All dogs are capable of biting, regardless if they are young or old, big or small, male or female, or gentle and sweet. Understanding the reasons why some dogs bite is the first step in preventing this negative behavior.
Here are 10 reasons why dogs bite and some tips to help you prevent this from occurring:
1. Puppy Biting
Puppies learn all about the world with their mouths and undergo teething pain, all of which can cause puppies to bite. A lot. This kind of biting is never aggressive, as it’s normal for puppies to bite almost everything they can get their mouths on.
One way to teach a puppy to not bite is to act like the puppy’s siblings. When your puppy bites too hard, you make a high-pitched yelping sound and pull your hand away and don’t play with them for 30 seconds. They eventually learn that the fun stops when they bite hard and will learn to play more gently.
NEVER punish your puppy for playful biting. This will only cause your puppy to fear you and become more aggressive.
For further reading, consider a training book, like this one.
2. Playful Biting (Arousal Biting)
When puppies become adults, some dogs will continue biting during play, and the same tips for puppies also work for adult dogs. Some dogs will nip at your heels, particularly herding breeds (Border Collies, Corgis, Australian Shepherds, etc.). They will attempt to herd you and anyone in your family and biting at the ankles is common.
Start by carrying a favorite toy in your pocket, and when your dog starts to nip at your ankles, pull out the toy as a way of distracting your dog. When your dog goes for the toy and stops the nipping, be sure to praise her.
Teach everyone in the family to carry treats or toys and use the same technique mentioned above. Everyone should also stop moving once the dog starts to nip (think “act like a tree”).
3. Stress Biting
When a dog is under any form of stress, the first step is to recognize the signs of anxiety and stress in your dog.
Here are some signs of stress you might observe in your dog:
Growling for no apparent reason.
Freezing or stiffness in their bodies.
Pacing back and forth.
Shaking/shivering and hiding.
Barking and whining for no discernible reason.
Showing the whites of their eyes
Tail and ears tucked in
Licking the chops and drooling
Excessive panting and yawning
These are the most common signs of a dog that is stressed and anxious. If you see any dog exhibiting these stress signals, approach with caution.
Just recognizing that your dog is stressed out and removing her from the situation is one way of reducing the chances of your dog biting.
Be sure your dog is getting enough exercise and attention.
Sometimes giving your dog a massage will help reduce stress and anxiety.
4. Pestered Biting
This type of biting could fall into the above stress biting, but we think harassment needs its own category. When your dog is looking for a little peace and quiet, but you literally won’t let sleeping dogs lie, some dogs might lash out.
This one is pretty obvious. If your dog wants to sleep or appears to need time alone, leave your dog in peace and ensure everyone in the family understands this.
Teach children to respect They should never pull tails or ears or ride them like a horse. Many dogs are very patient, but you don’t want an unhappy dog or risk a bite.
5. Defensive and Protective Biting
When a dog feels threatened or if resource guarding is an issue, some dogs may resort to aggression. This could include toys, food, the house, and even other family members.
Training your dog is the only way to change this behavior. This includes using treats and praise to encourage good behavior and remove anything that seems to be causing the trouble.
For example, if your dog guards her food, start by standing in the same room as your dog while she’s eating and slowly, over time, work your way closer to her until you can touch her without provoking an aggressive reaction. This takes a lot of time and patience.
6. New Mother Biting
When a female dog has had puppies, her maternal instincts to protect her young are natural. She might react aggressively if she believes they are in danger.
This one is also very obvious. You need to respect the mother dog’s space and her need to protect her puppies.
Start by only allowing one or two family members near mom and her pups. When the puppies’ eyes are open and they start exploring, you can begin the socialization process with the family and eventually friends.
7. Fear Biting
If your dog wasn’t socialized as a puppy or has been abused in the past, she may have developed a fear of strangers. If you startle your dog, regardless of whether it’s accidental or on purpose, your dog may react aggressively.
If you know your dog could bite a stranger out of fear, always warn people of this potential so they don’t risk touching or petting your dog. If an individual ignores your warning, physically place yourself between your dog and the individual.
Train your dog using the tips found in number 5 (defensive and protective biting). You’ll need to use positive reinforcement and desensitization
8. Injury and Illness Biting
Even the sweetest dog could bite when experiencing pain or when feeling unwell. If your otherwise gentle dog is suddenly reacting aggressively, you need to be sure that there isn’t an underlying health issue.
Learn to recognize the signs when your dog is in pain and contact your vet immediately if you suspect there’s a problem.
You also need to know the signs when your dog is feeling sick and whether you need to contact your vet.
9. Alpha Biting
Some dogs believe they are the alpha of the house and will bite in order to establish dominance. This can be seen at times in unneutered males and the more confident breeds such as German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Chihuahuas.
Training is key in this scenario. Look into taking obedience classes or hire an obedience trainer if your dog is particularly dominant.
If training doesn’t seem to help, you will need to observe your dog closely and avoid the scenarios that seem to provoke your dog’s alpha behavior.
10. Misdirected Biting
If a dog is in an aggressive confrontation with another dog and you try to intervene, you might get bitten in all of the confusion, and because of the adrenaline rushing through the dogs.
Never use your hands to break up a dogfight. It’s best to use methods such as sudden loud noises (like a whistle or clapping your hands loudly), throwing water on the dogs, or using an object like an umbrella to push against the dogs.
If your dog is prone to fighting other dogs, always keep your dog on a leash and avoid dog parks. You might also want to speak to a dog behaviorist.
If you’ve tried to curb your dog’s biting issues using these ideas and it’s still a problem, you should speak to your vet or a dog behaviorist in case there’s an underlying issue. There is also some good advice out there on how to handle a random dog attack.
If an unfamiliar dog runs at you aggressively, stand very still with your arms crossed on your chest, and avoid eye contact. Do NOT run away as that will trigger a chase.
If the dog knocks you to the ground, curl up into a ball with your knees pulled up into your chest, then interlock your fingers and cover your neck and ears.
If the dog has clamped down on one of your limbs in a bite, push INTO the bite and do not pull away. You can also use an object (like a bag or umbrella) as a target for the dog to bite, but do not use it to hit the dog.
All dogs are capable of biting, but as long as you are aware of a dog’s body language and know when to leave a dog alone or get her help, you should be able to alleviate the situation. Remember, proper training, socialization, patience, and lots of love are crucial for all dogs.
Emily started this blog out of pure passion. She LOVES her 3 dogs; Chew Barka, Cooper & Nelson, and spends countless hours every day playing with them.
When she’s not nerding out on dogs, you’ll find her on a snowboard or in the kitchen baking chocolate brownies.
She’s been featured in PetAware, Dogtime, and ModernDog.