Teaching Bite Inhibition To Your Husky

Teaching Bite Inhibition

Just this past week alone, I must have answered at least a dozen different messages and comments from Snow Dog Owners looking for help with their Huskies that are nipping and biting at their humans. This kind of biting is not the same kind of biting that occurs in dogs who are trying to inflict an offensive or defensive fear based bite. These dogs just need to be taught bite inhibition.

These dogs (most often young puppies or adolescent dogs) are not trying to hurt anyone. Just the opposite, they are trying to initiate playful interaction. The problem with their form of interaction is that they are using their teeth on humans and the humans are getting hurt.

Why Do Puppies Play So Viciously?

If you ever get the chance to watch a group of puppies playing you will see a lot of wild puppy biting behaviours happening. These young dogs launch themselves at each other, grab whatever body part they can, and clamp down with their teeth. Faces, noses, ears, legs, tails, even exposed genitalia are not safe from those sharp little puppy milk teeth. It is no wonder that nature designed puppies to stop nursing from Momma at around 4 to 5 weeks of age. OUCH!

These biting behaviours in puppies do serve a purpose beyond just having entertainment value for them. They are the practice field for honing their eventual hunting and fighting skills. Tracking prey, attacking prey, hamstringing their prey, pouncing on prey, wrestling prey to the ground, and ripping out the prey’s throat are all part of developing keen hunting skills that will eventually keep a wild canine alive.

In the case of our domestic companions the need to hunt for their food seldom comes into play for them as their food is catered to them by us. But the urge to develop good hunting and fighting skills is a hard wired genetic drive in dogs (even more prevalent in drivey dogs like Huskies).

So how do we deal with the natural drive to rip and shred and save our fingers, toes, faces and even clothing from these furry destruction machines? Unless you convey the message to your dog, in a way that he understands, that he must not put his teeth on you, he will continue to nip, jump, and bite at you and any other human being.

The key to surviving this drive is through teaching Bite Inhibition.

What Is Bite Inhibition?

In dog training terms, Bite Inhibition refers to a set of skills taught to a dog so that he can control the pressure exerted by his bite and to over ride the drive to bite down on an object. Another way of looking at this is we are working to shape the dog’s understanding of what he is allowed to do with PREY. Unless you tell a dog differently, (especially in a dog with a naturally high prey drive) anything that moves and/or squeals will be classed as prey and will be chased down and “killed”. Their genes drive to tell them that this is the right thing to do.

In domestic situations, this drive to hunt down and kill prey is still there but the dogs lack the avenue to use this skill. Enter the willing and unaware human being, leaning down with his face near the dog’s face, and with his swinging arms and appendages that stick out (perfect for grabbing). Human children are even a bigger target for these highly driven dogs because the children are small, built close to the ground, move quickly, naturally flap their arms about, and make lots of high pitched noises as they run.

For many dogs, children running and playing provide an irresistible trigger that stimulates their prey drive and unless someone intervenes, a mock “attack” will be launched. Even though the intent of the dog is not necessarily to seriously harm the human “victim”, the sheer size of the dog, the sharpness of the teeth, and the force of the jaws biting down can easily inflict serious injury on humans.

Every year humans get bitten by dogs that have not been given any Bite Inhibition training and every year many dogs pay for this lack of training with their lives. Far too often these dogs are labelled as” aggressive” or “vicious” dogs and are euthanized for doing what comes naturally to them. When this happens it is not the dog who is at fault. Most often the owner is at fault for failing to provide the necessary instruction and Bite Inhibition training for their dog.

Bite Inhibition Training Starts Early

Ideally, puppies get their first lessons in Bite Inhibition from their mothers and their siblings. As the puppies grow and start exploring their surroundings with their mouth and teeth or start honing their play fighting skills, mother dogs can be seen to intervene. At first, if the puppies start using their teeth while nursing, the milk wagon suddenly stands up and service is refused. As the puppies begin using their teeth to hone their hunting and fighting skills, mom can be seen clasping their muzzles in her mouth in a message that says, “Stop using your teeth in that way!”

Siblings that get bitten too hard during mock battles issue a sharp high pitched scream that serves as a natural signal for the puppy to know that the force they used to bite down with was too hard. Mothers can also be seen scruffing puppies by the nape of the neck. This too is a natural hard wired freeze reflex that puppies have. This signals the puppy to FREEZE in their tracks.

This is useful for when mom has to pick up puppies to move them to safety. When mom scruffs a puppy they are expected to submit and not move or squirm. Later, this signal of scruffing is used to convey the message, “I want you to stop doing what you are doing NOW. FREEZE.”

