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Bite Inhibition Training

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Excerpted from Click for Joy: Questions and Answers from Clicker Trainers and their Dogs by Melissa Alexander, an unparalleled guide to the concepts of clicker training.

Q: I have a new puppy, and she wants to chew on everything, including me. What can I do?

A: Puppy mouthing is 100% natural dog behavior. It's not dominance. It's not meanness. It's a puppy being a puppy, roughhousing with parents and littermates or with human substitutes. Rather than "no bite," I strongly, strongly urge you to teach your puppy bite inhibition instead. Bite inhibition means training for a "soft mouth." It teaches your pup to use his mouth gently with people.

Bite inhibition training

Dogs have one defense—their teeth. Every dog can bite. If frightened enough, or in pain or threatened, your dog will bite. That doesn't in any way make him a "bad" dog. It makes him a dog. It's your responsibility, therefore, to teach your dog that humans are fragile. If you teach your dog bite inhibition, that training will carry over even if he's later in a position where he feels forced to bite.

Dr. Ian Dunbar, an expert in the field, tells a story of a bite incident he had to assess. A golden retriever therapy dog was leaving a nursing home when his tail was accidentally shut in a car door. The owner went to help and the dog delivered four severe bites before she could react. Dunbar wasn't the least bit surprised by the dog's response. The dog got his tail shut in a car door! Of course he bit! What shocked Dunbar was that a dog with no bite inhibition training was being used as a therapy dog.

"Bite inhibition training does not require any added aversive—yelling, 'popping' the dog on the nose or under the chin, shoving your hand down his throat, or spraying him with water."

"But he's never bitten before." Of course not. And barring such an incident he probably never would have. But an accident is just that. An accident. Unpredicted. What if something similar had happened in the nursing home? A dog that's had bite inhibition training from puppyhood is less likely to cause serious damage even under severe provocation.

According to Dunbar, there are four stages in bite inhibition training. The first two involve decreasing the force in the bites; the second two stages involve decreasing the frequency of the bites. The training must be done in that order. If you try to decrease the frequency first, the dog won't learn to soften his bite.

Because bite inhibition works by shaping natural play behavior, this kind of training should begin during your first, spontaneous interactions with your puppy and continue in more structured play/training sessions as he grows.

  • "No painful bites." Ninety percent of puppies will stop mouthing in mid-bite if you give a high-pitched squeal or yelp. Then you praise the dog and reinforce by continuing to play. The other ten percent—and puppies who are tired or over-stimulated—will escalate their behavior instead of stopping. This requires you to confine the puppy or end the game. Remove all attention. Bite inhibition training does not require any added aversive—yelling, "popping" the dog on the nose or under the chin, shoving your hand down his throat, or spraying him with water.
  • Eliminate all pressure. Gradually shape the dog to "gum you to death." (Service dog trainers do this routinely, because service dogs often have to use their mouths to manipulate human limbs.) Set a limit of how hard the dog can bite during play/training sessions. If he bites harder, yelp. Gradually set your limit for softer and softer bites. Move at a pace that ensures that the pup can be successful most of the time. A big jump in criteria is confusing and frustrating to the dog.
  • "When I say stop, you stop." Teach cues for "take it," "leave it," and "drop it." Be able to both start and stop the game on your own terms.
  • "You may never touch a human with your muzzle unless invited." Put the bite inhibition behaviors you have taught under complete stimulus control. Stimulus control means the behavior happens on cue and only on cue.

Coping with puppy mouthing in the meantime

Although bite inhibition is a vital lesson, making it a training goal doesn't mean you have to tolerate constant puppy mouthing. Puppy teeth hurt!

Work on bite inhibition only when your pup is calm and you have time to sit on the floor and play gently. If the pup bites too hard, yelp. If he backs off, reinforce with calming pats and more interaction. If he gets too excited and bites harder, end the game immediately.

