Leashed black and white puppyThe door flung open and behind it stood a woman dressed in sweatpants in a t-shirt. She was clearly exhausted and looked like she was in desperate in need of either a strong cup of coffee or a full glass of wine – I couldn’t tell which.

A look of reprieve washed over her as I introduced myself.

“I’m Meagan from the Collared Scholar,” I said. “I hear you have an unruly puppy on your hands”.

She smiled and ushered me inside, pointing to an oversized wire kennel where a roly-poly bully puppy slept belly up, snoring slightly, so deep in slumber she didn’t even hear me arrive.

The woman explained her plight. But to be honest, she didn’t have to. Her arms looked like she got into a fight with a gang of stray cats…and lost. She must have had about a dozen scratches running from elbow to wrist, and her hands were dotted with scrapes and bruises.

She was dealing with the dreaded “Puppy Teeth”.

Instantly I thought back to my own puppy experiences when I brought home Koby before I knew anything about dogs except that I loved them.

Koby’s bites regularly had me fleeing, climbing atop the back of the sofa because, at that point, he couldn’t quite jump up to grab me.

“What do you do to stop the biting?” I asked as I again glanced at her wounded arms, and then over to the puppy who began to stir softly.

“Well,” she explained, “I’ve been told I need to teach bite inhibition, so I shriek loudly when she bites…but, to be honest, it seems to send her into even more of a frenzy.”

Turns out, this well-intentioned new puppy owner had, in fact, tried a plethora of fixes including coating her hands in Tabasco sauce (which her puppy seemed to love) and grabbing her puppy’s snout (which only seemed to make her mad).

She had researched and read and she wanted badly to control her puppy’s bite, but up until that point, she only seemed to be making matters worse. It seemed her efforts were simply an exercise in frustration.

Here’s an excerpt from the Whole Dog Journal regarding bite inhibition.

“In the dog training world, bite inhibition is defined as a dog’s ability to control the pressure of his mouth when biting, to cause little or no damage to the subject of the bite. We know that all dogs have the potential to bite, given the wrong set of circumstances. Some dogs readily bite with little apparent provocation, but even the most saintly dog, in pain, or under great stress, can be induced to bite. When a bite happens, whether frequently or rarely, bite inhibition is what makes the difference between a moment of stunned silence and a trip to the nearest emergency room for the victim (and perhaps the euthanasia room for the dog).” (Read the article in Whole Dog Journal here).

Now, remember that article I wrote a while back on why I don’t socialize my puppies? Well, hold onto your hats folks because here I go again…

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. And you may decide we can’t be friends anymore. But hopefully, you’ll hear me out when I say it….

Here goes…..

I don’t teach bite inhibition to my puppies. EVER.

Malinois puppy on leash stands panting with tug toy at feet

I know. Big gasps and sighs, and lots of folks downright disgusted that I say that.

But truth is, after raising dozens upon dozens of puppies, and whelping litters for some pretty influential trainers, I learned one very important thing…

Puppies bite.

And puppies with drive bite more.

Thing is, puppies explore the world with their mouths. They play with one another with teeth and paws. They wrestle…at times HARD…and they have a blast doing it. They pick up things in their mouths and carry them around, they chew, they pounce, and they shred.

This is what puppies do. And stopping them from doing what is natural for them can cause significant frustration and fallout.

Now advocates will have you believe that if you don’t turn off a puppy’s bite pressure early, they can pose a dangerous risk to society when they get older. But after spending nearly a decade rehabilitating hundreds of aggressive dogs, I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that if a dog is “in pain, or under great stress”, they are going to bite hard. I don’t care how much “bite inhibition” work you think you’ve done. I promise it won’t translate.

Now, I know what you are thinking.

You’re thinking “She trains working dogs that are SUPPOSED to bite.” And you’d be right. Yes, I teach working dogs for the most part. These days, I train dogs for personal protection and protection sports where dogs need to know how to bite, and they need to know to bite hard. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter what the dog is being raised for, I’ve never once taught bite inhibition.

Not to my Malinois…

Or the several Malinois and Dutch Shepherd litters I’ve raised…

Not to my Great Dane…

Not to my Basset Hounds…

Not to my Border Collie…

Not to the litter of bloodhounds I raised…

Or the litter of Weimeraners I raised…

And certainly not to the litter of dachshund mixes I raised…

In fact, I’m bringing in a new lab puppy and you can bet I won’t attempt to teach her to control her bite, despite the fact she is going to be a family pet and obedience competitor.

And here’s the thing. Will the lab puppy bite? Absolutely. And did every puppy I’ve ever raised bite…and bite hard when they were young? You bet. Did it hurt at times? Absolutely. Did I stop them? Never.

I’ve NEVER taught bite inhibition.

