Avoid injury (and legal liability): train your dog to bite gently!

Does your puppy chew up everything in sight? Does it mouth you playfully, or make a mess of your newspaper, footwear, favorite pair of jeans, or any other object within its reach?

This behavior is not unique to your puppy—it’s a stage that every puppy goes through. There are two reasons for puppies’ mouthy behavior:

  • Just as babies explore the world with their hands, puppies explore their surroundings with their mouths. This is why they smell, lick, and bite everything they encounter.
  • At four to six months of age, puppies start losing their baby teeth, which are replaced by adult teeth. During this stage, their gums are sore; as a result, they will chew on anything to ease the discomfort.

While mouthing and playful biting are perfectly normal, this behavior should never be encouraged.

Playful Mouthing Should Be Nipped in the Bud.

If you do not discipline your puppy when it mouths or nips you, it may never learn that biting people is wrong. While you might find it cute when your little pup tries to nip you, you may not feel the same way when your fully grown dog bites someone.

Dogs are so likable and faithful that we sometimes forget that they are carnivores with hardwired predatory instincts. They have powerful jaws and sharp teeth, with which they can inflict serious damage.

Consider the following scenarios:

  • A child is playing in the garden, where your dog is sleeping. The child accidentally falls on the dog.
  • Your neighbor sees your dog, and tries to pet it. When his watch gets caught on the dog’s collar, he tries to free himself, inadvertently pulling on the collar.
  • On his way to the bathroom, your elderly father fails to notice your dog sleeping on the floor, and inadvertently steps on the dog.

In each of these scenarios, the dog’s reaction depends entirely on its training. If it is trained not to bite, or at least trained to control its bite pressure, the dog is likely to react in one of the following ways, depending on its temperament:

  • Cry in pain and run away.
  • Growl in pain and snap at the person who caused the pain, without biting.
  • Bite the person without applying too much pressure, so that he or she is not injured.

On the other hand, if the dog has never had any bite inhibition training, it is likely to react aggressively and could injure someone. An encounter with an untrained dog can result in a severe bite with serious injuries—and sometimes, a serious lawsuit.

Without bite inhibition training, the consequences of a dog bite can be severe—and sometimes, potentially lethal.

The consequences of getting bitten by a dog which has not undergone bite inhibition training can be serious. Depending on the severity of the bite, the injured person might require first aid, sutures, or even surgery. It also depends on the dog’s breed – the bite of a Beagle is not the same as the bite of a Doberman.

Apart from the medical consequences, there might be legal consequences to a severe bite injury from a dog that has not received any bite inhibition training. Under Ohio law, a person who suffers an injury as a result of a dog bite can sue the dog’s owner and seek compensation for medical treatment as well as lost income and other damages associated with the injury.

If the bite victim can prove that the dog’s owner acted in a malicious or reckless manner, the victim may also be entitled to punitive damages. In an extreme situation, if the dog has injured someone before and is determined by a court to be a vicious dog, its owner can be ordered to securely confine and/or muzzle the dog, or even to have the dog euthanized.

It is in your—and your dog’s—best  interest to give bite inhibition training to your dog so that it won’t apply too much jaw pressure if it bites anyone.

If you are bitten by someone else’s dog, you are entitled to compensation. You can count on Slater & Zurz LLP to evaluate your dog bite claim and recommend the best path forward. You can benefit from our extensive experience handling dog bite claims by calling our offices or sending us an email. We will give you a free consultation, assess your claim, and let you know what to expect.

Bite inhibition training teaches your dog to control its bite pressure, which may prevent injuries in the future.

Bite inhibition refers to the ability of a dog to voluntarily control its bite pressure so that it doesn’t cause any damage to the person or animal on the receiving end. This is something that most puppies learn naturally from their mothers and their littermates.

Young puppies tend to chase after one another, wrestle each other, and bite each other—and their mother—playfully.

Once in a while, a puppy might bite a littermate too forcefully. When that happens, the victim usually lets out a loud yelp, stops playing for a while or bites back. As a result, the puppy who bit its littermate understands that it has done something wrong.

Unfortunately, not all puppies stay with their mothers or littermates long enough to learn how to bite without causing injury. If you bring home a puppy less than six weeks old, it is your responsibility to teach it to control its bite pressure while it is young.

