Why bite inhibition is so important

I’ve heard a million stories of this happening, but had never experienced it myself, so I wanted to share it.

Last night I was working VERY late, sitting on the couch with the laptop in my lap. The dogs were sound asleep on various surfaces around me, dreaming of having a yard again. At about 5 AM I got up to get a drink of water and I absent-mindedly cupped my hand around the face of one of the dogs as I went past. 

It honestly doesn’t matter which dog it was; none of them are more dangerous (to me, at least) than a chipmunk. But she must have been having a very weird dream or just felt very startled, because as I pulled my hand away I realized that I had felt teeth on my palm and fingers.

It really was just that way – as I was straightening up I REALIZED that there had been teeth there. I had felt not even a tiny bit of pressure or pain; coming out of a dead sleep with a feeling that she was very threatened, she had still held her jaws rigidly open as she “bit.” 

Poor thing was absolutely HORRIFIED as she came fully awake. Such wiggling and yawning and shaking (not shivering, but shaking like she was wet – dogs do it when they are trying to recover from feeling very tense) I have rarely seen. She didn’t stop apologizing for many minutes. 

But that’s not the point, of course – if she didn’t have such an automatic and perfect bite inhibition, she could feel as bad as she wanted to feel and my hand would still have been bleeding. 

Teaching bite inhibition – and dogs do this for each other; we can do it but we don’t do it nearly as well as they do – is so crucial specifically because of moments like I had last night. When a dog has the most unprepared, most confused moments of its life, you want the muscles and nerves to choose “open,” not “closed.” 

Like I said, I’ve never had this happen before in my life, over many, many dogs, and I may never have it again. But once is all it takes. If they did not have such flawless bite inhibition, that one event wouldn’t have been a slightly amusing anecdote; it would have been a trip to the ER. 

I am very glad for my little pack; dogs in a healthy group do a great job preparing each other for moments just like this.

By the way, out of curiosity I just did the same thing – walked past the same sleeping dog, put my hands on her face.

I felt her mouth open again – this time so she could give me a big sloppy wipe with her tongue.

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One thought on “Why bite inhibition is so important

  1. Growing up, we had an Afghan who was a rescue. Rules were new to him, and his usual response was a temper tantrum, but occasionally teeth were involved. During his adjustment period, he bit everyone in the family–except me. He typically spent the night in the hallway leading to the bedrooms, mostly in front of my room, guarding. I could trip and fall all over him in the middle of the night, and no bite.

    I guess he had better bite inhibition than we thought!

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