I’ve noticed that reforming problem dogs is getting harder. Why? Because dog owners are now well-trained, and one of the most influential trainers in the education of the modern dog owner is Ian Dunbar, in particular, his concept of “bite inhibition.”
Ian Dunbar: “I shall repeat over and over: teaching bite inhibition is the most important aspect of your puppy’s entire education.”
Dunbar breaks the regime down into two phases. First teach the pup to inhibit the force of its bite, and then, teach the pup to decrease the frequency of its mouthing. He encourages an owner to rough house with their dog, without a toy, and then gradually lower the point at which they fake pain at the jaws of their “little bully.” It is expected that gradually the pup will begin to calibrate the pain thresholds of our soft-skinned and weak-kneed species.
Before I object to this in terms of my model for the animal mind, let us first consider an amazing feat of self-restraint from the sports world.
A major league hitter steps up to the plate, steroid-addled muscles bulging in the desire to smash the ball hard enough to rip its hide off. But during the course of the game it becomes necessary to advance a base runner into scoring position. So rather than swing as hard as possible, against everything this man has yearned for since he began his baseball career many years earlier in Little League, with just a nick of the bat he lays down a pathetic little dribble that hopefully won’t carry very far as he tries, usually in vein, to outrace the throw to first. What kind of training could have possibly prepared this player for the ultimate act of sacrifice on a baseball diamond? Surely to achieve such self-restraint, bunting must have been one of the very first things ingrained into a ball player when they start out in the game.
Yet when my kids, like all other kids in America, were introduced to recreational softball back in the pee wee days, it began with what is called “Tee Ball.” A big, fat juicy ball is placed on top of a two foot tall rubber Tee and it sits there, just waiting to be smacked. Even if the child misses the ball, the bat will hit the Tee and put the ball in play and the crowd will scream and cheer. In other words, before any rules, regs and the finer points of the game of baseball are addressed, all that matters is the foundational imprint of what it feels like to make full, hard contact with the ball. This imprint never changes, from the sandlot to a major league stadium, the harder you hit the ball, the louder the crowd roars.
This imprint sustains every act of learning thereafter and we should take stock of how effective it is. The best major league hitters are going to get a hit only one out of three at bats. Most often they strike, fly or ground out. And even when they get a hit, only a minority of these are going to be a satisfyingly full square crushing of the ball. And when the game warrants it, the batter will lay down his bat for the good of the team because this has become part of the flow of the game he has grown to love.
In the eighties I attended a Dunbar seminar and the topic turned to police dogs. He suggested that rather than a dog biting a fleeing felon, it should be trained to knock him down instead. And when searching a building, a dog should be trained to return to its handler at the point of entry and bark once if it found an unarmed intruder, twice if the intruder was armed. This is when I first grasped that modern science sees the dog as a learning machine rather than as an emotional being. Dunbar didn’t understand that the one and only reason a police dog chases criminals and searches buildings, no-matter-what, is because of the drive to bite. And this it turns out is also the reason why one can train a police dog in “minimal force” (i.e hold criminal at bay without biting) because this too can become part of the flow of the hunt the dog can grow to love.
If you are finding yourself needing to teach your puppy bite inhibition, you’re already on the wrong path. Teaching a puppy not to bite is like putting a stopper in a flask of fermenting solution. The pressure will only build. Nine out of ten dogs are not likely to bite no matter how they are developed, but they all will develop some kind of a kink or quirk that will for the rest of their lives afflict their capacity to learn efficiently. And one out of ten that are predisposed to bite, will as adults become emotionally unstable and prone to serious aggression later in life. So don’t teach your pup not to bite, teach him what to bite, when to bite, how to bite, where to bite and WHY to bite (because you want him to). In this way your dog will learn to be as confident as a major league ball player willing to lay down a bunt for the good of the team.
Bite Inhibition In Terms of an Energy Model
Consciousness is a cycle wherein the individual projects emotion outward onto objects of attraction, i.e. puts out a “ping,” and then this is returned as a either a ping (predatory aspect) or a pong (preyful essence). In this feedback loop, the proverbial “stream,” the jaws are a faculty of apprehension, a dog feels what it is attracted to in its jaws, just as we can tell at a distance how something will feel in our hands. If the dog feels grounded in the object of attraction, emotion then radiates from the jaws and diffuses through the whole body so that it becomes compartmentalized into erogenous zones which informs the dog how to connect with what it’s attracted to, without biting, sometimes just by being there, no jumping, no nothing, just feeling in the flow of the other being’s presence. A dog will no more bite this other being than it will bite itself. The dog’s sense of its self now incorporates this other being.
This faculty of discrimination that feels what another feels and sensually organizes the body/mind to complement it so that a raw response becomes a refined one, is Temperament. It calibrates the individual to the sensitivity thresholds of what it is attracted to so that it can automatically gage its responses accordingly. Whereas if a puppy is put into a situation that is too intense for its developing temperament, it will get stuck in the prey instinct load/overload syndrome wherein millions of years of evolved instinct is commanding the pup to grab something with its mouth as it doesn’t feel in the flow. It has to get grab something with its jaws in order to keep its grip on reality. Needless to say one shouldn’t put a puppy into this kind of situation. We do not need to teach a dog how to get along in our world by not biting. We need to develop its temperament. If you are teaching your puppy not to bite, you are doing something wrong.