Puppies are the cutest, no matter their breed. There’s just something about how clumsy they are and the way they’re nibbling on your hand playing one second and passed out in your lap sleeping the next. As any dog owner knows, though, puppies have to be taught very early that biting is not an acceptable form of play.
This is especially true when it comes to pitbull puppies and biting. Pitbulls don’t just bite and let go, they hold on and shake what they’re biting. This can lead to tremendous damage to tissue, bone, skin and muscle. Understanding why puppies bite and how to appropriately train this habit away is one of many ways to successfully raise a pitbull.
Understanding Mouthing, Biting and Nipping
All puppies, no matter their breed, explore the world and others in it with their mouths. They chew, taste and drag things. These behaviors are completely normal. Mouthing is a very light action, almost a holding of an object with the mouth. For the most part, it’s related to teething and offers comfort as teeth grow and irritate the gums. You’ll notice an uptick in this behavior once your puppy starts losing its first teeth and its adult teeth start growing in.
Puppies will often outgrow this behavior on their own as their adult teeth grow in. In every dog I’ve had, including my current and second pitbull, mouthing has diminished by 8-10 months and then there has been a resurgence around two years of age.
All puppies, pitbull or not, should be given toys of different textures that can serve as a better item to mouth and chew on than your band. Nylabones are a great help along with tough, durable stuffed toys.
Bite inhibition is your pitbull puppy’s ability to control how hard it bites. It’s surprisingly easy to teach and should start immediately upon bringing puppy home. One of the best parts about this type of training is it is effective when applied consistently and rarely results in any sort of frustration or tantrum-throwing on the part of your dog.
How to Teach Bite Inhibition to Pitbull Puppies
The key to any dog training and what all members of your household and guests must understand is consistency. When we adopted our now year-old pit he was about 8 weeks old and terrified of people. We host people regularly in our home and simply put out an email saying that we’d be dealing with a new pup and that we needed people to understand a few things before they came over. Namely, that he needed to be ignored (he is low confidence and this is the only way to gain his friendship). The second rule was that if he did take to you, it was vital to stop any biting behaviors. Here’s how.
When your puppy is especially young it may mouth for comfort. This behavior may not bother you or members of your family however there needs to be a clear understanding that any time there’s pressure applied or the mouthing becomes biting, it must be stopped.
The easiest way to stop biting and teach the skill of bite inhibition? Yelp! Puppies learn from their mom and littermates and from other dogs as they get socialized that a high-pitched, quick yelp means, “Nope!” and serves as a warning that repeating that behavior will likely end in something the puppy won’t like.
Speak to your dog in its own language: when it applies pressure and bites, just yelp and have your hand or foot or other part go limp. This takes the dog by surprise and teaches her very quickly. You should start this at the first sign of bite pressure from your puppy.
There are several things to keep in mind when training your pitbull puppy not to bite.
- Don’t entice your puppy. Waggling fingers get puppies’ attention but also entice puppies to bite. Do not wag your fingers in your puppy’s face. If you notice your puppy is attracted to a certain behavior or movement, make sure you yelp.
- Don’t ignore or isolate your puppy. Puppies require human interaction because they are pack animals. They require lots of bonding, and play is a form of that. Isolating or ignoring your puppy will reduce trust and can lead to anxiety.
- Supervise children and guests. Make sure that children and guests know they must not allow biting when playing with your pitbull puppy and must instead yelp and go limp. Those who cannot do this should not interact with the puppy.
- Offer a distraction. If your puppy is reaching for any part of you or your clothing with its mouth, offer a favorite toy to distract it. Pulling away quickly can often result in the puppy lunging to
- Never, ever hit or yell at your puppy. Scaring a puppy can cause an aggressive reaction and severely hinders your puppy’s trust in you. The best training comes from positive reinforcement and trust, never from fear. For these reasons, the quick, sharp, high-pitched yelp and offering a distraction consistently is the best way to train a mouthing puppy not to nip or bite.
When to Call a Professional
It’s surprisingly easy to teach a puppy bite inhibition. In the event your puppy is exhibiting signs of aggression, however, contact your veterinarian for recommendations on professional training.
Warning signs include lunging and growling, snapping, not letting go when you signal with a yelp, raised hackles (the hair near the back of your dog’s neck) or taking an aggressive stance (getting rigid and positioning himself over you).
The sooner you reach out for professional help, the sooner your puppy’s behavior can be corrected.
Keep Your Vet in the Loop
While you may immediately call a trainer or sign up for a class, be sure to also alert your vet to any aggressive behaviors. Sometimes a dog is aggressive because of illness or injury. For example, while some dogs immediately show stiffness when developing tick-borne illnesses, others will get snippy because it hurts them to be touched. Your vet may wish to run a quick panel if aggressive behaviors appear out of the blue and this can be the difference between a simple remedy and more costly procedures down the line.
All puppies, pitbull and otherwise, will mouth, nip and bite from a young age. This behavior is normal and generally stops around 8-10 months with the possibility of another round around 2-3 years. A quick yelp to alert your dog to lessen its grip is the best, proven way to teach a dog that biting a person is not okay. Remember, puppies grow up and pitbulls, while no any more likely to bite than any other dog, can cause damage if they bite as adults when they shake. Just work with your puppy from the start and they’ll learn acceptable uses of their mouth and the valuable trait of bite inhibition.