Bite Inhibition

This article was published in Bangalore Mirror; Date: Mar 4, 2014; Section: City; Page: 4;

What’s the big deal about opposable thumbs? Try not using them for an hour and you’ll know. So how do our canine companions manage without them? They use their mouth; they have tremendous control too over how they use it. If they want to, they can pick up a piece of fresh paneer without crumbling it. So why do they bite?

When kids play with each other there’s a lot of hitting, scratching and wrestling. And sometimes when the rough play gets out of hand and one kid starts crying — play stops. The kid who hit too hard slowly learns about ‘boundaries’. It is the same with pups; they teach each other when a bite is too painful. Unfortunately we separate puppies from their litter before they have had the opportunity to learn these valuable lessons. So, a dog not meaning to cause any harm, can still bite just because he never learned when to stop. He has not developed bite inhibition.

Can we teach our dogs what he would have learnt from his mommy and siblings? Absolutely! That’s the beauty of our relationship with this species. They are receptive to our inputs on the rules of engagement. But it’s incumbent on us to draw the boundaries early, clearly and consistently.

Where you draw the boundary is clearly up to you. Some may tolerate a little nibbling. Some may like rough play. Others may be totally averse to any teeth contact. Define your boundary the day you get your dog. Remember that the boundary you set for your tiny pup will be the same your massive grown dog will abide by. Once your boundary is defined, enforcing is easy. When your dog bites too hard, stop play! None of the, “Oh, he’s so little and cute. That does not hurt,” attitude here. Every bite is an opportunity to teach manners and every opportunity lost makes unlearning harder.

To give some dramatic effect to the end-of-play message, you could let out a high pitched yelp when the dog’s teeth makes contact with your skin. This draws the attention of the dog to his own action. Subsequently, walking away builds the cause and effect relationship — between biting and end-of-play.

One thing to keep in mind is that dogs chew when they are teething or under stress. It’s a stress buster. So after a 30 second time out, it’s a good idea to give the dog something exciting to chew on. Like frozen carrots, raw chicken feet, raw bones, unsalted dried fish, raw hide chews that are commercially available or just a coconut with husk. But do not resume play and do not reward immediately with something to chew on. That way, chewing on your extremities is not misconstrued to be a way of asking for chew toys.

As long as everyone in your household are on board with these boundaries and enforcement starts with the first little nibble, you should see the habit disappear in about three weeks. So here’s to a toothless week.

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