Early bite inhibition training is necessary because dogs develop strong jaws and canine teeth by the fifth month. If they are not fully trained by that time, even their playful bites can hurt someone badly, since dogs might not realize their own strength.

There are many ways to train your puppy to control its bite pressure.

  • Puppy Play Dates

Puppies tend to learn the importance of bite inhibition faster when they socialize with other puppies and dogs, rather than people. Supervised play dates, where your puppy can play with other pups or adult dogs, can be an excellent learning experience.

The pups and dogs that are brought to these play dates are usually well trained and well behaved. Because the play date is supervised, it is the ideal setting for your puppy to learn to control its bite pressure.

  • Training the Puppy Yourself

Play dates can help your puppy to learn and understand that it needs to control its bite pressure while playing with its own kind. What’s even more important is that the puppy learn the same thing with respect to human beings.

If your puppy does not know that human skin is sensitive, the pup might apply too much pressure – albeit unintentionally – while playing with you. It’s very important to let your puppy know that it should be gentle while playing with or interacting with human beings in social situations.

Here are some of the steps involved in bite inhibition training:

  • Good Dog, Bad Dog Comments

If your puppy bites you, let out a high-pitched “ouch!” and stop playing. Your puppy is likely to stop biting you immediately, as it realizes that it has done something bad. If the pup does not stop, you can say something like “you are a bad doggie” or “I won’t play with you” in a stern manner, and turn away.

If your pup starts licking the area where it bit you and looks at you apologetically, praise the pup by saying “you are a good doggie” or “I like you” in a friendly tone, and then resume playing.

  • Leaving the Room

If crying “ouch!” or reprimanding your puppy in a stern voice does not work, you can simply stop playing and ignore the pup for a minute. If it does not relent, just get up and leave the room. You can even shut the door in your puppy’s face for added drama.

Leave your pup alone for a few minutes. After the time-out, re-enter the room and resume playing. If the pup bites you again, repeat the same procedure until your puppy understands that you will leave the room every time it bites you.

  • Redirecting

If your puppy bites you hard, let out a yelp to make it pause. When it does, give your puppy something safe to chew on – a bone, stuffed animal, or chew toy. This method is called redirecting since it requires you to redirect your puppy’s attention from your body to an inanimate object.

This method works with most puppies since it involves two steps. First, you tell the puppy that it is not okay to bite you by letting out a loud yelp.

Second, you show the puppy what it can bite or play with. As a result, your puppy understands what it is not allowed to do (biting human beings) and what it is allowed to do (biting inanimate objects) at the same time.

  • Hiding the Treat

Sometimes, your puppy might not bite you intentionally, but might be too aggressive while eating a treat out of your hand, hurting you.

If this happens, simply close your fist with the treat still inside and wait until the pup softens its bite. Once it does, open your hand again and feed the puppy. Repeat this every time your puppy bites – even unintentionally – while eating a treat.

  • Teaching Your Pup to Lick, Not Bite

Smack a little peanut butter or jam on your hand and allow your puppy to lick it off. If the puppy tries to eat using its teeth, take your hand away and say “no bite.” Wait a few seconds and then lower your hand again. Repeat this procedure until your pup understands that it is okay to lick you, but it is not okay to bite you.

  • Commanding it to Stop Biting

Any time you want your puppy to stop biting you, say “no bite,” “stop,” or “off” in a stern voice. It is best to use the same word or phrase each time the puppy bites you. If the puppy stops biting, reward its good behavior by offering a treat. Repeat this procedure again and again so that your puppy understands that it should stop biting immediately on command.

The method can be used not just to teach your puppy not to bite, but also to control any sort of aggressive behavior. The idea is to make your puppy understand that it should stop doing whatever it is doing upon hearing the command.

  • Petting with One Hand, Giving a Treat with the Other

When you pet, scratch, or stroke your puppy, it might get excited and try to bite your hand playfully. If you encourage the behavior, the puppy might mistakenly think that it is okay to bite people when they try to pet it.

To discourage this behavior, have a box of treats by your side when you pet your puppy. Pet it with one hand and when it tries to mouth you, feed the pup a treat using your other hand. Do it regularly until the puppy gets used to being touched and petted by people without having the urge to bite them.

