==> Dog Bite Prevention and Dog Injury Prevention
How to Train Your Dog Not to Bite
Now we continue with our series of Periodicals that highlight all areas of potential danger when dealing with dogs. In case you forgot: This is already the FOURTH instalment!
The first instalment, Are German Shepherds Dangerous?, ended with a bullet-point list of: How can we prevent that our dog harms someone for no good reason?
That list started with:
1. Systematic Socialization during the four-weeks long development phase that I called Family Socialization in the Puppy Development Guide - Puppy 101.
So, if you don't have the Dog Training Toolkit, you may have had the impression that Socialization is only relevant or helpful while we have a puppy. But this is not the case, as should become clear with this MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL.
Before you click away for the wrong reason: Yes, Bite Inhibition is very much applicable to you even if you have (or desire to raise) a trained Protection Dog!
In this Periodical:
- Bite Inhibition - Meaning
- Why is Bite Inhibition important for every dog?
- How can we train Bite Inhibition?
- What NOT to do
Bite Inhibition - Meaning
The term 'Bite Inhibition' was coined by Ian Dunbar in his book After you get your puppy. Bite Inhibition means:
- to limit the occurrence of biting, and
- to limit the bite force.
For me, Bite Inhibition is part of Socialization because a dog that bites is not well socialized. Both in human and in canine society, biting is considered unacceptable bad behavior. Even during Play, when one dog nips a tad too strong, the other dog(s) interrupt the Play, they exclude the 'bad dog' - and you should do the same.
The key point to understand is that Bite Inhibition trains our dog both:
- to limit conscious bite temptation and bite force
- and to develop a modified subconscious bite reflex.
The next chapter will show why both points are crucially important.
Why is Bite Inhibition important for every dog?
Yes, for every dog. Whether:
- puppy or adult dog
- female dog or male dog
- small dog or large dog
- calm dog or aggressive dog
- and regardless of breed
The only exception: If you have a senior dog - say 9 years of age or older, for more precision see How to Care for a Senior GSD.
As explained in the Puppy 101, all dogs learn Bite Inhibition from mum and litter mates during Litter Socialization, and it is wise to continue Bite Inhibition training during Family Socialization and beyond, as an adult dog. Because this is our only guarantee to prevent significant injury from dog bites, whether to ourselves or to others - anytime during our dog's hopefully long life!
However, like humans, canines unlearn even the best training if they don't get refresher training every so often. Not in the way that the dog would completely forget what (s)he learned earlier in life, but training application and execution worsen.
For this reason I strongly suggest that Bite Inhibition should be part of both puppy socialization and adult dog socialization. And not only when we adopt an adult German Shepherd (and thus we cannot know what socialization the dog has received), but also when we raised our GSD since puppyhood.
Further, to prevent that Bite Inhibition worsens during adulthood, we must consider all causes of dog biting. In case you too need a refresher training here's our concise summary 'Why do dogs bite', which you saw already in How to Save the Relationship When Your Dog Bit You:
Under 'Reactive Bite' you could also put '5. Play' but I don't, because regardless how harsh it sounds and looks, during Play dogs never bite. They nip, yes. But they don't bite - whether each other or us humans. A nip is "pinching but never breaking the skin".
If your Play-fighting with your GSD results in a laceration, then either it is misfortune (say you pulled away just when your dog nipped you!) or your dog was at that moment not considering your actions as Play, but rather the dog bit you for one of the reasons listed above. Most likely Fear or Defense. If it was Shock or Pain, you played too rough.
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
Seeing the diagram above, now it should be clear why both points mentioned in the prior chapter are so important:
- That we limit our dog's conscious bite temptation and bite force
- And that we develop a modified subconscious bite reflex.
Say, a friend of yours slams your car door on your dog's tail (has all happened, Ian Dunbar is right), or your or other people's children spook your dog, or your dog is ill or injured and you touch a very painful body part.
These and a thousand other situations can lead to reactive bites that are reflex bites - bites in shock or pain: No bite temptation, but bite reflex. The bite force in reflex bites can be dramatic nonetheless.
Where (normally) the human reflex is to catapult our hands in front of our face to protect it, the canine reflex is to use the mouth (because dogs don't have hands, genetically their front paws are 'grounded' as they need them to walk).
Or say you enjoy some agitated Play-fighting with your dog, or you undertake Mouth Care for your dog. Both situations can lead to nipping:
- During toothbrushing (particularly when you touch the tongue or reach the molars), reflex closure of the mouth is not uncommon. Again, here we have no bite temptation, but bite reflex (that normally shouldn't exert much force and not lead to a laceration)
- During Play-fighting (in a way that doesn't lead to Shock or Pain for your dog!) there can indeed be bite temptation - which is what we want! - but the dog consciously limits the bite force, resulting in a mere nipping.
In none of all the situations above you would want your dog to bite, right? Maybe mouth you or nip, but certainly not bite you or someone else (other than an attacker, intruder, or maybe the taxman).
Why, during Play-fighting, do we want our dog to have the conscious bite temptation?
Because during Play-fighting, only with bite temptation in place we can train bite inhibition! We want our dog to use its mouth (like we would use our hands), but with a force so much limited that it results in a mere nip.
For our training to be successful, we need to address the bite force during both, conscious bite temptation and subconscious bite reflex.
How can we train Bite Inhibition?
Opportunities for Bite Inhibition training:
- Taking away the food bowl
- Briefly interrupting meals to add a tasty morsel
- Hand-feeding Food Treats
- Play-fighting - with frequent controlled interruptions!
