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.
Roxanne Bowman says
I have MS and have trained my female pups to be my service dogs. They have all been wolf/hybrids. They were a joy to train and easy. We just lost our Shiloh who was 80% wolf and 20% German shepherd. She was a gentle soul of a dog and people loved her. We now live in Costa Rica where it seems All locals and expats like myself have dogs but only the expats seem to train their dogs with any type of manners.
Well, I took a few months for grieving…and looking for a larger type dog that I would again train to be in service and a well adjusted in public dog. I found pups of German Shepherd/Belgian Shepherd mix. I wanted another female but they were all sold. So I had to get my first Male dog ever. It should not be this difficult to train a male dog verses a female dog…. but I am very frustrated. He is HIGH energy which he did not show us when we were choosing he from his brother. AND he loves toes and nipping. Recently I spend 11 days in the hospital with a case of cellulitis that had been caused by his raking my leg (by accident) with a tooth as we played. And today the nipping and biting he trys to bite flip flops, and the shield I have over my leg to protect it from future scratches (that he might not be the cause of). today he again bit my husbands arm, when my husband when to pet him and treat he nice… and drew blood again… The other day I saw a first sign of aggression when I gave him a knuckle bone and someone (luckily a dog knowledgeable man). We have two small children who want to be able to play with him and love on him… I can’t let them yet. I have tried the redirect with toys he can have… and I must admit that just doesn’t work… I also did what I am finding is a no no for us to do… tug of war…I’ll now use that as a chew toy for him. I have been finding YOUR suggestions I’ve been reading are more reasonable and I will be trying them… but I need to know what do do about the stubbornness of biting, and his strong strong will to do it all HIS way. If I tell him NO he yells (barks) at me… like he is saying… don’t you tell me no…
Sam Porte says
I really liked the blog and information on here, we just got a year or so old collie shepherd from the local humane society.
He is mostly great, there are a lot of little behaviours that we have been seeing and coming out at random times.
A new one is how bad his biting has gotten on walks…mostly at the end, when he knows we are coming home, but sometimes at the beginning or randomly too, he gets very aggressive, and like you mentioned, bites the leash, but mostly me or my partner, on sleeves, arms, hands, anything, jumps to get at us.
We are starting a training program on the 9th, but in the mean time, have been looking for solutions, or things to do, because, I have the same mix of dog as a family dog, he was a rescue, and of course all their paths are different, and all their pasts, but he was never this aggressive, and a breed like that needs to be walked and taken outdoors, but it makes me dread it because I’m always thinking….when is he gonna snap?
I missed work today because the bit from last night rendered my arm bruised, pulled, and useless, I don’t want to take medication for infection every time there’s a walk…any tips?
-At a loss,
Yeah, I had some very difficult times with my Shiba Inu with regards to leash biting. With Shiba Sephy, several things helped-
1. Desensitization training with excitement triggers, e.g. other dogs.
2. Controlling my own energy. Sephy is very sensitive to the energy of the people around him. If I become nervous, anxious, angry, or stressed, he will quickly pick up on that energy, get even more stressed himself and his behavior will worsen. I always try to stay calm and just focus on my plan of action.
3. Short leash and brisk walk home. I can do this because Sephy has good bite inhibition, and does not cause any real damage when he bites on me.
More on my leash-biting experiences with Sephy.
Management equipment can also be helpful, for example using a basket muzzle in the short-term. I always desensitize my dog to the muzzle first before using.
However, as you know, dog behavior is very context dependent so each dog and situation are different. Since your arm is already getting hurt from the experience, it may be best to get guidance from a good professional trainer who understands desensitization training and counter-conditioning techniques. There are few controls in the dog training field, so it can be a challenge to find a good trainer. The articles below have some good information on what to look for in a trainer.
I love your blog, Im reading everything to absorb and implement with my puppy.
I have a 16 weeks miniature schnauzer, but after reading a lot of your posts, her behavior looks very similar to your shiba.
Unfortunatelly I just found your blog 2 days ago, so I committed the same mistakes: listen advices from people suggesting to do the alpha-roll, hold her muzzle, do a loud noise…
Now, I feel like my puppy lost the trust on me and she is becoming agressive.
Now, I feel like my puppy lost the trust on me and she is becoming agressive.
I started using some reward training with positive reinforcement after I found some youtube videos from this kind of training, and I think its the best option for her since the aversive training just changed her behavior.
Now she is showing some rebel behavior, when she is restrained, example: she reaches for inside the fridge when Im getting something, she ignores when I call her and I use my hands to get her she doesnt bite but go near my hand (like just to me). Every time she is contradicted she does the same, and Im really concerned because this behavior can be escalated when she became an adult dog and then the bite will hurt.
