I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite parts of the puppy phase is the playfulness and goofiness that accompanies your fur baby! Just like children, puppies love to wreak havoc, whether it is violently digging a completely unnecessary hole in the backyard or chewing up a good pair of shoes. Like human children though, it is necessary to teach our pets the appropriate way to behave.
When a puppy is playing, they often like to chew or “bite” their opponent, whether it’s their human or another pup. While this can be adorable, it can also be harmful. Though a puppy’s teeth typically cause no harm, if they grow up without realizing the effects of their behavior, their adult teeth can cause potentially devastating harm to other dogs or humans that they might come in contact with. Impulse control and bite inhibition are two effective ways to ensure that your fur baby knows how to play properly and safely with others.
Impulse Control in Dogs
Also referred to as inhibitory self-control, emotional self-control, or self-regulation, impulse control is when dogs have the ability to resist temptation to perform an unwanted behavior that would give them access to their desire (for example, jumping on a counter to retrieve an appetizing piece of steak). Often used in behavior training, impulse control is valuable because it gives the pet owner a break from the pressure of having to control their pup constantly.
Whole Dog Journal offers extensive detail on training techniques, including how to use commands like, “wait,” “leave it/trade,” polite greetings, mat behaviors, and the on/off switch technique. Signs your pup might benefit from impulse control training include:
- charging guests at the front door
- leash pulling
- greeting animals or other humans at full speed
- snatching treats from your hand
- putting anything and everything in his or her mouth
- jumping on guests
- chasing cats, rabbits, or other small animals
Erin Jones at K9 of Mine offers 7 different impulse control games and self-control exercises that have proven to be beneficial in correcting and redirecting spontaneous behavior. For example, “It’s Yer Choice,” is a game designed to show your dog that in order for him or her to get what they want, they must first do what you ask of them. Much like telling your human kiddo that they must eat their broccoli before their ice cream, this game reinforces positive behavior and hopefully lessens undesired impulsive behavior. If you are interested in implementing some of these self-control activities, K9 of Mine is an amazing resource that goes into great detail on how to implement these games.
Bite Inhibition in Dogs
As mentioned earlier, while it is adorable when your puppy gnaws on your fingers or even their brother or sister, it is essential that they learn how to properly use their teeth in a way that doesn’t cause harm to another. Teaching an animal bite inhibition requires commitment and consistency from the owner, but it is extremely beneficial for both you and your pets! Coaching your pup on how to “play bite” with a small amount of pressure helps to protect other dogs and people, in the unfortunate instance that your pup ever releases a “real bite” as an adult dog, as dogs who learn bite inhibition are less likely to bite hard or break skin in this instance.
The ASPCA provides excellent tips on how to train your fur baby to control their force of mouthing. These tips can include letting out a loud “ouch” or a high pitch yelp when your pup playfully puts their teeth on you or even leaving the room when your pup gets a little too rambunctious. Puppies are highly sensitive to their owner’s reaction, and are much more likely to respond positively when redirected compared to adult dogs who might be a little more set in their ways.
When training for bite inhibition, avoid:
- waving your fingers/toes in your pup’s face
- slapping the sides of their face
- jerking your hands or feet away when your pup gnaws at them.
These behaviors present as playful to your pup and actually encourage the behavior that you are trying to prevent. Some pet parents even slap or hit their dogs in an attempt to redirect mouthing. This often backfires, as dogs often react by playing more aggressively in response. Avoiding punishments that might hurt or scare your fur baby is key in bite inhibition training.
If you’re interested in teaching your young pup bite inhibition and/or impulse control, I would highly recommend looking at some of the following resources for more detailed information and guidance. If you have already tried all the tricks and tips and your pup just can’t seem to learn how to stop mouthing, gnawing, or biting, consulting a qualified professional (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT)) might be necessary. Ultimately, these trainings are for the best interest of your pup, other animals, and you!