Got a Mouthy Pup?

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Got a Mouthy Pup?

Postby voodoopitbull » Mon Mar 28, 2005 2:13 pm

I've posted this article a zillion times, so I thought I may as well go post it here for all to read.

The Bite Stops Here
By Dr. Ian Dunbar

Puppies bite, and thank goodness they do. Puppy biting is a normal and natural puppy behavior. In fact, it is the pup that does not mouth and bite much as a youngster that augers ill for the future. Puppy play-biting is the means by which dogs learn to develop bite inhibition, which is absolutely essential later in life.

The combination of weak jaws with extremely sharp, needle-like teeth and the puppy penchant for biting results in numerous play-bites which, although painful, seldom cause serious harm. Thus, the developing pup receives ample necessary feedback regarding the force of its bites before it develops strong jaws – which could inflict considerable injury. The greater the pup’s opportunity to play-bite with people, other dogs and other animals, the better the dog’s bite inhibition as an adult. For puppies that do not grow up with the benefit of regular and frequent interaction with other dogs and other animals, the responsibility of teaching bite inhibition lies with the owner.

Certainly, puppy biting behavior most eventually be eliminated: we cannot have an adult dog playfully mauling family, friends and strangers in the manner of a young puppy. However, it is essential that puppy biting behaviour is gradually and progressively eliminated via a systematic four-step process. With some dogs, it is easy to teach the four phases in sequence. With others, the puppy biting may be so severe that the owners will need to embark on all four stages at once. However, it is essential that the pup first learn to inhibit the force of its bites before the biting behaviour is eliminated altogether.

Inhibiting the force of bites

No painful bites The first item on the agenda is to stop the puppy bruising people. It is not necessary to reprimand the pup and, certainly, physical punishments are contra-indicated, since they tend to make some pups more excited, and insidiously erode the puppy’s temperament and trust in the owner. But it is essential to let the pup know when it hurts. A simple "ouch!" is usually sufficient. The volume of the "ouch" should vary according to the dog’s mental make-up; a fairly soft "ouch" will suffice for sensitive critters, but a loud "OUCH!!!" may be necessary for a wild and woolly creature. During initial training, even shouting may make the pup more excited, as does physical confinement. An extremely effective technique with boisterous pups is to call the puppy a "jerk!" and leave the room and shut the door. Allow the pup time to reflect on the loss of its favourite human chew toy immediately following the hard nip, and then return to make up. It is important to indicate that you still love the pup – it is the painful bites which are objectionable. Instruct the pup to come and sit, and then resume playing. Ideally, the pup should have been taught not to hurt people well before it is three months old.

It is much better for the owner to leave the pup than to try to physically restrain and remove it to a confinement area at a time when it is already out of control. If one pup bites another too hard, the bitee yelps and playing is postponed while the injured party licks its wounds. The biter learns that hard bites curtail an otherwise enjoyable play session. Hence, the bite learns to bite more softly when the play session resumes.

No jaw pressure at all The second stage of training is to eliminate bite pressure entirely, even thought the bites no longer hurt. When the puppy is munching away, wait for a nibble that is harder than the rest and respond as if it really hurt: "Ouch, you worm! Gently! That hurt me you bully!" The dog begins to think "Good Lord! These humans are so mamby pamby I’ll have to be really careful when mouthing their delicate skins." And that’s precisely what we want the dog to think – so he’ll be extremely careful when playing with people. Ideally, the puppy should no longer be exerting any pressure when mouthing by the time it is four to five months old.

Inhibiting the incidence of mouthing

Always stop mouthing when requested: Once the puppy has been taught to gently mouth rather than bite, it is time to reduce the frequency of mouthing behaviour and teach the pup that mouthing is okay until requested to stop. Why? Because it is inconvenient to try to drink a cup of tea, or to answer the telephone, with 50 pounds of pup dangling from your wrist, that’s why.

It is better to first teach the "OFF!" command using a food lure (as demonstrated in the Sirius video*). The deal is this: "If you don’t touch this food treat for just two seconds after I softly say "Off", I will say "Take it" and you can have the treat." Once the pup has mastered this simple task, up the ante to three seconds of non-contact, and then five, eight, 12, 20 and so on. Count out the seconds and praise the dog with each second: "Good dog one, good dog two, good dog three…" and so forth. If the pup touches the treat before being told to take it, shout "Off!" and start the count from zero again. The pup quickly learns that it can not have the treat until it has not touched it for, say, eight seconds – the quickest way to get the treat is not to touch it for the first eight seconds. In addition, the regular handfeeding during this exercise helps preserve the pup’s soft mouth.

Once the pup understnads the "Off!" request, it may be used effectively when the puppy is mouthing. Say "Off!" and praise the pup and give it a treat when it lets go. Remember, the essence of this exercise is to practise stopping the dog from mouthing – each time the pup obediently ceases and desists, resume playing once more. Stop and start the session many times over. Also, since the puppy wants to mouth, the best reward for stopping mouthing is to allow it to mouth again. When you decide to stop the mouthing session altogether, heel the pup to the kitchen and give it an especially tasty treat.

