Humans and dogs coexist in a remarkable manner, especially when considering that at their very core, dogs are still wild animals with a mind of their own. Occasionally, we are reminded of this fact, in the form of a growl, nip, or even a bite when something makes our pets unhappy or fearful. However, a biting dog is a very dangerous dog, no matter the reason for the bite. Every owner should understand how to stop a dog from biting.
Reasons dogs bite
Before you can understand how to stop a dog from biting, you need to understand why dogs bite in the first place. Listed below are the common reasons that dogs bite, along with their solutions.
Lack of Training
Sure, it can be cute when your puppy is nipping at your heels, gnawing on your arm, or biting at your fingertips. However, allowing this behavior as a puppy leads to an adult dog who uses his or her mouth to continue to interact with the world in a dangerous way. While it is natural for a dog to want to use its mouth, the owner should redirect this style of play with more appropriate toys. For instance, if your dog is gnawing on your arm, present him or her with a chew toy, instead. If your dog nips at you when he or she becomes overly exciting during a play session, emit a yelp or shriek of your own, and then walk away and end play time. After a couple instances of losing a playmate, your dog will readjust his or her actions.
Dogs deal with stress in one of two ways: fight, or flight. Especially when a dog is confined, either because it is on a leash or has been backed into a corner, a scared dog will bite. However, knowing when a dog is acting out due to fear, as opposed to dominance or territorial aggression, can be difficult. The best way to understand your dog’s behavior is to have knowledge of its history, and to also understand canine body language. For instance, if you have a rescue dog that had been abused in the past, your pet may be fearful of people who resemble its abuser. This fear will cause growling and snapping anytime certain people (or dogs, or objects) come near.
You can recognize fear by looking at your dog’s body language. If your dog has its tail tucked between its hind legs, is crouching down, has fur raised, ears laid back, and lips slightly curled, you should be aware that your dog is afraid and ready to attack.
To overcome fear aggression, a dog needs to be properly socialized. Oftentimes, it is best to enlist the help of a certified dog trainer who specializes in rehabilitating fearful dogs. For mild cases, simply introducing your dog to the stimuli that causes the fear response of biting is important. Start from a distance and provide your dog with plenty of positive praise, including high-value treats. The goal is to change your dog’s association with the feared person or object from being scared to having positive interactions.
Some dogs try to bite other animals and humans because they are trying to assert their dominance. This can be an inherent trait to the dog, or can be due to poor training. The best way to determine the dog’s intentions is again to look at body language. A dog that is asserting dominance will raise its tail in the air, perk its ears forward, stand with weight distributed mainly on front legs, and curl its lips to show all of its teeth before biting.
There are a number of ways to stop a dominant dog from biting. First, if your dog is a male and has not yet been neutered, this is one solution that may decrease the incidence of dog bites. Next, you should consider how your dog was trained. Some dogs that have dominant tendencies feel the need to take over the role of “alpha" within a household if the owner does not provide adequate leadership. The role of alpha includes protecting the “pack," which is why this dog may turn towards displays of aggression. The owner should always assert calm dominance, by providing routine discipline for the dog and enforcing rules, such as asking the dog to sit down before being fed, or not allowing the dog on the furniture or bed.
One of the most common reasons that a dog will bite another dog or human is because of resource guarding or food aggression. If your dog snarls, snaps, growls, or bites when another dog or human approaches the food dish, dog toys, treats, or certain areas of the house, such as a favorite couch or dog bed, then resource aggression is an issue for your dog. Resource guarding can be very serious and should be approached with the help of an animal behavioral specialist. All toys and food bowls should be removed from the dog’s reach and only given in a controlled manner. For instance, a food aggressive dog should always be fed in a confined area, where another animal or person will not bother him or her.
A dog can be conditioned not to guard food or toys through positive reinforcement by offering a better reward in place of the item the dog is currently guarding. For instance, during meal time, a high-value treat, such as cheese or liver, can be offered to the dog instead. This will teach your pet not to fear that others are wishing to steal his or her food.
What Not to Do
When teaching a dog to stop biting, it is important never to use aversive methods (i.e. hitting, yelling, electronic collar, etc.) unless specifically advised to do so by a dog training professional. In many instances, these techniques can elicit more aggression and biting from a dog if used improperly, making the situation worse. Never wait for your dog to bite someone: always try to correct behavior before it becomes a bigger issue.