Also, puppies that get the benefit of playing with litter mates also have a chance to develop a tolerance to the frustration of how to deal with stressors. Whether it is competing for resources or having a sibling gnawing on your leg causing you pain, these are all stressors. Dogs that have no early exposure to stressors can easily become quick to anger and if they lack Bite Inhibition skills, these dogs can easily be a prime candidate for becoming a problem biter later on.

The Social Lessons Associated By Week Seven Development

At around the seven week mark of development, mother dogs can be seen doing a marvelous activity with their puppies. She can be seen flipping puppies over onto their backs and if they struggle she gently holds them down with her mouth. This is how dogs naturally teach and reinforce the very first concept of dominance and submission.

Puppies rely on their mothers to teach them social ranking rules that will allow them to be able to live within the social structure of a canine pack. Dogs that did not get the benefit of this learning from their mother and siblings will go on to have problems with excessive nipping and biting or have something referred to as a “hard bite”.

So then when uniformed or greedy breeders are more concerned with getting puppies into their new homes by six weeks of age (they are fully weaned from the mother by then) they are actually denying these puppies crucial socialization time with the family unit. It is not a coincidence that following this growing trend of removing puppies too early from their mothers and siblings, trainers and behaviourists are seeing huge upsurge in dogs with behaviour issues that range from severe and debilitating anxiety to dogs that seem to be somehow learning impaired to due missing socialization keys normally taught by the mother.

NEVER be talked into taking possession of a puppy before it is eight weeks of age. Whenever possible, leave the puppy with the mother and siblings so it can learn critical lessons about social skills. Also, puppies that are removed too early from their mothers and then go on to be bred, will not be able to teach their own puppies about pack socialization as this skill never had a chance to be fostered in them by their own mothers. Always ask questions from a breeder about his practices about how puppies are raised and socialized by the mother.

Always ask to see the parent dogs so you can check out their temperaments. If the parents are skiddish, aggressive, or anti-social, walk away from this breeder. The puppy you are buying will only be as good as the breeding stock that it came from. Temperament is determined 50% by nature and 50% by nurture. No matter how good of a “deal” you think you may be getting from a hack breeder, it will never make up for the extra health and behaviour problems that come with this puppy. This kind of “deal” is simply not ever worth it in the long run.

How And Why Does Puppy Biting Turn Into A Problem?

Even though puppy biting and chewing is natural that does not mean that you must allow him to do it on his terms. He must be taught NOT to bite humans. Most people who have problems with their puppies biting, have a problem for one of the following reasons:

  1. Either they did not communicate the message of NO to the puppy in a way the puppy could easily understand,
  2. They were very inconsistent in their reinforcement of the rule of NO, or
  3. They stopped at telling the puppy what NOT to do but forgot to show the puppy what you DO want it to instead of what he is doing.

Ideally, you will want to have your puppy to have a complete understanding and compliance of Bite Inhibition by the time they reach the age of five months as this is when their adult teeth become to emerge and adult jaw strength is being developed. You do NOT want an out of control five month old dog with adult teeth and jaw strength biting at you. It is unsafe and it is totally unnecessary.

How To Teach Bite Inhibition To Puppies

-Every time the puppy is biting you hard, in a high pitched voice say OUCH and move the body part away from his mouth. Immediately give the puppy a replacement for his biting experience. Give him a soft knotted rope bones or any appropriate toy will help for him to understand that toys are for chewing and human body parts are not for chewing. Make sure that all family members are dealing with this problem in the exact same way. Dogs cannot generalize. The rule has to be ALWAYS or NEVER. Inconsistency will only serve to confuse your puppy as he will not get the message of NEVER bite the human.

-As soon as you feel his teeth on your skin, use a cue like Uh-Uh, Hey, Stop, No Bites. At first look for the bite pressure to lessen and immediately mark the behaviour with praise and a treat. The treat also serves to refocus his attention from your body part so treating works double duty. Over time, expect the puppy to completely let go of the body part when cued to do so. Remember to show him what you want him to do instead of biting otherwise he will just come right back to grab you as soon as you have finished rewarding him. If you do not redirect the behaviour, you will unintentionally be rewarding him for going back to bite.

-When your puppy begins to play bite, get up and remove your attention from him. Eventually he learns that biting humans only makes them go away which is counter productive to what he wants. The whole reason he came over and play bit you was because he wanted to initiate play. If you leave, there will be no play. Again, show your puppy what is considered appropriate play using TOYS. Shape his play behaviour so he understands that you will play with him but play will never include biting games.

