Owning a dog that bites can be a serious issue. You need to be honest about how far your dog’s particular behavior problem has progressed before you can deal with it properly. There are lots of reasons why a dog will bite and there are several levels of biting, from a puppy that nips at your hands to an adult dog that snaps under stress and actually breaks the skin. Your own solution to stop dog biting will depend on your dog’s age, why he bites, and how extreme the biting is.
Know why your dog bites
Biting generally occurs when your dog is put in situations he finds stressful. The more stressors he’s exposed to at one time, the more likely he is to bite. Some common sources of stress include:
Little or no obedience training
Obedience training instills discipline in a dog and builds respect for you as the pack leader. Without proper training, a dog can become unpredictable and uncontrollable, which could cause a biting problem.
Improper or no socialization
If a puppy isn’t introduced to a variety of objects and situations, he can develop abnormal fears. Seeing an umbrella open or a stranger wearing glasses can be frightening for an adult dog that hasn’t been exposed to them. Also, if a puppy gets scared the first time he sees or hears something, he could bite out of fear when he has a similar experience as an adult.
A dog that’s in pain may not want to be bothered. He could bite if you get too close or touch a tender area. Also, a dog that has difficulty seeing or hearing may bite if you accidentally surprise him.
Abused dogs bite frequently out of fear and with little warning. If you think your dog is biting because he was abused, get help from a professional animal behaviorist.
Prevention and management
It’s vital that you stop dog biting as quickly as possible. Your approach will depend on your dog’s age and the severity of his behavior problem.
For young puppies that nip or bite
If you have a puppy that nips or mouths, teach him puppy bite inhibition. By the time he reaches adolescence, he should be able to control his bite pressure and know to stop biting on command.
For older puppies and young dogs that bite
Obedience training is a necessity. It will teach your dog his place in the pack, and give you the tools you need to train alternative behaviors in situations where it’s likely your dog will bite. Practice the bite inhibition exercises as you would with a younger puppy, including the Off and Take It commands. Also, keep track of your dog’s stressors, or those objects and circumstances that make him uncomfortable. This will allow you to avoid situations that might lead to your dog biting.
For adult dogs that bite
If your dog is biting as an adult, it’s imperative that you know his stressors and why he’s biting. Be honest about the situation and seek the help of a professional trainer or animal behaviorist. The solution they offer may be as simple as changing how you interact with your dog and learning to set boundaries. But it’s best not to go any further on your own for the sake of your loved ones, yourself, and your dog.
How to stop a puppy from biting
People often want to stop puppy biting without realizing it’s an essential part of their dog’s development. If your puppy doesn’t bite, he can never learn bite inhibition and may develop behavior problems as an adult. Biting shouldn’t be stopped, but it can be controlled with some simple techniques to teach your puppy how and when to bite.
Practice play biting
The first step in learning how to stop a puppy from biting is to practice play biting. The idea is to give your puppy feedback when he bites so he knows when it’s too hard. Then you can work to eliminate bite pressure altogether. The stages of feedback are:
Stage 1: Teaching Bite Pressure
Begin to play with your pup and allow him to bite your hands. When you feel he has bitten you too hard, say “Ouch!” to stop the biting. If he continues to bite too hard, say “Ouch!” again, leave the room abruptly, and shut the door behind you. Allow your puppy a minute or two to reflect on what he did. Then return to the room and begin playing. Before your puppy reaches three months of age he should be aware of how sensitive people are to puppy biting.
Stage 2: Eliminating Bite Pressure
Begin to play with your puppy as before. His bites shouldn’t hurt at this point, so wait for one that seems harder than the rest and say “Ouch!” as if it really did hurt. Repeat this until your puppy’s bite pressure is completely eliminated. He should reach this point by the time he’s four to five months old.
Stop puppy biting on command
Once your pup knows how to bite softly, you can stop him from biting using the Off command.