- Taking away a bone, chew toy, and other toys from the mouth
- Toothbrushing and mouth inspection
Thus the three most important opportunities to train our dog Bite Inhibition are during our Feeding Routine, during Play, and during Mouth Care (toothbrushing and mouth inspection). Every day we have multiple chances to train Bite Inhibition - and we should do so.
Bite Inhibition during the Feeding Routine
Despite the standard advice (particularly to be observed by all children!) not to disturb a dog's meal, our clear-cut Feeding Routine offers great opportunities for Bite Inhibition training (and so much more, as you should know by now if you've followed every week's Periodical).
When you've followed all earlier steps in the Feeding Routine but now your dog is say gulping down the food because you forgot to get an Eat-Slow bowl (or the one you got isn't sufficiently slowing down your dog's eating), you could do this:
- Say or signal NO or HOLD, or STOP or whatever (consistent!) dog command you are using to get your dog to pause what (s)he is currently doing
- Then say or signal GO or whatever consistent command you are using to get your dog to go away or step aside for a few meters
- Next, say or signal SIT or even DOWN to make your dog sit or lie down a few meters away from the bowl
- Now add a very tasty morsel to the dog meal - if it's kibble that shouldn't be difficult at all
- As always, if you have reason to be worried that your dog may come jumping back to the bowl instantly, then briefly take away the bowl to add the morsel on the kitchen counter or wherever
- Because your dog may only come back to the bowl when you indicate so (eg by saying or signaling COME).
Since securing food is the prime canine quest (see in The Prime Secret about Dogs), briefly interrupting a meal or even taking away the food bowl is a powerful way for Bite Inhibition training: Our dog must not for a second be upset (growl or even lunge at us).
In addition, as you see above, this is a great chance to reinforce many dog commands - in the most challenging situation for a dog!
Whether or not your dog always eats slow anyway, be sure not to interrupt your dog's food intake more than once per meal. And not every meal (except for the first week or two of having a new dog). Long-term, I'd suggest no more than one interruption per week. And a gentle, quick interruption, no theater performance.
- Every meal interruption is stressful for a dog, and we must avoid stress
- We don't want our dog to build an expectation ("in a few moments my bowl will be taken away but I'll get it back and there will be something much more tasty on top!")
Because the expectation would undermine the whole idea of training bite inhibition.
Bite Inhibition when we give Food Treats
Try to always hand-feed Food Treats (give them out of your hand), don't throw them on the ground - like I see so many dog owners doing!
- Call your dog to you (don't walk to your dog)
- Hold out your hand with the Food Treat (initially flat for safety, later the treat in between your fingers)
- Let your dog take the food from your hand.
This too trains our dog to use the mouth very gentle, and consequently it limits the bite force.
Bite Inhibition when we swap Dog Toys
You remember that we should not leave our dog all day with the same toy(s). - If not, this was another training refresher.
We swap the toy every hour or so. - When we are away all day, we must not leave a toy with our GSD anyway, because toys disintegrate and can suffocate the dog (exception: the Varsity Ball). Leaving a Chew Toy like Nylabone Galileo or Westpaw's Hurley with our dog can be okay if we know from experience that the dog won't gnaw it to pieces.
- We walk to our dog, while hiding the new/other toy behind our back
- To train Bite Inhibition we don't say or indicate OUT or DROP IT and wait until our dog drops the toy (=hands it over voluntarily)
- Instead, while we say or indicate OUT or DROP IT, we gently(!) take the toy from the mouth (if it's in the mouth at all)
- Again, our dog must not growl or even lunge at us
- Only if our dog gives up the toy calmly, we place down the new/other toy (ie we don't shove it against our dog's mouth like so many dog owners are doing!)
- Alternatively, we can bring our other hand to the front, hold out the new/other toy, and wait for our dog to take it with the mouth from our hand.
Again, this trains our dog to use the mouth very gentle, and consequently it limits the bite force.
Bite Inhibition when we perform Mouth Care
You remember that we should brush our dog's teeth every day or every other day. Not only for the purpose of tooth and gum care (see Mouth Care), but also for the purpose of better bonding with our dog.
- We walk to our dog, with the dental care kit in our hand
- We let our dog sniff and lick the great dog toothpaste
- If our dog is really well trained we can say something like OPEN for our dog to open the mouth wide (with some practice dogs typically do this right away, like we do it at the dentist)
- Else we gently hold the lower jaw and wait for our dog to open the mouth by lifting the upper jaw (ie we don't push the toothbrush against the cheek!)
- Then, with the toothbrush or dental finger we gently brush the teeth and massage the gums.
This procedure trains all three: To inhibit bite temptation, to inhibit bite force (closing the mouth very gentle), and to inhibit bite reflex (when there's something in the mouth, here our fingers).
What NOT to do
Don't do anything else.
- Don't call your dog to you when you plan to do something your dog may not LOVE, instead walk to your dog
- Don't do always the same things, the same way. Although dogs love routine, this would allow our dog to build an expectation - an expectation does not train Bite Inhibition. Instead, having an expectation prevents bite temptation, bite reflex, and bite force outright (instead of encouraging bite temptation and then inhibiting it).
- Don't shove any item into your dog's face (bone, toy, leash, toothbrush, whatever). Instead hold it out, and wait for your dog to pick it up, to open the mouth, or whatever.
Next edition: Another Surprise - The FIFTH's instalment in our "Dog Risks" series!