What is bite inhibition?
Bite inhibition basically means training your dog to have a soft mouth.
When they are puppies, dogs automatically learn this lesson from their mother and their litter-mates. When a puppy bites down too hard on a litter-mate, he will get a yelp and play stops while the hurt party licks his wounds.
Through this process, puppies learn to control the force of their bites because they know that biting too hard will cause play to stop.
It is important to continue this lesson throughout a dog’s life. The mouthier a dog is, the more important to teach him bite inhibition.
My Shiba Inu is an extremely mouthy dog, and I am extremely thankful that I taught him bite inhibition from a young age.
Later on, he really started acting out and doing leash biting, humping my leg, and biting on my hands and arms. Throughout all this, he never broke skin.
Bite inhibition, made it possible for us to re-train him and re-train ourselves with very little wear and tear on both dog and humans.
Bite inhibition is important even for normally even-tempered, social dogs.
Dogs use their mouth to interact, not just to attack.
When excited, dogs may mouth on people, not to hurt them, but to interact with them. This may cause accidental bites if the dog does not have good bite inhibition training.
Dogs may also bite as a reflex when they are startled, for example, when you accidentally step on their tail or wake them up from a deep sleep. A dog with bite inhibition may scratch your arm, but an untrained dog will cause deep puncture wounds.
The best time to teach dogs bite inhibition is when they are young. Puppies may have sharp teeth, but they have not developed the jaw strength of an adult dog yet, so they cannot inflict the same type of damage that an adult dog can.
I have found that hand-feeding is a fun and good way for teaching bite inhibition to my dogs.
Hand-feed your dog at least some of his kibble every day. If he bites too hard when getting his food, do a sharp ouch or yelp and ignore him for a few seconds then start hand-feeding him again. When your dog takes food from you gently, praise him and keep feeding him.
First, make it easy for your dog to get at the food without biting you, then slowly make it more difficult by covering the food partially with your fingers. You can also combine hand-feeding with training and handling sessions.
Hand-feeding also helps to prevent food aggression and resource guarding issues, so it is good to continue this practice throughout your dog’s life.
I first learned about bite inhibition from Ian Dunbar’s book After You Get Your Puppy. He has more in his book on bite inhibition and puppy socialization.
Although it is easier and safer to teach dogs bite inhibition when they are young, it is never too late to teach them to have a soft mouth.
Bite inhibition will significantly enhance your relationship with your dog because a dog with a soft mouth is easier to trust, easier to handle, and a joy to spend time with.
Note – If your dog is already food aggressive or resource aggressive, it is best to consult a professional trainer. Do not perform bite inhibition exercises on such dogs as they may bite anybody or anything that comes near their food.