I stay at home all day with her, and I try to do some training. She now has a problem with the doorbell and the door, she became really over excited, and I’m trying to desensitized her but I don’t see any progress. So when she tries to reach the door, I try to block her way until she is calm, but I think this is doing the same wrong result as the other things.
She is very sweet, she loves to play, but she bites a lot (play bite) and sometimes when she really bites when my husband and I are on the couch and she wants to play (yesterday she cut my skin), even after a long time playing fetch and them with the flirt pole.
My husband says Im overreacting, because she is just a puppy, but I think this is a behavior that must be redirected as soon as possible because I don’t want a agressive adult dog.
I love her, she is my little companion, but sometimes her pushy bevahior it’s difficult.
I don’t know where to begin.
Any advice will be great!
Yeah, Sephy was also very sensitive to neck grabs and collar grabs. This was because when I grabbed his neck it was almost always to physically stop him from doing something or to otherwise punish him. As a result, he associated grabs with negative consequences and always did his best to stay away from me.
With Sephy, it was a lot more effective to control him using a flat collar and leash. I always supervise him well when he is roaming freely in the house and I have a drag lead on him for control. I only use a drag lead when he is under my supervision and only with a safe flat collar or harness (no aversive collars).
At the same time I also had to do a lot of desensitization exercises to help him re-associate my hand and my touches with being calm and positive rewards. Desensitization always has to start off small, with a very weak version of the problem stimulus. It is also very important during the entire rehabilitation process, that we do not expose our dog to the problem stimulus in a negative way.
For example, when I want to desensitize my dog to a certain sound, I start with a very soft version of the sound and only *very slowly* build up from there. During the entire rehabilitation process, I make sure never to expose my dog to a loud version of the sound (before he is ready for it), because that would cause him to regress and greatly set back retraining.
The key with desensitization is to always set my dog up for success so that he learns to tolerate more and more of the problem stimulus in a calm way. The more successes we have, the better he is able to handle things in the future. Similarly, bad experiences will undermine his confidence and training.
More on how I do sound desensitization exercises with my dog.
With Sephy it was very important to set up a fixed routine and a very consistent structure at home. Here are a few more things that helped with Sephy.
While retraining Sephy, I learned that consistency, repetition, timing, energy, and technique are all very important. In addition, dog behavior is very dependent on temperament and context. Therefore, we did private lessons with several trainers who could observe Sephy within the context of his regular environment. In this way, they can also help me with timing, energy, and technique.
Alok Samwal says
I have a rottweiler puppy of 6 weeks. He usually don’t bit when he is calm. But just gona mad after 10 PM when went for sleep and start biting the objects all around even my clothes and hands if i try to stop him.. Please guide.
This is what I do with my puppy-
I have a 9 week old husky x Belgian shepherd, Ozzy, who at the moment is a non stop biter! He is particularly fond of biting my legs and ankles!! He also loves to bite my nearly 3 year old son who has taken to squealing and dropping to the ground if the puppy runs at him which of course excites the puppy! When I pull the puppy off my son he will growl and be quite aggressive so I will put him outside for some “quiet time” . I am trying to get my son to not drop on the ground or run or squeal but it is difficult! Ozzy is proving to be a quick learner but I just can not get him to stop biting! We are going to puppy school once he has had all his needles but that’s not for another 3 weeks! Hoping you can give me some advice!
When my Husky puppy was young, she was also very mouthy and very energetic. I put a lead on her (only with a flat collar and only under supervision) so that I could better control her. I can also clip the lead to my belt, so that if I need to be in the kitchen, I can have her close-by and supervise.
For time-outs, I use a very low stimulus area. It has to be low stimulus so that my puppy can calm down, and also so that it temporarily but *noticeably* limits her freedom. In this way, she loses something that she values (her freedom) and learns that some behaviors have bad consequences.
More on what I do with my dogs to teach them not to bite on people.
Some things that I do to train and control my puppy-
I have had my shiba inu for almost 3 years now and has been the only dog in the house. I have had dogs over and she protects her bones which I now take away. I have recently got a Husky and my shiba gets along with her. the bones have been hidden but my shiba inu just randomly bit the husky on her neck. What should I do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
Hmmm, what kind of bite? Was there skin penetration? Was it aggressive or in play? What were the dogs doing before that? Were there resources around – food, toys? Context is very important when it comes to dog behavior.
Here are some things that I do to keep the peace at home with my dogs.