To end the game, you must be able to get away from the puppy with as little fuss or attention as possible. Even negative attention is attention. It's often helpful to have the puppy tethered, so you can simply move back out of his reach. Or play with him in a confined area and simply stand up and leave that space when he bites too hard.

The rest of the time, deal with mouthing by redirecting the puppy to acceptable chew toys. Literally surround yourself with chew toys, so you can stuff them in his mouth, one after the other, until he gets the message that you are not going to let him chew on you.

Puppy mouthing never requires anything more aversive than time outs or withdrawal of attention. Work on bite inhibition when you can, and at other times redirect or end the game. Physical aversives are confusing, unfair, and unnecessary.

You can read more about puppy nipping in the clicker approach to puppy nipping by Karen Pryor.

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A very nippy dog

My dog is 11 months old,and from the day we had him he bites us(he was about 1.5 month old).Leaving the door clearly doesn't work because he pursues me and continues biting.


I tried the method in this article :"The rest of the time, deal with mouthing by redirecting the puppy to acceptable chew toys. Literally surround yourself with chew toys, so you can stuff them in his mouth, one after the other, until he gets the message that you are not going to let him chew on you."


but this method doesn't work,when I stuff the toys in his mouth one after the other,he gets even more excited and starts biting me harder.

Yelping doesn't stop him too...

kitten biting

I have a 10 week old kitten who is adorable.  He loves to play and he uses his paws/claws and teeth.  I understand that is normal and I can clip his claws.  But he also uses his mouth and his teeth are like razors.  How do I stop him from biting?



Laurie Luck's picture

kitten biting

See the other comments about puppy nipping -- the same advice for pups will also work for kitties. In short, you'll leave immediately when the kitty uses his teeth on you. Painful bites = you leave. You can also read the article referenced in the puppy nipping question, too - it's applicable to kittens as well. Please let me know if you need more information, I'm happy to help!

Laurie Luck
For Clickertraining.com
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
See my profile and contact information at

chrissie3278's picture

Nipping in the face.


        My family has just adoped a husky/rottweiler mix and he is VERY large at 8 weeks and while we get down on the floor to play he sometimes wants to nip/bite at our face I know he is playing but I am wanting to stop him from doing this. How could we prevent/stop him from doing this without making him feel like he doing bad by playing?


Laurie Luck's picture

Nipping in the face.

Karen's got a great article here on the site on how to use a clicker to teach your puppy how to play nicely without excessive biting. Here's the link: http://www.clickertraining.com/node/168. 

For now, I would avoid playing on the floor with your pup. And if/when he nips and jumps at your face, simply get up and leave. No drama, no comments - just get up and leave. Stay gone for about 30 - 60 seconds and then come back calmly and begin calm play again with your pup. It won't take him long to figure out the way to keep you around is to inhibit his bites. 

Good luck and have fun with your puppy!


Laurie Luck
For Clickertraining.com
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
See my profile and contact information at

Nipping Puppy

I have a 9 week old lab/retriever mix that sometimes nips at my ankles and boots when I am taking her outside.   The yelp doesn't seem to startle her out of this and I cannot get away from her easily as  she pursues me and bites again.  She knows the sit command but does not respond to it while biting.  It is hard to not say her name, no, ouch  etc.   as it hurts.  I definitely don't want to giver her reinforcers.   I have found that if I have a ball in my pocket and toss it a few inches away from me she will go after the ball instead of my feet.  I may have to do this a few times until she calms.  Then I click treat.   I have just started this today.  Is throwing her a ball reinforcing her nipping?  I am not sure why she is nipping at me.. be it stress, play, teething etc.   

 Also, I try to keep my 3 young kids out of her reach and calm but she sometimes gets ahold of their clothes.  Standing like a tree and turning usually works but if it doesn't we feel like we are flailing to get her off.   Saying ouch, her name loudly, putting our bodies close to her.  I feel like all of this noise and movement is reinforcing but her nips hurt.   I would like a specific recipe as to how to react while I am training take it, give it, and bite inhibition.   She is doing very well with bite inhibition at night when she is calm and does fairly well for the most part with us and the kids, but I would like to stop all nipping.

