it softly.
Puppy's human family can continue this lesson easily. If puppy inflicts a painful chomp on your tender skin, YELL "OUCH!" and abruptly leave the puppy. The little biting machine will get the message clearly. Continue this lesson each time the puppy bites hard enough to hurt, but then begin to refine your definition of pain. As puppy's mouth becomes "softer" you begin to tolerate less and less pressure from his little teeth. By the time puppy's jaws have become seriously strong, he will have learned that human's have a very low "OUCH!" threshold and will learn to be extremely careful with your skin since he would like to continue to play. Never let puppy chew on your clothing or puppy won't get any feedback from your pain response or to the amount of pressure that his jaws are using.


Now that puppy has learned to have a soft mouth, it is up to you to see that the puppy retains this lesson throughout its life. Teach the dog that it is OK to mouth your hands only when you ask him to and that he must stop immediately when you tell him. If the dog ever uses too much pressure, use the same "OUCH! and leave" response that you used during his puppy hood. He will remember his lessons. Reward a soft mouth with praise and correct a hard mouth with swiftly leaving. Remember though, only you, not the dog, can initiate this mouthing play. If the dog ever tries to initiate the mouthing game, immediately say NO! and leave! It is necessary to frequently check and reinforce the dog's mouth response throughout the dog's life.


There are certain medical instances when a dog may not use bite inhibition, as in the case of a very serious injury. An extremely painful dog is likely to bite. It is not really "connecting with the real world" and doesn't realize what it is doing. You are urged to use extreme caution in such instances.