We have a new Shiba, Dexter, and he is almost 15 weeks old. I understand that he is now experiencing his “terrible twos,” but the biting is relentless. My husband and I have tried pretty much every technique mentioned here and recommended by our vet. We have placed Dex in a submissive position when he bites…we hand feed to teach soft mouth….we have sprayed items with bitter apple and tried vinegar as an option. In the beginning, I would yelp when he bit me, and he did stop. However, like most options, he quickly adapted and no longer reacts to this anymore.
He is not phased by our attempts to have him stop biting. We currently give him a time-out in his pen, and try to ignore him. However, even after several minutes, one of us will attempt to get him out to try again and he will turn his head and lunge to bite. It’s a problem that I simply cannot see an end to. My husband thinks we need to ride out this phase, but it’s exhausting and makes me unable to enjoy my own home. I am hoping with neutering he will be calmer, but that’s not guaranteed. He is very friendly with new people, but he has not spent a lot of time with other dogs. Do you think this could be part of the problem?
I am appreciative of any insight you can provide. I love this dog and he is adorable, but some days I feel helpless!
In terms of biting, timeouts work best for Sephy. However, there are two things that I found were important with him-
1. I *do not* start with a timeout. I first tell him what to do, and give him many chances to redirect. In this way, he not only learns what behavior is undesirable, but also what behaviors *are* desirable, and will bring good rewards. Here are the steps that I took with Sephy.
2. I use a very low stimulus area for timeouts. I do not use his pen because that is in the family area, and I want his pen to be a positive space. Here is more on timeouts.
In addition to this, I also set-up a consistent set of house rules, a fixed routine, and I follow the Nothing in Life is Free program. This teaches Sephy what behaviors are good, and lets him work for the things that he wants most. It also teaches him what to expect from me, and what I expect from him in return. All this helps him to be more calm and to curb his biting behavior.
Here are more puppy biting tips.
More exercise also helps Sephy to be more calm. However, I make sure to always have rules in all our activities, even in the games that we play. I also make sure to manage his excitement level.
I also did this with Sephy based on advice from our previous vet tech and Sephy’s breeder. Unfortunately, this did not work well on Sephy and made his behavior worse. He became very sensitive to handling, and lost trust in me. This technique is also called the ‘alpha roll’ – here is more on it.
I really regret doing this. After a lot of counter-conditioning exercises, Sephy is better about being handled today.
Hope this helps and big hugs to Dexter. I had a difficult time with Sephy as well, but things got better with consistency and persistence. Sephy is a very stubborn fella, so I had to be even more stubborn and use his existing Shiba traits to motivate him. 😀
Here are a few more things that I learned from Sephy. We also visited with several professional trainers to troubleshoot his various issues and help socialize him to other dogs.
Hello! I’ve commented before, and have been lurking your website and the Shiba Inu Forum for months. I have also read Dr Ian Dunbars before and after getting your puppy multiple times. I was blessed with a red male Shiba Inu named Apollo! I have a few question about your bite inhibition process though! Minus a few issues he’s great! No aggression, fearfulness, he’s limp and happy while handling, loves strangers, can be pet on any part of his body, etc. I can even reach into his mouth to remove something he finds interesting, move and replace toys/food, and the like. You wrote in a different article that you never play dominance games (i.e. tug of war), or allow him to do any sort of biting on hands. What I gathered from Dr. Dunbar’s book is a bit different though. Allowing puppies to playfully bite and letting them know what is too much will help teach bite inhibition. I like to play a bit rough with Apollo and allow to him bite my hands, but yelp and ignore if he nips too hard. When he sits patiently we resume play. Do you think this is an effective method or will it teach him that it’s okay to bite hands overall? Thank you!
I think that dog training is very context dependent. What has worked well for me is to learn the underlying principles of training, and then modify individual techniques to suit each of my dogs.
Sephy is very stubborn, easily excitable, and also very mouthy. He has good bite inhibition, and nowadays, he will also control his instinct to bite. He has made a lot of progress and I am very proud of him. However, his temperament makes roughhousing unsuitable. Earlier on, playing rough and playing tug games caused him to start leash biting during walks, and to play rough with other people. These are not behaviors that I want to encourage. He can wrestle and play rough with my other dogs, but I do not allow him to play rough with people. In this way, the rule is clear, and he still has an outlet for his wrestling fondness.
I do bite inhibition training with Sephy through hand feeding exercises, and continue with that even today.
Husky Lara, on the other hand, is not as mouthy and has a much softer temperament. She stops doing whatever when I no-mark, and she has a very soft mouth. Therefore, I will sometimes wrestle with her, and it does not lead to related bad behaviors. I also do bite inhibition exercises with her mostly through hand-feeding.
This process has worked well for me. Others may have different opinions, and a different process.