If you’re a dog owner, learning how to stop a dog from biting is a top priority. Dog owners are responsible for their dogs; no one wants their dog to bite a family member, stranger, or another animal.
Unfortunately, biting behavior isn’t uncommon in dogs. In some cases, the behavior is completely natural. Puppy biting, for example, is a normal part of development. Biting because a dog feels threatened or is sick is also instinctive.
Still, teaching your dog not to resort to biting is crucial. Below, we discuss why dogs bite and what you can do to prevent it.
Dog Bites By The Numbers
Dog bites are a fairly common occurrence in the United States. Each year, dogs bite over 4.5 million people. The vast majority of them are children who are more likely to be severely injured by a dog bite.
Not only is the idea of a dog biting a child heartbreaking, but it is also costly. In 2021, insurers paid over $88.1 million in dog bite-related liability claims. And the average cost per claim was over $49,000!
Any dog can bite, but there are ways to prevent it. With training and the right know-how, you can prevent your dog from biting you or anyone else.
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Why Dogs Bite
Learning why dogs bite is the first step in curbing the behavior. Below, we list some of the many reasons puppies and adult dogs might decide to nip or bite.
Biting or chewing can be a healthy behavior in dogs. Chewing on hard things, be it chew toys or your new leather boots, is instinctual and helps keep your dog’s teeth and jaw grow strong.
You can help direct this instinct towards appropriate items by keeping a variety of chew toys on hand. Bones, bully sticks, rawhide, and other dog toys are ideal for keeping your dog’s mouth healthy while deterring bad biting behavior.
Sometimes dogs bite or nip because they’re seeking attention. For example, they might bite or nip at your hands or feet if they’re bored, under-exercised, or need play. This behavior is obviously one you’ll want to discourage.
Giving your dog plenty of love and lots of play might help, as will teaching your dog better ways to get your attention.
Puppy biting often comes from teething. As puppies grow new teeth, they’ll have the urge to bite. Having plenty of toys around should help with this phase.
Puppies should learn not to bite your hand or any human skin, even while teething. They should also learn not to bite other dogs too hard when playing. In other words, they should learn bite inhibition.
Most puppies learn bite inhibition from their mothers or litter mates early. When they bite their mother or another puppy too hard, the bite victim will yelp. The reaction teaches the puppy the difference between play biting and real biting.
If a dog is stressed or overstimulated by a new situation, such as its first ride in a car or trip to a new place, it might react by biting.
They also might bite to protect themselves or something they love. If they sense their puppy is in danger or if someone takes away one of their beloved toys, they might react by biting.
Sick or Injured
When a dog is sick or injured, it may not want to be touched or moved. If you try to move the dog or touch them, even though it’s likely to help them, they may react by biting. This is just their way of signaling that they want to be left alone, and it is completely natural.
Preventing Dog Bites
Dog owners are responsible for preventing their dogs from biting, so it’s crucial to understand and work to avoid this behavior. There are several ways to prevent dog bites, but one of the most beneficial is to learn how to work with your dog.
Learn How To Work with Your Dog
Have you ever noticed how responsive service animals are? A well-trained service dog isn’t going to bite or nip. You might think that that level of training is impossible to achieve, but a simple change in your approach can make all the difference.
Rather than teaching the standard verbal commands, like “sit” or “stay,” service dog trainers use body language and a tactic called Operant Conditioning to train their animals.
You probably won’t find these concepts in a book you bought at the local pet store or even in most puppy obedience programs. However, you can learn about it from K9 Training Institute.
K9 Training Institute offers a free workshop led by Dr. Alexa Diaz (one of the most respected service dog trainers in the U.S) and Animal Planet’s Eric Presnall. Together, they teach dog owners a gentle, non-treat-based approach to training their dogs.
The workshop will help you teach your dog to be as calm as a service animal, meaning they won’t bite, bark, chase, beg or partake in any other undesired behavior.
There are other forms of professional help you can seek for your dog, but usually, the problem isn’t with the animal. Rather, the issue is how you, as the dog owner, relate to your pet. Working with K9 Training Institute can make you a better owner, leading to a calmer, better-trained dog.
They are ranked as the #1 Online Dog Training by Animal Wellness Magazine.
Don’t Take Away From Litter Early
Puppies partake in play biting as a normal part of their development. However, razor-sharp teeth that find fingers and feet can be irritating, to say the least. One of the best ways to stop puppy biting and prevent it from becoming an issue later is to avoid removing your dog from its litter too young.
While in the litter, puppies learn bite inhibition by playing with their mother and littermates. If a puppy bites one of its litter mates too hard, the other pup will respond with a high-pitched yelp. This teaches them the difference between playful mouthing and full-blown biting.
If your dog left the litter a little too early, you’re not completely out of luck. You can stop puppy biting by mimicking the same high-pitched yelp when they bite your fingers or toes.
