Play Biting and Bite Inhibition

by Jenny Turner

Play biting is the perfect opportunity to establish bite inhibition. To teach bite inhibition it is necessary for the puppy to bite so we can give feedback. But what is bite inhibition and why do we want it? 

A dog’s jaw strength is, on average, 6 times strong than a human’s. They are designed to crush bones in their jaws, so you can imagine how much damage they can do if they choose to bite hard. Bite inhibition is described as “the amount of mouth pressure that can be used without causing pain or harm”, and this is what you are teaching the puppy when he is play biting. It is better that your pup learn what is a hard bite and what is an acceptable soft bite. Later you can teach him not to bite at all. That way, if he does ever feel the need to bite in the future, he is more likely to inflict a small injury, if any at all, because he will only bite softly as you taught him when he was a puppy.

What you should not do if you are play-bitten by your pup is grab him, slap him, shake him or yell at him. You will destroy his trust in you. You may stop him from play biting, but then you have lost your opportunity to establish good bite inhibition.

At first you want to concentrate on only those bites that are painful or nearly painful. Start by playing with your puppy – normal running, chasing, or playing with a toy – and when you are bitten scream “ouch”. Make it a short, sharp, high pitched sound – like you’re another puppy who is yelping. Then immediately drop the toy and leave the room calmly. Leave the puppy on his own for 30 seconds then go back and resume play.

When you first “yelp” at your puppy he may think that you’re trying to increase the intensity of the game, so he may get more excited. This is why it’s important that you cease the game as soon as you are bitten. He will quickly learn that hurting you ends his fun.

If your pup has become so excited that he resembles something more like a demon than a dog, instigate a “time-out”. Put puppy outside or in his crate for a break and to calm down.

Remember to keep the training sessions short but repeat as often as possible. The more bites you can induce the better, as repetition equals faster learning. Be persistent and consistent – make sure you end the game and leave the room every time he bites.

As your puppy learns to bite softer, raise your expectations. Begin to target moderate bites, then finally no biting at all.

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