And the crazy thing is, I can play wrestle and roughhouse with ANY one of my dogs as adults, those trained to bite and those not, and they ALWAYS control their bite pressure. Did I have to teach them that when they were young? Nope. Not at all. Because let’s face it, folks, our dogs aren’t idiots.

Here are some common solutions for getting crazy puppies not to bite.

  1. Shriek, yell “Ouch!” or make another startling noise to mimic the sound another puppy would make in play if his mate bit him too hard and it hurt.  Listen, you can try to mimic another dog as much as you want. But you aren’t fooling anyone. I know you aren’t a dog. And your puppy knows you aren’t a dog. And you shrieking and being foolish makes you sound an awful lot like prey, squealing to escape. This can be a SUPER fun game for young puppies and it can actually make matters worse.
  2. Put Tabasco on your hands. Not only does this not faze many dogs, but Tabasco isn’t healthy for young puppies to ingest. Not to mention, if it gets in their eyes, you can create a serious negative association with your new puppy.
  3. Hold your dog’s mouth closed, or make them bite their own lips . Yikes. And Ouch! If you want your puppy not to come near you, and to think you are a big fat meany, please, go right ahead. But punishing a puppy who is just doing what puppies do, and who is simply PLAYING is not cool and can lead to all sorts of behavioral problems down the road.
  4. Blow in the puppy’s face. They’ll bite your nose. Try it. I dare you.
  5. Bite Your Puppy Back. Seriously? I have no words. Remember, you are not a dog. And your puppy is not an idiot.

And the list goes on..

Ok. So how do you combat those razor sharp teeth when your puppy mouths?

Two words.

Crate. And Toys.

Malinois puppy with toyMake sure you always have appropriate chew toys at the ready and offer them to your puppy when he or she gets worked up. Give them something APPROPRIATE to bite. It’s your puppy’s natural instinct to bite and play, so make sure those instincts are satiated in a productive and appropriate way.

Plainly stated, teach them what to bite. Don’t teach them not to bite.

Now at this point, they may choose to bite you over the toy and why not? You move, jerk away and shriek at times…and that’s WAY more fun than that dead toy laying on the ground.

The key to redirecting your puppy to bite appropriate things is to make those things more fun than you are. Make the toys MOVE MORE, and make your arms and legs MOVE LESS. If you are racing around with a toy in your hand, your puppy is going to want to bite whatever is moving the most – and more often than not, that’s your legs are arms. So reel it in a bit, sit down if you have to, and make sure the toy is what is moving most.

If your dog gets too rambunctious, some good quiet crate time is a simple solution. Give them a yummy bone to chew on and let them rest. And you get some rest too. Take a break from your puppy until he or she chills out.

And here’s one more word of wisdom when it comes to those razor sharp puppy teeth that nobody loves.

Your puppy WILL grow out of it. So don’t spend your days frustrating your puppy by trying to go against the grain and turn off their natural instincts. Instead, play with your puppy, redirect your puppy to toys, and wait for them to grow up. I promise those puppy teeth will be gone before you know it.

Want to learn how to raise a healthy, happy and confident puppy? Join us for our Puppy Raising 101 course. The fun starts January 19th.

Meagan Karnes
Meagan Karnes

Meagan has been training dogs professionally since 2002, most recently working with private security, military and law enforcement to provide K9s for high level applications. She owns both The Collared Scholar, an online dog training academy, and 690 Security Services, a company that trains and deploys Executive Security and Protection K9s to private customers. She recently partnered with both Average Frog and SM Leaders, who repurpose the proven performance principles of the Navy SEALs for individuals and organizations.

    26 replies to "An Exercise in Frustration: Why I never teach bite inhibition to puppies"

    • Diane M Mackintosh

      I have a question regarding the bite inhibition subject… A few months ago during the civil portion of protection, my male GSD redirected the bite as soon as the Decoy went into the blind!! I was told that it was because I was too slow to let go of his fursavor..
      I later asked my mentor if that behavior was due to his age and he’s response actually upset me more than the actual bite!! He said just a little bit was age related but that the issue was that the helpers amp him up so much that he “Looses his mind!!”
      My question to you is: how should I have handles this situation? And, if it shouldn’t happen again, how do I handle the situation again?? I don’t find this behavior to be normal.. I’m very much aware that it happened and want to know how much is completely my fault??
      I an seriously considering taking him out of personal protection mainly because he and I have such an awesome relationship now, that I just don’t want to go back to seeing that crazy said of him…
      I would value your input… Thank you,

      • Meagan Karnes

        I don’t think this has much to do with bite inhibition. Redirection in bitework is typically a sign of adding too much frustration to the work. Some dogs handle excessive frustration like champs, while others get…well…frustrated and are prone to redirection. I doubt this is age related but more a product of adding too much too fast. I’d say less agitation, and a quicker release would be my first thought but your best bet is to work with your mentor as he or she is there and would be a better judge of the behavior they are seeing 🙂 Best of luck!

