TIP #1: TEACH BITE INHIBITION
In the dog training world, bite inhibition is defined as a dog’s ability to control the pressure of his mouth when biting, to cause little or no damage to the subject of the bite. We know that all dogs have the potential to bite, given the wrong set of circumstances. Some dogs readily bite with little apparent provocation, but even the most saintly dog, in pain, or under great stress, can be induced to bite. When a bite happens, whether frequently or rarely, bite inhibition is what makes the difference between a moment of stunned silence and a trip to the nearest emergency room for the victim (and perhaps the euthanasia room for the dog).
If you find yourself with a puppy who, for whatever reason, tends to bite down harder than he should with those needle-sharp puppy teeth, you need to start convincing him that self-restraint is a desirable quality.
• Remove: When your puppy bites hard enough to cause you pain, say “Ouch!” in a calm voice, gently remove your body part from his mouth, and take your attention away from him for two to five seconds. If he continues to grab at you when you remove your attention, put yourself on the other side of a baby gate or exercise pen. When he is calm, re-engage with him.
• Repeat: Puppies (and adult dogs, and humans) learn through repetition. It will take time, and many repetitions of Step #1, for your pup to learn to voluntarily control the pressure of his bite. Puppies do have a very strong need to bite and chew, so at first you’ll “ouch and remove” only if he bites down hard enough to hurt you. Softer bites are acceptable - for now. If you try to stop all puppy biting at once, both of you will become frustrated.
• Reinforce: Your pup wants good stuff to stick around. When he discovers that biting hard makes good stuff (you) go away, he’ll decrease the pressure of his bite and eventually stop biting hard. This works especially well if you remember to reinforce him with your attention when he bites gently. It works even better if you use a reward marker when he uses appropriate mouth pressure. Given that your hands are probably full of puppy at that particular moment, use a verbal marker followed by praise to let him know he’s doing well. Say “Yes!” to mark the soft-mouth moment, followed by “Good puppy!” praise to let him know he’s wonderful.
• Redirect: You probably are well aware that there are times when your pup is calmer and softer, and times when he’s more aroused and more likely to bite hard. It’s always a good idea to have soft toys handy to occupy your pup’s teeth when he’s in a persistent biting mood. If you know even before he makes contact with you that he’s in the mood for high-energy, hard biting, arm yourself with a few soft toys and offer them before he tries to maul your hands. If he’s already made contact, or you’re working on repetitions of Step #1, occasionally reinforce appropriate softer bites with a favorite squeaky toy play moment.
It is possible to suppress a puppy’s hard biting by punishing him when he bites too hard. That might even seem like a quicker, easier way to get him to stop sinking his canine needles into your skin. However, by doing so, you haven’t taught him bite inhibition. If and when that moment comes where he really does feel compelled to bite someone, he’s likely to revert to his previous behavior and bite hard, rather than offering the inhibited bite you could have taught him.
- excerpted from The Whole Dog Journal
TIP #2: EXERCISE FIRST
Try practicing loose leash walking after your dog has had a bit of vigorous exercise. He will be much easier to work with then.
Jeff Dentler, CPDT-KA, CTDI