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A Labrador puppy is cuteness on legs. However, when that cute puppy nips and bites, they suddenly seem a lot less cuddly. But while a nip from a puppy is unlikely to do serious harm, when the Labrador is an adult and applies the full pressure of his jaws this will end in a damaging bite.
This is why it's vital to teach a puppy not to bite so that it doesn't become a habit, and if he is taken by surprise as an adult then he inhibits himself from biting. Therefore, for the youngster's own good, you must be prepared to play act like an Oscar winner. When the puppy's teeth contact your skin, be prepared to yelp and look hurt, indeed if you can sob and force out a few tears, so much the better. The more convincing your 'performance' the better the pup learns the lesson.
Teaching any puppy not to bite is a crucial skill. This basic self-control means that if an as adult dog his paw is trodden on by a child, he automatically stops himself from biting the kid out of surprise. A lack of bite inhibition is a common reason why a good-natured dog that never bites in day-to-day life, may suddenly lash out when in pain or badly surprised. Because of this dog's quiet nature they never needed to learn bite inhibition and so when it mattered most, they bit down hard as they didn't know not to.
Learning not to bite should be taught from as young an age as possible, indeed, puppies playing in a litter start teaching each other from just a few weeks of age. The principle is that when a puppy bites too hard, his littermate squeals and the game stops. Thus the puppy learns to be soft and 'play bite' so that everyone is happy and the game carries on.
We can mimic this lesson by yelping whenever the Lab puppy's teeth contact skin, and by withdrawing from the game if the pup doesn't immediately calm down.
Teaching a Labrador puppy not to bite doesn't require special equipment so much as good timing and a knowledge of how to communicate with the pup in a way he understands. For example, if a puppy bites during a game because he's over-excited, then bopping him on the nose with a finger is only going to further excite him. He won't understand this is a chastisement and instead will think it's part of the game.
Instead, it's best to yelp and let your hand go limp, so the puppy understands he hurt you and then the game stopped.
It's also helpful to have:
- Tugger toys or toys for the puppy to play with that don't involve direct puppy mouth to human skin contact.
- Treats for when the puppy backs off
- Another room or separate space to retreat to when the puppy doesn't respond
- A watch or phone on which to time 15-second bursts of play
The Do's and Don'ts Method
Do: Reward appropriate chewing
Puppies need to chew and an important part of teaching them not to bite people is to give the pup an outlet for their need to have something in their mouth at times of frustration. Reward the pup with praise when you see him chewing on an appropriate object, such as his own toy. This will help him understand that there are right (and wrong) things to sink his teeth into.
Don't: Play too rough
Be aware that very rough play will get the puppy over-excited and therefore potentially out of control. Be careful who you let play with the pup and make sure they are responsible and will stop if the pup gets too wound up.
Do: Work on basic obedience
Even though the pup is a youngster, be sure to work on basic commands such as 'sit', 'stay', and 'look'. This helps get the pup listening to you and gives you a tool to get them to stop and calm down.
Do: Socialize the puppy
An anxious puppy that has little contact with other dogs or pups is at risk of not learning bite inhibition. Although the dog is not aggressive, as an adult if someone steps on his paw then he might bite on reflex, but that bite is going to be hard if he hasn't learned to inhibit himself. The solution is to start socializing the puppy immediately and have him play with other puppies and dogs.
Don't: Use hands as toys
Don't tease the puppy with a wiggling finger or get him to play directly with your hands as this teaches him they are toys and therefore something to be put in the mouth. Instead, use distance toys such as balls or tug toys.
The Biting Doesn't Pay Method
Understand the idea
A puppy's natural reaction is to investigate things with his mouth, however this is inappropriate when it comes to human skin. Use these basic lessons to help the dog understand that contact with human skin is best avoided and that mouthing doesn't work when it comes to getting what he wants.
Back off to earn a treat #1
Hold a small tasty treat in your fist and offer it out to the pup. His natural reaction is to paw, sniff, and nibble at your hand to get the treat. Ignore his efforts and look blankly at him. Do not give him the treat while he is actively trying to get it from your hand.
Back off to earn a treat #2
After a short time the pup will pause to wonder why he's not able to get the treat. As soon as he backs off to think about things, now is the time to praise him and open up your fist to offer the treat on your palm. This teaches the pup that mouthing is to no purpose, and when he wants something backing off works best.
"Ouch" that hurts!
Whenever playing with the puppy, if his mouth contacts your skin, immediately say "Ouch", let your hand go limp and stop the game. This sends out a powerful message that if the puppy wants the fun to continue then he mustn't touch your skin.
Involve all the family
Make sure everyone who plays with the pup understands the same rules. It is only when people react consistently that the puppy will learn to generalize the no-skin rule rather than just apply it to you.
The Bite Inhibition Method
Understand the idea
Puppies play rough with each other and yelp and squeal when one pup bites too hard on another. When you watch a litter at play, you'll see when one pup squeals the game pauses for a brief time. This is nature's way of teaching the pups to be gentle with each other as they learn to inhibit how strongly they bite. This is a crucial skill to teach your Labrador puppy, since it also inhibits him from biting hard when startled, such as when a child steps on his paw.
React in a way the puppy understands
When the puppy mouths you, be sure to yelp in a high pitched voice. This sends a vocal message the puppy understands. Sound like you are really hurt, so don't be afraid to play act and whimper a little afterwards and put on a sad face. This should cue the puppy to back off. If he pauses, praise him. Then resume the game once he is calm.
Ignore the puppy
If he doesn't back off straight away, then ignore him and fold your arms and even turn your back. The aim is to teach him that biting ends the fun, so that he's motivated to be gentle in order to keep the game going. Resume the game once he is calm and well-behaved.
Leave the room
If despite your best efforts to ignore the pup, he's still jumping at you, then get up and leave the room. Only return once he is calm. Again, this helps him realize that naughtiness isn't rewarded, whereas calm behavior is.
Play in 15 second bursts
Some Labs get so over-excited that their self-control flies out of the window. If this is the case, you need to prevent the puppy getting so excited that he can't stop. Do this by playing in 15-second bursts, then stop, wait for the pup to sit and calm, then resume play for another 15 seconds.
Written by Pippa Elliott
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 03/15/2018, edited: 01/08/2021