The Importance of Teaching Bite Inhibition
First, there is a difference between teaching bite inhibition as it relates to other animals, and bite inhibition as it relates to humans. Humans can teach bite inhibition as it relates to humans, but bite inhibition with other animals is taught throughout the dog's life, most of it happening with the Mom and siblings... it's not something that you can teach your dog, without the input of a dog that knows how to manage this kind of behavior. If you have a dog that bites too hard (draws blood) you have some hard questions to answer... do the bites need vet care? What is the legal liability? Do you have the commitment to protect the dog, and any other dogs he comes into contact with, as well as humans who might get 'caught in the cross-fire? Do the dogs in question (the Biter and the Bitee) live in the same home? The answers to these questions will help you decide whether or not you can safely look for help. Get a good behaviorist to help you make this determination, and help you design exercises and management to effect change.
Understand this: bite inhibition is a behavior that's taught using games... but it's tested when the dog is pissed off. When his self-control is at its lowest, and he's more likely to be unable to mitigate damages.. it's important, then, that he be taught to do this (mitigate damages) so that it becomes habit.
To teach an older dog (6 months or older), skip the next few steps... to teach a young puppy, read on...
There is an evolutionary reason why God gave puppies milk teeth... if you think about it, there is absolutely no other reason for a puppy to have milk teeth, except to teach them to inhibit their bite while their jaws are under-developed. They (the milk teeth) are like needles... they hurt a lot worse than the adult teeth do. The jaws, though, can inflict real damage, when the dog is older. So, God made them so that they learn this stuff while they're so small that they won't do real damage, in conjunction with those needle-like teeth. It's a brilliant system.
One day to teach bite inhibition in a puppy:
With puppies who still have their milk teeth, it's relatively easy to teach bite inhibition in a way that will also teach him to be gentle with human flesh, even when he's frustrated.
1.) Put him on a leash, and hook the leash to something (furniture, or a Stationary Board) that will allow him to be close, but not able to reach you.
2.) Move into his space. Interact with him on a low level... you want his interest, but you want to S-L-O-W-L-Y increase his activity level, so that he has time to practice this new rule before he gets too ranped up. If he mouths you hard enough for it to hurt, just say 'oops' and remove yourself (and your attention) from him. Don't get mad, or upset, or loud. You can even say it in a Happy Voice. Just 'oops' and move just out of reach. (Each person can use their own word for this, but your puppy will learn faster if the word is universal.) No eye contact, nothing. Wait 1-2 minutes, then move back and do it again.
3.) If more than 1 person lives in your house, do these exercises 3 times with each person, then change. ALWAYS supervise children. Person A goes through the exercise 3 times, then Person B goes through the exercise 3 times, then Person C, and so on. When everyone has had a turn, start at the same level with Person A. You'll start to see that it takes longer for the pup to start mouthing hard enough to cause you to stop... that's the point of this exercise.
4.) When you start to see that he's not biting hard enough to hurt consistently (8 out of 10 repetitions), start getting him more excited, but use the same set of rules: if he bites hard enough that it hurts, end that repetition for 1-2 minutes. Don't cut him any slack on this: he'll learn it, and there aren't any mistakes where this is concerned.
By the end of today you should see the biting behavior greatly diminished. You can do this whenever he needs practice, and I recommend doing this with each person in the house at least once a week, even if you think he's getting good at it. Keep giving him things he’s allowed to chew, too, so that he knows which things he's allowed to get tough with. It’s important for a dog to have human hands in their mouths (you don't want this tested for the first time when he's 6 years old, and he hasn't had the opportunity to practice this!)… but it’s also important for them to learn that they have to be gentle. That’s what the milk teeth are for… it’s God’s way of teaching puppies not to put force behind their teeth. Removing attention this way makes sure that the dog doesn’t associate hands with correction, but also teaches them to inhibit their bite before they reach the age where they can get real power into the bite, and do damage.
Back to older dogs: Again: bite inhibition is a behavior that's taught using games... but it's tested when the dog is pissed off.
Read that statement over and over, until you get it. This is why the teaching of this behavior is so important, and so fickle... you won't know how effective what you're teaching is until the dog is in a situation where he's forced to try to bite... but only leaves a wet mark. That's the goal... to have a dog who might snap if provoked, but either doesn't touch the skin, or only leaves saliva.
It's been my experience that most dogs with a need to be placed in Rescue haven't been taught basic obedience and manners -- including bite inhibition. Some dogs are very 'grabby' when taking food from your hands... some are the opposite, refusing to take from the hands at all. I have, on a couple of occasions, come into contact with dogs who have been taught bite inhibition in a way that must have been extremely traumatic for them -- they refuse to play with toys that are hand-held, such as tug ropes, and some even go so far as to refuse hand-delivered treats .
Taught the right way, bite inhibition is not taught with FORCE -- in my mind, a dog that is taught bite inhibition through force or harsh punishment is more likely to deliver a bite under stress. Taught using toys, games, and rules, the dog quickly learns that the good things are taken away with even the slightest infraction -- they don't want the good things to end, so they work very hard at NOT breaking the rules. These rules should be taught as a gesture of love for the animal -- not by teaching that hands, or any extension (such as a newspaper) are for hitting!!
Read the article Why to Use Treats as Rewards for information about teaching your dog about getting rewarded for the behavior you want to keep.
Here is an article hat includes a step-by-step instruction for teaching bite inhibition. Have FUN!!
Brenda Rushman CCBC