-Take a page from Momma Dog’s training manual. When the puppy is biting you, take your free hand, clasp his muzzle with your hand. Once your body part is removed from his mouth apply very light pressure to his muzzle (like mom would do with her mouth) and cue your puppy to stop biting. If your puppy is frantically trying to bite, gently grasp the scruff and hold. Do not shake, roll him to the floor, or lift until his feet come up off the ground. Just hold the scruff until he instinctively does the FREEZE, and then cue the puppy to stop biting. Have a toy ready to redirect his biting.

There are some puppies out there just seem to have a hard time understanding or translating human communication. For these puppies, the more primal the communication (a natural signal that Momma would use) the more effectively he might get the message. Remember, dogs do not understand our human language. In order for dogs to better understand us, sometimes we need to remember to communicate in Doggish rather than in English.

-Use good judgement and set your puppy up for success. If your puppy is revved up and in the middle of a wild bout of puppy playing, that is not the best time to get your hands or your face down near his mouth because the chances are very good that you WILL GET BIT. Redirect wild inappropriate play to a more calm and reserved play. Puppies will get silly, boisterous, and will readily engage in physical activity.

By all means, do play with your dog. Just do it with common sense and give some thought to what kinds of behaviours you are nurturing in him. What is considered to be cute puppy behaviour for a 12 week dog old puppy may not translate so well into 5 month old 40 pound dog. So immediately start shaping your puppy’s behaviours so that you can live with your dog safely in the future.

-And lastly, always use positive training methods with your puppy. Yelling, hitting, and punishing your puppy will not help him to learn what you want him to do. Remember to see this problem from the dog’s perspective. Human societal rules do not make much sense to dogs, especially not to a puppy.

Teaching Bite Inhibition To An Adult Dog

Whether you just recently adopted a dog that has no Bite Inhibition training or you failed to shape these behaviours when it was a puppy, teaching Bite Inhibition to an older dog is much more difficult. A dog that has a well practiced routine for how it does things is much harder to convince to change his ways. Additionally, in moments of highly charged emotion, dogs will fall back into the old familiar reinforced patterns of behaviour.

Noted Behaviourist Dr. Ian Dunbar points out that there are four stages to successful Bite Inhibition training especially as it relates to the mature dog.

In the first two stages the focus is placed on lessening the force of the bite and in the last two stages the focus must be on diminishing the frequency of the bites. The mature dog must learn to first soften the bite as he has never learned this concept. Then after he understands that there is an issue with how hard he closes his jaws, then he can be moved along to resist biting all together.

How To Decrease The Pressure Of The Bite

  • Place your hand in his mouth for controlled mouthing practice. It sounds odd to teach a dog not to bite by placing your into his mouth but that is the place to begin teaching this concept. Much like the training they give to service dogs that will be using their mouths to pull and place objects into people’s hands, the mature dog needs to be shown to lessen the pressure. So when you place your hand in his mouth, issue the cue GENTLE. If the dog complies with gentle gumming, immediately reward him with YESSSS and a treat. If he clamps down hard, remove your hand, issue a cue of Uh-Uh and begin again. Your objective is for there to eventually be zero pressure exerted by the dog’s jaws.
  • You should train your dog to be able understand cues of TAKE IT, LEAVE IT and STOP. The idea that you are teaching the dog is that what goes into his mouth and when it goes into his mouth is not for him to decide. You must be the only one who gives him permission to do so.
  • To teach these concepts, use an object placed onto the floor. Issue the cue LEAVE IT. If the dog complies immediately give him a High Value treat for leaving the object alone. This training helps to keep dogs from biting to grab items, either out of your hand or that have fallen onto the floor.
  • And lastly, these mature dogs need to have the understanding that they must NEVER touch a human with their muzzle or tongue unless it was invited and initiated by the human. All behaviours must be cued by the human or the dog believes that the choice is his. That means that no uninvited licking, no muzzle pokes or prods, and no grabbing of hands to initiate play should be tolerated, all games should end on the terms of the human, and in the case of dogs with no Bite Inhibition Training, no games of tug of war, chase, or boisterous wrestling should be played. These games will only serve to over excite the dog and then it becomes too easy for the dog to fall back into the learned behaviours of nipping and biting. As the dog learns control you can then readjust the kind of games he is allowed to play.

A Final Note About Misguided People Who Train Their Dogs To Bite Aggressively

Every once in a while I run into some person who, while they complain about their dogs biting and nipping of them, actually secretly likes that their dog acts in a physical way towards others. I guess in their minds it makes them feel “protected”. The reality is that these people are playing with a “loaded weapon”. Because they are not stopping the biting behaviours (they actually encourage the biting or aggressive behaviour) when it comes to biting, the dog now believes that this behaviour is okay to do to any human. There is really no way to get your dog to understand that a behaviour is okay to do under some nebulous “special circumstance”, unlike Schutzhund training. ALWAYS or NEVER is the understood rule by dogs.