Hand-feed to teach Off and Take It
Feed your puppy meals by giving him a few pieces of food at a time from your hand. After he eats several pieces, hold one firmly between your fingers and thumb so he’s unable to get it away. When he sniffs and licks at the food say “Off!”. Your puppy will eventually give up trying to get the food, but the moment he pulls away say “Take It” and offer the piece by letting it fall into your open palm. Repeat this several times. Once your puppy understands the commands, wait longer before offering the piece of food and give him praise while he waits. Hand-feeding your puppy this way will keep his mouth soft when biting and teach him the meaning of Off.
Use Off to stop biting
Once he learns the meaning of Off, you can stop him from biting by using this command. Let your puppy start to bite you and then say “Off!”. Offer him a treat if he stops biting. If he doesn’t, angrily leave the room and shut the door. Wait a few minutes before coming back, but don’t resume the training when you return. Give your puppy a chew toy instead and try again later. It’s best to practice the Off command several times in short sessions. Once your pup has the idea, try the command without offering a treat as a reward.
Tips and advice
Keep the following in mind when trying to control or stop puppy biting:
Don’t let your puppy bite your clothes
If he bites your pants, shirt, or shoes, you can’t tell when your puppy’s biting too hard. Only allow him to bite your hands.
Allow biting only during play biting sessions
Practice play biting regularly as described above. Allow your pup to bite or mouth you only during these sessions and make sure he stops when you ask.
Punishment doesn’t stop a puppy from biting
Your puppy will only stop biting the person who punished him and directs his behavior at someone who’s more tolerant.
Even though it’s an important habit for your puppy to develop, biting can seem bothersome at times. But, by practicing play biting and teaching the Off command, you can bring it under control and allow it on your own terms.
Dog bite prevention
Dog bites are the second leading cause of injuries in children and over 75% of bite cases involve dogs that belong to the victim’s family or a friend. If you bring home a puppy or dog, take the necessary steps to protect your kids with dog bite prevention: supervise them when they play with the dog, teach them dog etiquette to keep the family pet from biting unexpectedly and show them what to do if they come across a stray dog.
Never Leave Kids Alone With A Dog
Even if you think your pet is the sweetest animal in the world, never leave a child unsupervised with a puppy or dog. Kids can be curious and may pull the dog’s ears or poke at him if you’re not around. Having your children and the dog in sight is not enough. Always be in a position to intervene immediately if anything happens, for the safety of your kids and the dog.
Teach Dog Etiquette
After supervision, the most important step in dog bite prevention is to teach your kids how to behave around a puppy or dog. Have your children follow the rules below to keep a dog from biting unexpectedly:
Never grab an object away from a dog
Dogs can be protective of their toys and may bite if you try to take them. If you want the toy, use an obedience command or treat to distract the dog. It’s better to outsmart him than to provoke an unnecessary dog bite.
Never bother a dog when he’s sleeping or eating
Give a dog plenty of space when he’s napping and leave the food dish alone while the dog eats.
Never sneak up on a dog
Always let your puppy or dog know that you’re nearby before you pet him. Let the dog smell your open hand and then slowly reach out to him.
Never bark or growl at a dog or stare into his eyes
These are aggressive behaviors to a dog and could cause him to bite.
Tell an adult if a dog shows any signs of aggression
This includes growling, nipping, or biting.
If your kids warn you of aggressive tendencies in your dog, don’t ignore the situation. The longer you wait to deal with the behavior, the more dangerous your dog will become. The American Family Physician website has information on treating a dog bite in their article Prevention and Treatment of Dog Bites if your child does get bitten.
Once your kids understand the rules of dog etiquette for the family pet, they should learn to protect themselves from stray dogs. The simplest means of dog bite prevention in these cases is to advise your children to avoid dogs they don’t know. If they’re approached by a strange dog, they should never make sudden movements, scream, or try to run away. Tell them to do the following instead:
If you’re standing
Keep your hands at your sides and avoid eye contact with the dog. Slowly back away until there’s a safe distance between you and the dog.
If you’re on the ground
Curl into a ball with your knees pulled close to your chest and hold your hands over your ears. Lie still and be quiet until the dog leaves.
With supervision and knowledge of dog bite prevention, your kids should be safe in the company of almost any dog.