    • donna reisinger

      So what do you do when the puppy turns into an adult dog that doesn’t grow out of it? I volunteer at an animal and have become very attached to a two year old pittie mix that has been labeled a dangerous dog and unadoptable because of this. I have been working with him to change his behavior for the past several months. When I was able to give him adequate physical and mental stimulation, his behavior was very good and I got him to stop the painful hard mouthing and leash biting. He was also doing well with obedience training. Now that we have been experiencing an arctic freeze and conditions too icy for outdoor play, he has reverted back to his previous behavior to the point where it is no longer safe for me to walk him since he turns his pent up energy on me. The shelter doesn’t really have anywhere inside for him to run and play. He is at the top of the euthanasia list now, and I am heart broken because I think he is fixable. Any suggestions?

      • Meagan Karnes

        Sorry you are dealing with this. Don’t treat overstimulation with exercise and play, as it only reinforces overstimulation (which is different than bite inhibition training – inhibiting the bite as a puppy in a dog like this would only make behaviors like this worse down the road). Instead, make him think. Make him use his brain and make him learn to relax. A little play is good but because overstimulation is what is likely causing the mouthing and leash grabbing, it’s best to instead give him coping skills, reward often for relaxing and chilling out and teach lots of patience behaviors instead of trying to wear him out physically 🙂 A tired dog is a good dog but you can wear them out with mental activity better than you can wear them out with physical activity. So try to find a balance between both 🙂 Best of luck!

      • Steve

        I have the same issue. This guy is more than a year and some. He is 4 to 50 pounds of energy. I have resulted in confining him to the cabinet with a chain leash. He has access to his water dish, bed and toys. We are in the same room with the TV, couch, carpet and snacks. He can see who comes and goes but he can not take advantage of anyone out of his reach. So with in his area, he gets to hear and feel what it is like to be a good boy. The reward is a little freedom until he looses his mind.

    • Theresa

      THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!! This is an awesome article, and I ???? agree!
      Can I copy this and give it to my puppy clients please?
      Theresa Wolfe
      Von Der Koenig Haus
      German Shepherd Dogs

    • Ruth

      I just want to say “you make so much sense”!!!
      This article reinforces the way I’ve handled all of my dogs over the years…from GSDs, Malinois to tiny Chihuahua and mixed breeds. Love your work and the way you handle dogs!!!

    • Puppy girl

      Loved this post, thank you!

    • Shaun

      Thanks for this article, makes so much sense! My GSD Beau is very mouthy, and as a 12-13 week puppy he was constantly biting me, mostly in a sort of affectionate way, sometimes in frenzied play. Advice on stopping it seemed weird, frankly, and didn’t work any way, so I gave up and coped with toys and evasion. He’s very smart, and basically learned to inhibit his bite when I exited play a few times over a painful grab. I’d give him a toy and go tend my wounds ????. Honest exit, not faking it to teach him. He learned pretty quickly how hard was too hard. Now at 3 he sometimes still likes to gently mouth my hand when he’s lying by my chair. He’s rarely careless in ball or tug play, now, and when he grabs me by mistake he is immediately contrite. Even then, it’s never hard enough to leave a mark. He just grew out of it, and stopped pretty young, too.

    • Jayne

      This article is excellent. We have a 8 month old Frenchie and was taught in puppy class to shriek when she bites and it absolutely doesn’t work. We found ‘re directing her the best thing to do and she is getting much better, although on occasion she growls at me and tries to bite my legs and feet ignoring re direction. Any advice?

    • Nate

      I’ve been reading a LOT about bite inhibition, and I’ve also read that it is used when training service dogs, because they need to know how to use their mouths gently at all times.

      Now, I understand where you’re coming from with redirecting, but while I know my dog is smart and knows I’m not a dog I do believe that by startling her with unexpected noises and THEN redirecting and rewarding for biting properly is the key. So my squeels and yelps and OUCH or HEY might not work that well (I’ve tried) but I notice having a real puppy sound at the ready on youtube on my phone confuses her enough to stop biting, and then I instantly give her something approriate to chew and praise her for it.

      I don’t think bite inhibition training is wrong. I think doing it RIGHT is what you should be telling people desperate for answers.

    • Rick

      You are so much smarter than I, I’m sure but I don’t have enough skin left on my arms for your nonsense. This is my 2nd mal and the 1st one’s father was the meanest working dog I have ever seen. My 1st Mal lived to be 14.5 years old and was the best pet I ever owned. He loved children and wanted to be petted. My present mal will live out his short life in a crate if I don’t come up with a solution very soon. He is 14 weeks old and may not make it to get his real teeth. I am writing this as blood streams down my arm. There are times when he is just wonderful. He has more toys than should be allowed but as a few minutes ago when we went out for hims to pee, he went full Malinois. I don’t want to hurt this dog nor take away his drive but there has to be an answer to get us both pass this stage.

