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Teaching bite inhibition

IMG_5215Whether you have adopted a puppy or an adult dog, either from a rescue centre or breeder, teaching bite inhibition is just about the most important aspect of your dog’s education.

Nobody wants to have a puppy biting and mouthing at your hand for treats behaving like a naughty child trying to get your attention and similarly it will be even more undesirable, as well as most definitely sore, to have an adult dog playfully chewing you and your family and friends.   Puppies, just like toddlers when they want something they want it NOW.   Self-control is not yet in their vocabulary or way of behaving. Therefore it is up to you to teach your puppy good manners and to wait for what he wants. However, it is a training behaviour that must be taught from the time you get your puppy or dog and continued over and over again until it becomes second nature.

To begin with let your puppy see you put a low value treat in your hand such as pieces of kibble and close your fist around it. Stretch your arm out calmly in front of you towards his nose with your fist closed.  Most puppies will begin to lick and poke at your fist repeatedly, some will even paw as well. But as soon as he momentarily stops all of these activities begin to open your hand and reward him with the treats.

You can either mark this behaviour using a clicker or verbal cue such as the word “Yes”. If he tries to snatch at your hand close your fist immediately but keep it there. Do not pull away as he will think he has to lung towards you and grab your fist..

Repeat this several times and you will find the puppy begins to learn that he only gets the treats when he leaves your fist alone.   Normally puppies want the treat and will quickly learn to wait and it will be given.

As you continue with this he will also learn that if he to moves his muzzle slightly back from your fist and doesn’t try to poke you, the treats will be given.

Now you can start to reward him for ‘restraining himself’ whilst you ‘load up’  your hand with more treats from your treat bag.   As you start to move your arm towards him with the treats if he tries to move towards you just put your hand back in the bag and wait. Please do not get cross or reprimand him in any way, let him work it out for himself. He will realise very quickly that this behaviour was wrong and will start giving the correct one. The minute he does reward him with the treats and lots of praise.   Always be positive with this training and never set him up to fail.   If you open your hand too soon by mistake just take a few breaths and begin again.   As you start again make sure he does the correct action and then finish off giving him a huge bonus handful of treats. He will remember this and be ready and eager the next time you come to train him.

Once your puppy is able to wait patiently for several seconds whilst you have a handful of treats in your closed hand gradually open your fist.   Uncurl your fingers a little at a time and if he moves towards your fist close it up again. Wait and start again this time making smaller finger movement. As soon as he waits calmly open your hand and give him the treats using your verbal cue or clicker.   Always let him see how pleased you are with his progress.as this is such an important behaviour he must learn.

You are aiming to build up the length of time until you can uncurl your fingers and hold your open palm in front of him. When you have achieved this, move on to having your hand open with the food resting in your palm.

Move your palm towards his mouth and see if he waits and if he does give him a cue either verbally such as “take it “ or with the clicker to take the treats from your hand. If he tries to grab the food too soon just go back a step and close your hand again.

Your puppy know understands that he only has the food when you use the cue and now you can start to change the value of your treat to a higher value such as liver bread or Vienna sausages.

If he makes a mistake and tries to grab the food just go back to using the lesser value treats until his manners kick back in.   Puppies have such a short attention span and their tummies usually rule their heads so you may have to continue with the kibble a little longer until he is 100% confident of the behaviour required.

Remember not to make your training sessions too long but rather do many short ones each day.   This way he will look forward to his training sessions and getting to eat lots of yummy treats.

By Joanna, Trainer