Thank you for any advice.   



My puppy is hyper with hard biting

Sadie is a 10 week old 3/4 Maltese and 1/4 Papillon.  She weighs about 2 pounds.  She is sweet but she seems to become very hyper and very aggressive several times during the day.  She will bite hard enough to draw blood.  Her biting seems to be connected with how hyper she becomes.  We are clicker training her and she learned to sit in one day and now if you scold her, she sits.  However, the biting continues.  She is very into mouthing but again she hypes up and bites hard.  Typically after she bites, I yipe and give her time out but her day seems to consist of mouthing, then little bites, then hyper with hard biting.  I'm lost as to stopping her from getting hyper and she is spending way too much time in time out.  I feel like we're missing something in her training.  Help!

Hi tjammers, I'm sorry I

Hi tjammers,

I'm sorry I can't be of much help, but I couldn't help but note that you mention that your puppy is scolded sometimes.  Everything I've read about clicker training suggests that using any form of scolding is actually counter productive to whatever activity you are trying to teach.  Perhaps that is what is missing?  Good luck to you!

Soft mouth training

I did loads of work with this with my first dog. I never understood when people said he nipped as he never nipped me.He didn't have much contact with other dogs. When he was two we got another puppy who nipped me quite a lot. Arffa was excellent with the puppy, so I thought his bite inhibition would improve that way. When he was 6 months old we found an abandoned pup about 2 months old. The dynamic changed. Rab, the new pup is growing into a big dog, and has a very soft mouth, but the middle dog Fly, moved from playing with Arffa to playing with Rab, so all puppy play. It only became obvious recently that his bite inhibition isn't good. (When he got stressed about getting in the van/crate.)So we are starting again at 10 months old... its working, but I recommend not leaving it that long. Don't miss the opportunity early on!

Nipping poodles

Thanks, Melissa. Both techniques have been working very well. They worked far better than scolding them during the negative behavior.


touch with muzzle only when invited?

Please explain how I teach that to a very busy toy poodle. She nips often. She is like the one you describe that gets more excited after I yelp from a playful bite. Yet, when she takes food from me she is very gentle. Then my thirteen year old snaps my fingers hard when I give her a training treat. She is very jealous and wants to snatch the food in case another would get it. Both snap my fingers but for different reasons. Please help with suggestions. Thank you

Diane Filler

Diane, for your "Busy toy poodle" I would leave the room when she bites you. Or give a no reward marker "uh-oh" or "oops" when she bites you. I'm not sure what you are doing when she nips you, but I would do it and give the no reward marker if she bites. If she doesn't click/treat.

I used to have a poodle that attacked food like your older dog. What I did was I held the food in my fist and let her naw all she wanted. When she was calm I would give her the treat. But if she started to snap at my fingers I would quickly close my fist again. It only took a few sessions for her to learn that she had to be gentle to get her treat.

bite inhibition training

This is SOOOO important!! My current Search Dog came from a German Shepherd breeder that had produced generations of working and sport dogs; it was literally in her genes to bite and hold. We called her "pirhana puppy." Her prey drive was also highly developed so just walking was often enough to elicit a "grip" on a foot or ankle (she was never fooled into biting at fabric of a pant's leg, only "meat" would do); even with shoes on, those needle sharp puppy teeth could inflict injuries. "Traditional" training in this case would have been disasterous, imagine a dog with generations of bite and hold genetics that was never taught control who finally does feel the need to bite? Additionally she has a very high pain tolerance... just how hard are YOU willing to correct a tiny puppy? and would likely have resulted in biting harder (it is desirable for protection dogs to respond to pain or agression by gripping harder). The method Melissa described (teaching her to control the pressure) worked like a charm.

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