It is NEVER wise to purposely encourage or train your companion dog to be aggressive towards anyone because you will have no control over whom it bites. It could very easily be YOU or some member of your family.

As always, we welcome your questions, comments and stories about your Snow Dogs. When we share our stories we may well be helping someone who is struggling with their Snow Dog.

Helping ALL Snow Dogs …. one owner at a time.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Hi, our sibe pup is growing by the minute and is currently 21 weeks. He’s already outgrown his first bed, his cage and his first lead. Unfortunately, he bit my husband last week ( just below his bottom) whilst he jumped on the sofa looking for food). Today, he has bit our daughter today when she tried to remove a piece of cardboard from his mouth. We are getting very concerned and wondering if we have made a wrong decision. He usually, is playful, affectionate, fetches, sits. What’s happened? Please advise us

  2. I have an adult female husky. She has always been a nipper of other dogs, piercing the skin. I now notice with my grandchildren that if they are close to her, she snarls; if they are close to me, she cries and tries to get up on my knee or force her way in. When i have her outside with me she is becoming more aggressive with other dogs i.e. lunging with teeth showing. In short, this is getting worse, I don’t trust her. When she shows aggression I address it right away, with one word “shame”, “bad”, or just call her name.

    What can be done to curb this aggression, it almost appears as jealousy.

  3. Please i need your help asap i have a siberian husky 4 months old and his biting has became hard he had an accident like a month ago so i didnt do anything about his biting during his recovery time and he was mostly sweet during that time now he is jumping and chasing me biting my hands and legs. I have tried the treats and the other methods but they dont seem to help as once i dont have treats he keeps biting. I love him sooo much bit im scared that once he gets his permanent teeth he will be scary

  4. Thank you! This is really helpful as my 2 yr old husky has been constantly chewing and biting my hands (but not much force is exerted) whenever I tried to play with it. Really appreciate this article!

  5. Hi there! I have a 3 month old male husky. I got him from a friend who seems to have him always in the cage, he poops, and pees inside the cage and bites humans. Even me, i got frustrated one time that i yelled at him and hit him on the butt to stop. But i think that only made it worst, not sure if he was aggresive or.just playing. I wanted to show him that he had been a bad dog, so I removed his water and toy from his cage that night. But I felt bad for not leaving him with water so I return it after a few minutes. Please help how can i have him stop from biting humans. I’m really concerned that he’ll get even more aggresiv3 the next time that happens. I wanted him to be loyal and gentle. I already have 3 chihuahua and i never experience this from them. From what i know, huskies are really playful and are hard to train. I’m willing to train him but i’m not sure where and how to.start.

    Please please help.

  6. My husky have the urge to become a mother. She will treat the toy as her baby. She will whine and carry the toy everywhere with her.
    Do anyone know why is it like this?

  7. My BF adopted an 11 mo sibe from Craigslist (long story) and he constantly is grabbing arms to try to play. Not the first sibe, but this one is an only dog. We know he originally came from a puppy mill. Just curious, but has anyone ever used a bite sleeve to try to direct biting/playtime?

  8. My 11/1/2 week old female husky is biting as well. I have tried trading for something she can chew on, have tried ignoring her, and even tried the muzzle grab ( which worked w/ my previous sibe)– she seems to get more agitated, the more I try to make her stop. This is my 4th Siberian, and I have not been this frustrated with the biting ever before. Her little razor teeth draw blood every day. Other than this behavior she’s really pretty good– knows, sit, and lie down and we are working on “humans go through the doors first”. She is really good at ignoring me. Any suggestions? I will keep working on it, as I realize she’s only 11 and 1/2 weeks, but I want to make sure I’m doing the right stuff– I am frustrated, and I know that does not help at all with training.

    • Omg! That is my situation exactly!!! My 11 week old female husky is the same! I’ve tried several methods, she seems to not care. I know my post is 2+ years late, but did she ever stop biting?

  9. Hello. Love the article. Have a 4 month old husky. She is great. Except she is scared of everyone and bites. We are trying the muzzle grab and it seems to be working. Hopefully it works because her biting hurts!!!! Lol

  10. Annette, this is NOT you are doing something “wrong”. This is most likely the nature of this puppy. Right off the top I will tell you that puppies who are removed from their mothers and siblings before the age of 8 weeks are at risk to have these issues. At around 7 weeks of age a good canine mom teaches the puppies bite inhibition, submission, and about natural social pack order. This puppy has had none of this education. The teaching that comes from the mom carries so much more weight that anything that we humans can bring to the table as far as training goes.