If ever the pup refuses to release your hand when requested, shout "Off!", rapidly extricate your hand and storm out of the room mumbling, "Right. That’s done it, you jerk! You’ve ruined it! Finish! Over! No more!" and shut the door in the dog’s face. Give the pup a couple of minutes on its own and then go back to call the pup to come and sit and make up. But no more mouthing for at least a couple of hours.

In addition to using "Off!" during bite inhibition training, the request has many other useful applications: not to touch the cat, the Sunday roast on the table, the table, the baby’s soiled diapers, the baby, an aggressive dog, a fecal deposit of unknown denomination… Not only does this exercise teach the "Off!" request, but also to "Take it" on request.

Never start mouthing unless requested: By the time the pup is five months old, it must have a mouth as soft as a 14-year-old working Lab; it should never exert any pressure when mouthing, and the dog should immediately stop mouthing when requested to do so by any family member. Unsolicited mouthing is utterly inappropriate from an older adolescent or an adult dog. It would be absolutely unacceptable for a six-month-old dog to approach a child and commence mouthing her arm, no matter how gentle the mouthing or how friendly and playful the dog’s intentions. This is the sort of situation which gives parents the heebie-jeebies and frightens the living daylights out of the mouthee. At five months of age, at the very latest, the dog should be taught never to touch any person’s body – not even clothing – with its jaws unless specifically requested.

Whether or not the dog will ever be requested to mouth people depends on the individual owner. Owners that have the mental largesse of a toothpick quickly let play-mouthing get out of control, which is why many dog training texts strongly recommend not indulging in games such as play-fighting. However, it is essential to continue bite inhibition exercises, otherwise the dog’s bite will begin to drift and become harder as the dog grows older. For such people, I recommend that they regularly hand-feed the dog and clean its teeth – exercises that involve the human hand in the dog’s mouth. On the other hand, for owners who have a full complement of common sense, there is no better way to maintain the dog’s soft mouth than by play-fighting with the dog on a regular basis. However, to prevent the dog from getting out of control and to fully realize the many benefits of play-fighting, the owner must play by the rules and teach the dog to play by the rules. (Play-fighting rules are described in detail in our Preventing Aggression behaviour bookelt.*)

Play-fighting teaches the dog to mouth hands only (hands are extremely sensitive to pressure) and never clothing. Since shoelaces, trousers and hair have no neurons and cannot feel, the owner cannot provide the necessary feedback that the dog is once more beginning to mouth too hard. The game also teaches the dog that it must adhere to rules regarding its jaws, regardless of how worked up it may be. Basically, play-fighting teaches the owner to practice controlling the dog when it is excited. It is important to refine such control in a structured setting, before a real-life situation occurs.

In addition, play-fighting quickly becomes play-training. Starting the games with a training period, i.e., with the dog under control in a down-stay, produces utterly solid stays at a time when the dog is excited in vibrant anticipation of the game. Similarly, frequent stopping the game for short periods and integrating multiple training interludes (especially heel work and recalls) into the game motivates the dog to provide eager and speedy responses. Each time the owner stops the game, he or she may use the resumption of play as a reward for bona fide obedience. Everything’s fun!

Potential problems

Inhibiting incidence before force: A common mistake is to punish the pup in an attempt to get it to stop biting altogether. At the best, the puppy no longer mouths those family members who can effectively punish the dog but, instead, the pup directs its mouthing sprees toward those family members who cannot control it, e.g., a child. To worsen matters, parents are often completely unaware of the child’s plight because the pup does not mouth adults. At worst, the puppy no longer mouths people at all. Hence, its education about the force of its bite stops right there. All is fine until someone accidentally shuts the car door on the dog’s tail, whereupon the dog bites and punctures the skin, because the dog had insufficient bite inhibition.

Puppies that don’t bite: Shy dogs seldom socialize or play with other dogs or strangers. Hence, they do not play-bite and hence, they learn nothing about the power of their jaws. The classic case history is of a dog that never mouthed or bit as a pup and never bit anyone as an adult – that is, until an unfamiliar child tripped and fell on the dog. The first bite of the dog’s career left deep puncture wounds, because the dog had developed no bite inhibition. With shy puppies, socialization is of paramount importance, and time is of the essence. The puppy must quickly be socialized sufficiently, so that it commences playing (and hence, biting) before it is four-and-a-half months old.

If a puppy does not frequently mouth and bite and/or does not occasionally bite hard, it is an emergency. The puppy must learn its limits. And it can only learn its limits by exceeding them during development and receiving the appropriate feedbacks.


If your pup or adult dog is having serious bite inhibition problems, is snapping or aggressive in any form or fashion, please consult an animal behaviorist.


Postby voodoopitbull » Mon Mar 28, 2005 5:05 pm

Ooo, it's a sticky. Thanks mods :bowdown:

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Postby MinionZer0 » Fri Apr 01, 2005 2:08 pm

Christie would you mind if I crossposted this with the authors name? I think it would be very beneficial to others.


