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Bite inhibition: What it is and why it matters

Puppy Biting in the Wild (or, How Puppies Would Learn Not to Bite if Only We Pesky Humans Would Stop Cramping Their Style)

In the litter, puppies play by tackling and biting each other. If one puppy bites too hard, the other puppy will get angry and stop playing. Puppies discover that biting too hard makes playtime end. This is how dogs start to learn to control the force of their bite.

The skill of biting gently is called bite inhibition.

If the puppies were allowed to stay with each other into adulthood, as they would in nature, they would continue to receive this “training” until they had learned to play bite with no pressure at all.
But instead, puppies are sent to their new homes at about eight weeks old. Sometimes they’re sent out even younger, resulting in even less bite inhibition.

It falls to the new families to continue bite inhibition training.

Why You Shouldn’t Enact a Zero Tolerance Policy for Biting

If the puppy is taught right off the bat to never ever put teeth on humans at all, he never learns how to control the force of his bite. So he grows up without the skill of bite inhibition.

An adult dog with no bite inhibition can be a problem.

If they ever decide to bite for real, it will cause a hell of a lot more damage than a dog who knows how to control their bite force.

Because any dog can bite. Even the nicest, gentlest dog can bite when startled, scared, or injured. You will be very thankful you took the time to teach bite inhibition when:

  • Sparky gets hurt and has to be handled by the vet
  • A toddler steps on his tail
  • Your dog gets bullied at the dog park and fights back. If your dog causes damage to another dog, even in self-defense, you’ll be paying the other dog’s vet bills.

So if your puppy is biting you hard enough to hurt, you need to incorporate some bite inhibition work into your no-bite training.

The best way to teach bite inhibition is by having your puppy play with other puppies, or a tolerant adult dog. Dogs can teach each other how to bite gently much better than a a human can. Through roughhousing, puppies teach each other appropriate play behavior. More on finding other puppies to play with in the Socialization course.