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.
Thank you for responding to my posting a few days ago. Since that time I have had good time to spend with the new Shiba. I have removed the toy from the picture.
I have fed him by hand directly out of his bowl, and there is absolutely no indication of food aggression, which is good.
He has stolen his empty bowl off the counter and I have been able to retrieve it as well as a few other items that he has stolen, all without incident.
I have given him cookies and small rawhides that he can eat relatively quickly and also no issue.
As this all started I immediately began taking him out on my rollerblades for an hour or so. This has helped burn off any anxious behavior. The other night on the way through the garage he found where I put the toy we had given him, grabbed it and brought it on our skate session. At one point he dropped it, and growled slightly at me. One pull of the leash and he picked it up and we were off skating again. He finally dropped it when he saw one of my neighbors and 2 dogs. He was easily distracted and forgot all about the toy.
This morning he picked up a piece of plastic on our walk and i was able to get him to open and drop with a little growl but that was it.
I will keep you posted on progress.
Thanks. This is helpful. Kumi jumps on the huskies so fast sometimes, that I don’t have the opportunity to observe the triggers. However, I have been leaning toward the dominance issue, as our oldest husky, Skya, has always been the dominant female (by the way, they are ALL females). Skya was rescued and was never fixed, Sikari was fixed almost as soon as we got her.
But I have watched Kumi from day one, and know that she has already tried to take over that leader of the pack role. Skya, getting older, has pretty much allowed her to take over. Sikari has never been dominant, nor does it appear that she ever wanted to be. Which is why I was so shocked at last night’s incident.
Kumi will be fixed in the next few weeks. Skya is in heat again now (funny how THAT happened) and cannot be fixed because she is sickly and they do not believe she can survive a surgery. I’m hoping that Kumi calms down once she has had her surgery, but I do wonder how she will be toward Skya each time Skya goes into heat. I plan to try the time out method on Kumi with any bad behavior this evening and will keep you posted.
Until then, thank you for all of your words of advise.
I do not breed dogs, and therefore have little experience with unfixed dogs. Based on what you describe, the issue could be related to that. It could also be that Kumi is growing up and trying to assert her dominance with the pack.
Keeping a long lead on her when you are around to supervise (with a flat collar) can help with separating them from a safe distance. When you are not around to supervise, put her in her crate. It is unclear what the trigger event is, so you want to observe her very closely to identify what sets her of. At the same time, you want to stop her as soon as she shows any aggression – raised lip, still stance, etc. Don’t wait until she gets into it.
One thing that really helped me a lot when I was having troubles with my Shiba is visiting the Shiba breeders that lived nearby. They were very helpful and let me know what to expect from my Shiba and what were normal Shiba behaviors.
They may be a great resource for you as well. I used the breeder directory at the National Shiba Club
The nihonken message board can also be a great resource –
A professional trainer can also help with observing Kumi and seeing what actually triggers the aggression. Is it a resource issue, reproductive (hormonal) issue, fear issue, dominance issue, or something else. Then you can use desensitization to train Kumi to re-associate the trigger event with positive alternate behaviors.
If it is a reproductive issue – spaying could help.
I have 9 and 5-year-old siberian husky’s (Skya and Sikari, respectfully) and a now 10-month old shiba (Kumi).
All of the dogs have gotten along so well, until recently, when my shiba has begun attacking both of the husky’s. We can not figure out what is provoking Kumi to attack (out of nowhere) and last night, in trying to get Kumi off of Sikari, Kumi bit my husband’s hand quite badly.
My husband is now very afraid of what Kumi will do and wants to get rid of her because he doesn’t want to feel like he has to keep the dogs apart – which would be quite difficult since we all live in the same house; nor does he trust her alone with Skya and Sikari.
None of this was an issue until Kumi went into heat for the first time. It seems that this has all been happening since that point. Have we missed the window to train her not to attack? By the way, she has so far gotten along quite well with all of the neighbor dogs and children. I made sure she was socialized well.
It may be best to consult a professional trainer about this. A trainer will be able to see exactly what triggers your Shiba and will be able to accurately judge the strength of his reaction.
Often times, dogs develop resource aggression because they have had negative experiences with people taking away their toys. When dogs show aggression and people back away, they learn that aggression gets them what they want and therefore they keep repeating that behavior and may even escalate.
I would stay away from using alpha rolls or other physical techniques on a dog when he is in such a state. There was this episode on the Dog Whisperer with a dog called Bella, who had food aggression issues. Cesar kept his distance from the dog because a dog with extreme food aggression can do quite a lot of damage. That is why it is best to get a professional trainer to help with reading the dog, seeing what all his triggers are (e.g. all toys, new toys, squeaky toys, sticks, a piece of paper, food), and setting up a program to reduce his resource guarding behavior.