Postby voodoopitbull » Fri Apr 01, 2005 2:13 pm

It says at the top. Dr. Ian Dunbar.


hard nipping

Postby kdurbin13 » Mon Jun 06, 2005 2:00 pm

my girl got too excited with her brother while I was laying on the floor with them. They usually try to get me involved, except this time my girl jumped up and chomped my ear. I screamed OUCH really loud and picked her up and put her in her crate, then I shut the door to the bedroom. We gave her a couple of minutes to think about it and then I went in and let her out and played very calmly with her and let her lick me while telling her "Good girl". This seemed to get through to her pretty good as to what hurts and what doesnt. Does this sound about right?

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Postby » Tue Jul 05, 2005 6:25 am

Heh, I'm so proud of my dog! I don't know how did my boyfriend educate the dog when it was a puppy, but Ayax is incredibly delicate, although he plays rather roughly. When we play, some strangers might get scared, because he likes ...pretending. He pretends he bites me, rolls his eyes, even growls someytimes but when he has contact with my skin he only ...uhmmm...tickles me.Yup. Just like he would try to catch some fleas, but smoother. And athough he has very rapid reactions and things get pretty hot (wrestling and so on) he never ever bit or scratched any of his playmates.

ps: oh no, i'm lying, sometimes it scratches with the nails by mistake


Thank You!

Postby buddysmom » Sat Aug 06, 2005 10:03 pm

What a very helpful post! :goodpost:
My pup is mouthy, and sometimes gets overstimulated which kind of freaks some people in my family out. This will help me to explain that it is good to train for bite inhibition now, instead of finding out the hard way later on.


Postby noway » Thu Dec 22, 2005 3:05 pm

my pup is 6 mnths old, and though she understands bite inhibition, she still nips and bites shoes trouser legs etc. i think its because shes trying to tell me something, definitely not aggression. but i read the above 'sticky' and see that by 5 mnths this should be dealt with.

she is very gentle in the main and understands basic commands. i have a 3 yr old english stafford who is very tolerant, the pup 'stands on his back and 'mouths his back, if i throw a ball he tries to chase it but the pup stops him by holding him by his back. the pup is bigger than him. my feeling is this is ' dominant' behaviour, which in itself is possibly ok, my concern is if she begins to transfer this behaviour to other dogs.

i socialise my dogs as much as possible, so far with my current dogs ive had no problems of aggression, i have experienced previously owned dogs that have displayed real aggression, not good 4 me the dog or the breed in generak especially in the current climate. maybe because of the current climate regarding 'bulls' i could be a little /over sensitive'

i want to get this right and give my dogs a ppositive 'image'
any suggestions would be welcome, i appreciate the insight of others experiences etec.

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Postby carlosb » Thu Jan 12, 2006 12:31 am

What if your outside when he starts biting? my pup only bites hard when he gets overexcited and thats when we are outside.


Postby murray_215 » Thu Jan 12, 2006 6:09 pm

My pup was from a large litter. He was the biggest, and there were not enough teets for all the puppies, so he got taken a week or two early, to help the others. He was already on solid so it was ok. So, he didn't have much puppy play time. I knew they learned not to bite from being bitten by each other, so, if he bit me hard, i bit him. Just like they say to do woth a toddler. So they know it hurts. I never bit him hard. Just put my teeth to him and put a little pressure. He doesn't bite now. I only had to do it a few times. That if he bit I would act like I was gona bite, and he'd roll over on his back and like me like "im sorry" Sounds weird, but it worked. Now he is a big cuddly baby. a 67 lb lap dog.

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Postby carlosb » Sat Jan 14, 2006 8:24 pm

thanks ill try it next time.

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Postby nags » Sat Jan 28, 2006 1:56 pm

I try and try to get my dog to stop the play biting. He's 8 months now and he's still doing it. I give a stern NO and stop playing with him immediatley but he just doesnt get it. I went to pet him a few minutes ago and he jumped up grab my hand and I smacked him in the mouth.. I feel sooooo bad.. I didn't do it hard but I feel so bad.. I've never ever touched him that way before :(


Postby Jalelia » Tue Feb 07, 2006 2:52 pm

I'm glad I read this thread. I never allowed my dog to bite me, at all. Anytime her mouth would make contact with my hand, it would be a negative reaction coming from me. But, luckily she is still a puppy, so I haven't completely ruined her (in that aspect). But, she doesn't bite hard, though. When she does mouth, it is never hard. It is when she is really excited that she does this, anyway. I don't think I have too much to worry about, but I am surely going to let her mouth now. Not SO much, but at least give her the chance.

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Postby kpcnov » Tue Feb 07, 2006 8:26 pm

I have a two month old puppy and she is really mouthy, everytime she tries to munch at me I give her a strict NO and leave her alone for a bit, but she doesn't seem to care to much, she just finds something else to play with. am I just expecting to much from her or is this a bad sign? :sad:


Postby Jalelia » Tue Feb 07, 2006 11:09 pm

I am no expert, but at 2 months old, I don't think you have anything to worry about. Just keep letting her know how you feel about it. Being consistent with dogs is what really teaches them (I think).

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