    I have first hand experience with this kind of puppy. One of my dogs, Kaya, was a lot like what you describe even though she was not taken too early from the mother. Kaya, for the first 9 months of her life was just not getting the message. I corrected her and she would correct me right back. She jumped at my hands, my face, my legs, and even my butt. The cuffs of all of my work hoodies were shredded and I cannot even tell you how many pairs of pants had holes in them from her teeth. She was a tough nut to crack. I tried everything I knew to try with her ( and things that work with other dogs) but I was not getting the message through to her. She was not aggressive but she sure was dominant and pushy.

    It wasn’t until I happened to be watching a Shaun Ellis documentary on wolf language and communication that I realized that Kaya may not be defiant 100% of the time ( tho there was a healthy dose of defiance in that girl lol). There were times that Kaya was just not understanding the corrections. In her mind she saw no reason why she was being asked to stop behaving the way that she was It was at this point that I decided to take a page from Shaun Ellis’ teaching and apply what he had been saying.

    Please understand, that for most dogs, this is never going to be an issue. Most dogs you can train using regular positive reinforcement. For these few “special case dogs training has to be done differently ( tho still gently and humanely). Training still cannot be about punishing the behaviours. No, for these dogs a simple more primal way of communicating with them is necessary, not unlike what their moms would of or should have done for them. Unfortunately, these techniques are not recommended to use for the novice or unskilled dog owners as if used incorrectly, there is a high risk of being bitten.

    However, if you Private Message on Facebook me Annette, I will be happy to give you some work arounds for this situation.

  11. Well Margit, I’m still having issues. I am being gentle and humane, always, but this little buggar is a tough one. He is a little over 10 weeks and loves to bite still. I feel like we’ve made no progress at all. He also gets growly when he’s tired and sometimes when I put him in his crate, which he does enjoy his crate, I just think it’s him not wanting to be told to do anything. I understand, husky thing, but in the evening, he can get growly and bites seem to mean more than puppy bites. He gets plenty of exercise. I just wonder if he’s too excited. We have 3 other grown 4 legged neaner heads that love him, most times, and are teaching him a lot. He’s a rescue but originally was born by a BYB. I no idea what temperament, etc. the parents have. I only know the people that bought him were asking for rescue in less that 24 hours. They were teens and said mom said no. That’s all I know, don’t know the truth of anything. Point being, I’ve raised Arabians and stallions and huskies and all kinds of other large breeds like dobies, malamutes, rotties hunting dogs, etc., growing up. This one has me stumped. I’m not used to the growling at this age and being more than happy to truly bite and mean it. He’s better now that when we got him at yes, 6 weeks and he was the runt. He is also very sweet, loves to snuggle and give kisses. Great on training so far, except the biting. I know he’s young so simple bite inhibition not being complete I get and am not worried about. I concerned is this ‘true’ aggression potential or already is? If so, yes I have him enrolled in a puppy class that starts this week but that is just mainly a puppy obedience class and Petsmart. I arranged that several weeks ago for social play with pups since he didn’t get much of that with his siblings and mom. What say you? Sorry so long.

    • To add, he muzzle taps when I trade something like a pillow he’s chewing on with a proper chew toy. After about 4 or so trades, he’s mad and sometimes muzzle taps or lunge bites. This is how he started acting about an hour after rescuing him. He is trying so hard to be dominant. Humping the other large dogs as they lay and nap. Bugging them and biting non-stop. They’re trying to teach but getting rather sick of him at this point. I do separate.

    • Im having the same problem with my 14 week old puppy. She is lovely and very intelligent knows a lot of commands but I cant get her out of biting. She too growls and is worse on a night like yours. I yelp, give her a firm enough, she stops and then comes back for more. Hows things going did you overcome your issue and please let me know what was your technique was. Thank you

  12. Great article. I’ve had huskies since I was 9, now I’m 49 but it’s been a good while since I’ve had a wee one and one that is so strong-willed. There are so many changes in how to train these days, I tend to wonder which one I should do. Thank you, this is how I was taught as a child to teach our dogs not to bite, so at least I’m on the right track. You’re the best!

    • Thank you, Annette. The best way to work with a dog is to SEE THE DOG that stands in front of you and work with it’s temperament. Do not use a bazooka when a pea-shooter will do. And always use the most gentle and humane way to get your message across. As long as we are gently correcting and guiding behaviours instead of punishing the dog for doing the behaviour, it all works out well in the end. 🙂

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