For now, you don’t want to give him anything that would trigger this behavior. Dogs get especially protective over things like rawhide and such, so don’t give him high priority items, or any items that will encourage his guarding behavior. Consider using the Nothing in Life is Free program – which shows your Shiba that you and your wife are the source of all his resources. However, only do it if it is safe – i.e., there are no food aggression issues.
Here is an article on resource guarding.
In terms of bite inhibition, one thing you can try is to feed him food slowly by using a long metal spoon. It is uncomfortable for dogs to bite down too hard on metal, so this will teach them to regulate the force of their bites while taking food. Again – only do this if it is safe and if you are sure he won’t go for your hand. You can also do this across a baby door with bars for added safety.
However, with cases of aggression, a professional trainer is usually the best thing because timing, and being able to read the dog, are especially important to achieve success and also stay safe.
lol Alex – that is a lovely story!
Lupin is such a good boy, and that story really captures what a good thing bite inhibition is.
I have just rescued a Shiba that is a little over 1 year. he is so far perfect in almost all ways. However, and a big however, he is toy aggressive.
With a toy in his possession he is outwardly aggressive. He attacked my wife, and then when i came down he attacked me. He grabbed my hand, and I managed to put him down in a submissive position. It took a few minutes of him screaming but he finally relaxed.
This is our first experience with a Shiba. I have dealt with dog aggression before, but this is unique, because it is so far only with toys.
I need help in two areas.
1. What would be the best method for bite inhibition with a 1 year old dog?
2. What is the best way to break the toy aggression?
I don’t think I purposefully taught Lupin bite inhibition, I just find it annoying when a dog snatches things from you (like when treating them) in a quick manner. I just refused to give the food to him until did it in a calm way. As for when he was a puppy, we would pet/play with him and if he used his mouth would stop and give him a correction.
Now people are amazed at how gently he takes food from them (he uses no pressure when taking the food, and very slowly removes it from your hand)
While I don’t permit begging, this is a cute story. One time while coming back from the beach my sister was in our uncle’s truck with his two sons and Lupin in between them. It was a long car ride, and Lupin had to sit between our cousins with little room; the youngest would stir and yell at Lupin for no real reason, which would wake Lupin up and make him turn around and re position himself. Anyway, we were stopped in traffic on the interstate where a wreck had occured, and our uncle was eating a bag or cheetos. Lupin had his head lightly resting on my uncles shoulder, staring at the cheetos, like he does when he wants something but knows not to just take it. After a minute or so of this, my uncle asked if Lupin could have one, she told him he could, and so he presented Lupin with one. Lupin opened his mouth and very slowly put his mouth around the cheeto, retreated to the backseat and crunched away. Our uncle couldn’t believe how gently he’d taken the cheeto, and after that Lupin did no more begging.
“We hand fed her for the first week when we got her”
Yay – good job. If you can, you really want to continue this hand-feeding process throughout her life. Doesn’t have to be all her food – just some of it every day.
Re biting on hands, feet, etc –
The best thing to do is to non-mark her (ack-ack), fold up your arms, and ignore her. Do not walk away, because then she will think it is a game and want to chase you and nip. If she keeps biting, remove her to time-out for a brief period. Let her out after about 30 seconds. Ignore her for a bit when you first let her out. If she is calm, praise her and treat her, you can also ask her for a command (Sit) before treating. Then leave her alone in a calm state for a while. If she starts biting again repeat the exercise above but this time put her on a slightly longer time-out.
This teaches her that biting gets her into a boring room, while not biting gets her treats and praise.
It is absolutely crucial not to move around too much – hands, feet, or anything while she is biting. Just fold your arms, stand, and ignore. With my Shiba, any response is a good response. You want to stay calm throughout the whole thing – no shouting, growling, or anything else. If she persists just remove her to time-out.
Time-outs worked great on my Shiba so hopefully this will help. Let me know how it goes.
Hugs to Suki 🙂
We have a 13 week old shiba named suki – we have had her since she was 7 weeks, and we havn’t been able to top her from biting our hands yet. We yelp and turn away, she still bites. We grrr in a low voice like her mother, she still bites. She absolutely loves the water bottle, and will put her mouth around it while we spray so she can lick the water off it. And we try and give her toys to play with, but again, she likes the movement of our hands more.
We hand fed her for the first week when we got her. She is nice and calm when we feed her, however when there isn’t food, that is where we have an issue.
To top this off, she gets really mouthy around our feet and ankles too. Of course this is even harder to ignore, and she can really hurt around that area. The more we pull her off and turn / walk away, the more she wants to play. We even try to grasp the back of her neck like her mother would to pull her off when it gets severe. This still doesn’t deter her.
I know that most of the time she is simply excited and wants to play, however I don’t know how to deter her. Have you seen this before?