Let’s think about the definition for bite inhibition; controlling the pressure of a dog’s bite. In adult dogs, I feel they should be conditioned not to use their mouths on skin, period. Thousands of dogs are surrendered to a shelter because they use their “bite” inappropriately. Some people are ok with their dogs mouthing them during play; some need their dogs to bite for work purposes (police, military, etc.). For others this could be a problem, especially for owners that have small children.
The laws surrounding dogs today make it extremely important to teach your adult dog not to use their mouth on human skin. Many states declare any broken skin from a tooth or nail to be classified as a bite. http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/dog-bites/
I have worked with many dogs that had a “soft mouth” at a young age then developed a stronger bite in their adult life. This does not mean your dog did not have bite inhibition at a young age. It means they have learned their bite can solve problems. There are many different reasons for a dog to develop a “hard” bite throughout their lives. The question is how can you avoid this and manage their bite.
As with any of my behavior modification programs, if you are afraid of your dog or your dog has a history of causing serious injury with their bite do not attempt this. You need to find a qualified professional to help. If you are under the impression your dog cannot sense your fear, you are wrong and will get hurt or worse; make your dog more dangerous.
All dogs with a “hard mouth” should learn the following commands prior to teaching “no bite”.
· Drop it
· Watch me
1. First determine how long it takes for your dog to reach the level of over stimulation that causes the mouthing. In some dogs, this maybe immediate; others it may take two to three minutes. All dogs tend to reach a heightened level of excitement after two minutes of play. They start to get very vocal and possibly nip harder to stop play.
2. Have your dog on leash when practicing “no bite” so you can control them without handling them. Your touch is considered play and affection. It becomes quite confusing to a dog when a human gets angry and in dog language is displaying playful behavior.
3. Engage them in the activity that sparks the mouthing. As an example, one of our pack members came to us with no experience playing with humans. For her it was completely normal to bite hard when a toy was involved, to gain control of the toy. Therefore, any activity involving a toy would spark mouthing.
For play elicited biting
1. I teach all my dogs they cannot put their mouth on anything unless the command “take” is given. Start with your dog in leash in front of you and the toy in your opposite hand, behind your back. Bring the toy into view. The second they put their mouth on the toy verbally correct and give a firm tug down with the leash while returning the toy to behind your back. Repeat this until you can pull the toy out and they do not put their mouth on it. When they are waiting patiently, calmly praise and say, “take” allowing them to bite on the toy.
2. If their teeth touch your skin during play, firmly say, “NO BITE” followed by a drop it, down, and a stay. Use your leash to enforce these commands. Once in a down/stay, stand on the leash and stop looking at them. Ignore them for 30-45 seconds then calmly say, “ok take” to start the play again.
3. Repeat the above as many times as needed. Remember to practice this everyday.
For affection elicited biting
1. Again, have them on leash before working with them so you can control them without touch.
2. Have the leash in one hand and start to gently pet your dog with the other hand.
3. The second they put their mouth on you, firmly and loudly say, “NO BITE”
4. Stand up tell them to down and stay. Use the leash to enforce this. You must stand, as your dog will consider you in a play position if you are sitting.
5. Stand on the leash and ignore them for 30-45 seconds. Calmly sit down and keep your foot on the leash as well as keeping your dog in a stay.
6. Once you are sitting for 15 seconds, release them from their stay and start again.
7. Repeat this at least 3-4 times. Do not expect your dog to have the patience to stay for an hour of this. You will only be agitating them.
For greeting behavior
If your dog is crated while you are not home, this tends to be easier. Although, it can still be solved if they are allowed free range and if you have the assistance of another person. If you do not have help, I would recommend crating them to control the greeting properly.
1. If crated, walk to the crate and ask them to sit before you open the door. If they do not sit, simply walk away. After a couple of approaches, most dogs will sit. Do not become frustrated or raise your voice. This will only raise their excitement.
2. After they sit, ask for a watch me to get them focused. Have a leash in hand and give a stay command as you attach the leash.
3. If they attempt to mouth you while you are putting the leash on, say, “NO BITE” and close the door. Walk away and come back in a couple of minutes. You are teaching them there is no freedom if their mouth is used.
4. Once they are calm, out of the crate, and on leash; if they begin to nip at you, say “NO BITE” and immediately enforce a down stay. Ignore them for 30 –45 seconds then calmly ask for a watch me before you release them from the stay. Remain aloof for a few minutes to down play your arrival.
5. If not crated and you do have assistance, have your dog on leash when you come in the door. The other person should be inside already holding the leash to control the behavior.
6. As you walk in, act aloof to your dog. Do not greet them at all in the entranceway.
7. If they get excited and start nipping at you; the person holding the leash should give the “no bite” command as well as a down stay command immediately. They should stand on the leash to keep them there.
8. After you walk past the dog, the assistant should release the dog from the down stay. As the dog comes to you, have them sit and give a watch me command. If they jump up to nip at you, they must immediately go into a down/stay again for 30–45 seconds.
If you follow these rules, you will notice your dog will not use their mouth when they become excited. You are teaching them any use of their mouth means no attention or affection. Do not physically challenge your dog if they are mouthy, this will only make matters worse. It is impossible to win a physical fight with a dog without an injury or loss of trust.