      • Meagan Karnes

        I can understand your frustration. I’d highly recommend contacting a local trainer with experience with working dogs to help you. Feel free to contact us directly and we would be happy to make a recommendation 🙂

      • Lisa

        When teeth touch skin all the play and fun stops. Everything gets calm and I take away what they love most…. My attention, but it’s done immediately at first feel of a tooth bite, not after becoming crazy and biting. It’s just fun to get A REACTION FOR THEM. They know their place with me and if they continue they get a chewy and go in their crate. They never get scolded though! My Mals have done well with it. I also give tem toys to divert their attention but some really like skin more than others or are simply feeling great!!!.

    • Tony

      I recently bought a Malinois. The pup is 6 weeks old now. I recently read an article that said it is best to leave them with the litter longer. Even up to 14 weeks. They cautioned that removing the pup too early could damage development. The owner will let me take him home now. What are your thoughts? Is there an optimal time to remove the pup from the mother and litter mates? I believe two of the pups have left the litter. How does this experience effect their development? Thanks.

      • Meagan Karnes

        Everyone has different opinions. In most areas it is not lawful to remove puppies before 8 weeks of age. So check your local ordinances. I do not believe puppies staying with their littermates longer than 8 weeks does them any favors in the development process nor do I think removing them at 6 weeks will be detrimental. I wouldn’t go much younger than that however, and generally speaking, I think 8 weeks is ideal. 🙂

    • Alexandrea

      I have a German Shepherd puppy 6 months old, loves biting everything and everyone .. I read this entire article and I’ve tried the things you mentioned other people do none of them worked .. he tends to bite my sister & father (who play with him more & more actively) more than me but he bites all of us .. at times and the worst is that he tends to go for the face when it happens to the point where we have to deal with it we’ve tried it all yelling no which he proceeds to argue back with us on bark form lol and gets more amped up to holding his snout closed which I never liked to blowing to screeching like another puppy but most recently my sister puts him into a bear hug hold until his behavior calms down he actually responds well to this and calms down but I imagine this will become more difficult as he grows bigger .. the rest of them say we shouldn’t associate his crate with punishment because that’s where he sleeps ie putting him in there after a bite will make him think he’s being punished and then he’ll never want to go in .. when he is not amped up and I’m one of his I must bite everything moods he’s a very very smart obedient even loving dog .. I’m surprised how much he loves affection his favorite thing is to have all of us together in one room he becomes so happy .. he also is very jealous when we hug each other without him and wants to join right in and will jump in between us to do so not in an agressive way at all tho flat ears licking us very happy .. my question to you is each time he bites us because we don’t want to play anymore what do u recommend we do crate him immediately? Do we say “no bite” because we have been or do we say nothing at all when doing this do we give him a treat when putting him in there because to me that feels somewhat like rewarding him and do u think my sister hugging him till he calms is a good solution or not? Please we’ve asked our vet and they have said all the things you said don’t really work please lmk thank you!

    • Miss Cellany

      I taught my puppy bite inhibition (using yelp and then ignore and end play method) and she has bitten under extreme stress and did not put any pressure in the bite – ie the bite inhibition training appears to have worked. She’s some kind of gsd or Malinois mix and is a stranger reactive fear biter (conditioning and desensitization has helped her improve massively in most situations but vet visits still turn her into cujo).

      So you’re saying that the training did nothing and she only doesn’t put pressure in her bite due to learning prior to me getting her (e.g play with littermates) or through genetics?

      Do you know of any scientific research I can read on acquisition of bite inhibition in canines?


    • D ruckert

      Thanks. Changed my mind about inhibiting

    • Susan Hamilton

      about to get a male Giant Schnauzer puppy to join my two 9 year old Giant Schnauzers (one intact male and one spayed female) – I have raised two Giants – one male from 14 weeks and one female from 5+ months (from Russia – not the one I have now she lived until almost 14) – Never had any biting problems that I can remember.. mMy question is how will the older dogs react to the puppy? Might they help train him? Will have a crate for him but the other two are no longer crated at all.. Do I have anything to worry about?

    • Catherine

      I fully agree with your articles, I’ve raised a brindle pit since she was 8weeks old and she plays with biting, but the 2 times she bit really hard to draw blood I pulled my hand away and in a soft voice said that was a bit much, then would walk away for awhile, she does fine and does not bite to hurt me.

    • Tanya

      Thank you,
      We have a 11 week old puppy and she just gets crazy with excitement and wants to eat me and everyone that walks she attacks it’s been happening for about 5 days now and my arms are all scratched up with puncture wounds we play with her so much so thank you I’m going to try this 😊😊

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.