  • Using a Taste Deterrent

You can apply a taste deterrent on your clothes, footwear, and other objects that you do not want your puppy to sink its teeth into. You can also spray the taste deterrent on your arms and legs before you start playing with the pup. The smell of the deterrent itself might prevent your puppy from biting you. Even if it tries to bite you, it will let go of you immediately due to the bitter taste.

You can try using the deterrent a few times, until your pup understands that mouthing or biting people will have bitter consequences. It is equally important to praise the pup or give it a treat every time it stops biting you. This way, the pup can associate bitterness with bad behavior (biting people) and something pleasurable with good behavior (not biting people).

  • Consider Using a Peppermint Spray

Peppermint spray is not a pleasant training method and should be employed only if all the above methods fail (which is not likely with 99% of puppies).

Keep a peppermint or spearmint spray by your side while playing with your puppy. When it tries to bite you, yelp loudly, as mentioned above. When the puppy pauses, squirt a small amount of the spray into its mouth. Your puppy is not likely to enjoy the smell, taste, or the sensation in its mouth.

Every time your puppy tries to bite you, use the spray so that the puppy associates the unpleasant taste and sensation with its mouthy behavior and learns to keep its aggression in check.

There are three reasons why this method is meant to be used only as a last resort:

  • Some dog owners might be uncomfortable with the thought of punishing a puppy for something it does accidentally.
  • If you don’t aim properly and spray the puppy’s eyes, it can be extremely painful, causing the puppy to become more aggressive.
  • If you do not spray quickly, your pup might spot the spray can in your hand and reach for it. This may turn into a tug of war or a wrestling match, which is the last thing you want while training your puppy.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do as part of bite inhibition training:

  • Do not wave your fingers or toes in your puppy’s face, as this can encourage the pup to bite.
  • Do not abruptly yank your hand or foot away from your pup while the pup is mouthing you. It might seem like a game to your pup and encourage the pup to bite you again. More importantly, if your pup has dug its teeth into your skin, you might injure yourself by jerking your hand or leg away suddenly.
  • Do not stop playing with your pup just because it bites you. The solution to your puppy’s mouthy behavior is bite inhibition training, not isolation and neglect. Pets need human interaction. The more they interact with people, the better behaved they tend to be.
  • Do not try to close your puppy’s mouth forcefully with your hands, hit the pup on the nose, or do an “alpha roll” to show it who controls whom. Physical punishment is often counterproductive, as it can scare your puppy away from you, which defeats the whole purpose of adopting a pet in the first place.

Secondly, physical punishment can increase aggression in animals. So, teach and train your puppy patiently rather than trying to scare the pup into changing its behavior. Don’t use physical force unless your dog is doing something terribly wrong and is not responding to your voice at all.

You can seek professional help for your dog’s bite pressure training.

If training your puppy is too challenging for you, you should contact a professional dog trainer or an animal behaviorist. A professional can train your dog, teach it to control its bite pressure, and instill a sense of obedience in the pup.

Hiring a professional costs money. Fortunately, in most cases, professional training should not be necessary.

Train your puppy early.

Whether you decide to train your puppy yourself or seek professional help, training should begin when the puppy is young enough to learn quickly. Young pups are easier to control and train than adult dogs. Ideally, your dog should be properly trained in bite inhibition by the time it is three months old.

If you are bitten by someone else’s dog, trust a full-service law firm to protect your interests.

Dog bites can have serious consequences. As a responsible dog owner, you may hesitate to file a claim against the owner of a dog that has bitten you. Although it’s rare, even the gentlest dog can react to unanticipated stimuli with tragic results. If you’ve been injured by someone else’s dog, you deserve to be compensated, even if the dog that bit you was usually as well-behaved as your own dog. Once your medical issues are under control, reach out to an experienced law firm with expertise in dog bite cases.

Like so many others who have placed their trust in us, you can count on Slater & Zurz LLP to thoroughly evaluate your rights, answer your questions, and recommend the best path forward for you, based on your circumstances and the expertise we’ve developed over the years handling dog-bite cases. Call or email our team of seasoned professionals for a free consultation. We’re here to serve your legal needs with compassion, dedication, and the drive to win.

 

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