You’ll need to pay close attention to your dog’s behavior patterns to do this properly. Most puppies will respond to your yelp appropriately and back off, but some will become more excited and seek further reactions from you.
If your dog seems to be getting more excited, don’t give any further response. Instead, tuck your arms in your armpits and walk away for a few seconds until the dog calms down.
If you have difficulty curbing your puppy’s biting, talk to your veterinarian or consider working with a professional, such as a certified applied behavioral specialist.
You should also consider using something like the K9 Training Institute’s free workshop. There, you’ll learn the techniques professionals use to train service dogs, allowing you to effectively teach your puppy obedience.
Proper socialization can help curb bad behaviors in dogs, including biting.
Socialization, especially early on, gives dogs confidence and reduces anxiety. Situations involving lots of dogs and different people become less novel, so your dog won’t feel threatened by new things. When a dog is calm in their surroundings, they’re unlikely to bite or display aggressive behavior.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) recommends socializing puppies early and often, especially during the first three months of life. Starting socialization classes at 7-8 weeks is ideal and should be safe as long as your dog has received their vaccines.
Though the AVSAB states that the first three months are the most crucial for teaching socialization, they also encourage owners of older puppies and dogs to continue socializing.
There’s a caveat, though. If your dog or puppy displays fear or aggression, you should seek professional help from a veterinarian or certified professional dog trainer.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Learning how to get a dog to stop biting begins with learning how to train correctly. Resources like the K9 Training Institute (Free Workshop Starting Soon) can be a huge help in that regard.
One of their key training concepts is gentle or non-harsh training which relies on positive reinforcement rather than aggressive tactics.
If you’re rough with your dog during training or encourage rough play, you’ll promote aggressive behavior, including biting. Instead, use positive reinforcement and gentle play to teach your dog.
Positive reinforcement doesn’t mean constant treats. Treats tend to be an easy fallback for dog parents who want to reinforce good behavior, but they’re transactional by nature. Your dog is only being good to earn a reward.
Verbal praise can lead to a deeper relationship with your pet. Your dog wants to be seen as a good dog and pleasing you can give your dog joy that goes beyond food rewards.
The Spaying or Neutering Debate
Many people believe that spaying or neutering your dog will limit aggression and make bites less likely. However, this is an area where the research is conflicting.
In male dogs, neutering will limit or prevent sexual activities, including being territorial or engaging in risky behaviors. But that doesn’t mean this practice makes your dog less aggressive toward humans.
Some research suggests neutered dogs are more aggressive towards strangers and strange dogs. Veterinarians still recommend spaying and neutering to prevent unwanted litters, but the idea that it reduces aggression towards humans doesn’t bear out in current research.
How To Interact With Dogs To Prevent Biting
Sometimes keeping a dog from biting comes down to your approach in the specific situation. Even the best-trained dogs may bite when they’re in pain or feel threatened. You can avoid this by learning dog body language and understanding their specific warning signs.
Growling, snapping, raised fur, a rigged posture, or rapid tail wagging are all signs of aggression that tend to precede biting. If you notice any of these in your dog, you should try and remove them from the situation.
If you notice these signs in a stray dog or unfamiliar dog, you should do the following:
- Don’t approach the dog.
- If the dog corners you, remain calm. Avoid eye contact and stay still. Never run or scream. Eventually, the dog should stop paying attention to you. Then you can back away slowly.
- If the dog knocks you over, roll into the fetal position, cover your head and face, and remain still.
- If the dog seems injured, don’t attempt to move or comfort it. Call animal control to handle the situation.
When dealing with unfamiliar dogs that aren’t displaying signs of aggression, there are still a few best practices to abide by doing the following:
- Always ask the owner if the dog is friendly before approaching.
- Never put your face close to the dog’s mouth.
- Don’t approach a sleeping dog, an eating dog, or a dog who’s caring for puppies.
- If you have permission to approach the dog, crouch to the dog’s side. Then, put your hand out and allow them to sniff it before you try to pet it.
What To Do If Your Dog Bites Someone
Your dog biting someone else is a worst case scenario that no one wants to imagine. Unfortunately, it happens. If you’re caught in that situation, here’s what to do.
First, confine the dog. Then, attend to the victim. Wash the bite thoroughly with soap and warm water, apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment if you have it, and then use a clean bandage to wrap the wound.
After that, the victim should seek medical attention right away. The doctor will want information about the dog, including whether it had all the necessary vaccines, especially its rabies vaccine.
In most cases, learning how to stop a dog from biting comes down to training your dog correctly. Dogs usually bite when they feel threatened or are in pain. Early socialization and exposure to various situations are crucial to prevent this. Also important is practicing positive reinforcement and gentle training techniques.
Utilizing free resources like the K9 Training Institution’s free workshop is a great place to start. With a little knowledge and regular practice, you can ensure your dog doesn’t bite, even in stressful situations.
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