5 main reasons dogs bite
1. Dog possessiveness can cause dog bites.
Protection of property is a common issue and “property” in this case can be anything from toy, food, territory or even a human being. Guard dogs and herding breeds tend to be the worst offenders but this behavior can arise in any dog. Start training early to minimize this kind of possessive behavior. Teaching the “Leave it” command works well in preventing toy aggression. Food aggression can be avoided by teaching your dog to wait while you put their food down. Teach them to sit or lie down and then remove their food and then put it back. Approach the food bowl and occasionally add treats to the food so they understand that someone approaching the bowl is not a bad thing. Teach children not to bother dogs that are eating or enjoying a treat such as a bone.
2. Dog fear can cause dog bites.
Fear is usually directed towards strangers such as veterinarians and postal workers or in unfamiliar situations. Never approach an unfamiliar dog and teach your children to do the same. Fear bites can occur when a dog is startled at home therefore teach children never to sneak up on a dog or bother a sleeping dog. Early socialization is important so that the young dog is exposed to many different people, animals and situations minimizing the risk of a phobia developing. For example, make your first visit to the vet a simple social visit to get a feel for the clinic and meet the veterinary staff. Leave some treats and a note in the mailbox asking your postal worker to give a treat to your puppy.
3. Dog pain can cause dog bites.
Pain can cause the friendliest dog to bite. If your dog has hip dysplasia, severe otitis or any chronic injury, instruct your children to stay away from the sore areas and be gentle handling the dog. If your dog becomes snippy for no reason consider pain as a possible cause and schedule an appointment with your regular veterinarian for a physical.
4. Maternal instincts can cause dog bites.
The most well trained dog can become a biter when she has puppies. Be aware of and respect the maternal instinct around a bitch that has whelped recently. Teach children not to approach a young puppy around the mother and use caution yourself when handling puppies. Make sure the mother and puppies have a place where they can feel safe with minimal distraction.
5. Prey drive can cause dog bites.
Another instinct to be aware of and is sometimes triggered by running or cycling past a dog resulting in a chase. Be aware of your environment if you are jogging or cycling and if you see a roaming dog try to avoid crossing paths. If a dog does give chase then the best things to do is stop moving and stand tall facing the dog. Be aware of the dog but do not make eye contact which can be seen as a challenge by the dog. They may come up and sniff you but will eventually find you uninteresting and move on to find something else. If a dog knocks you over then curl up in a ball protecting your face hands and neck and be still. Teach children to do the same and set up a mock “stray dog” drill.
Dog Bite Warning Signs
Knowing the common triggers that cause dog bites will empower you to avoid these situations. Dog bites are always preceded by behavior that an astute observer can use as a warning and then take steps to reduce the dog’s stress or fear. Ears are typically pinned back, the fur along their back may stand up and you may be able to see the whites of their eyes. Yawning is not an attempt by the dog to appear casual but to show off their teeth and should be considered a warning sign as well. Non-social “stand-offish” behavior such as freezing in response to a touch or look followed by direct intense eye contact back from the dog is another clear sign that he may bite.
How to Stop Dog Biting from Happening
Dog bite prevention begins at home with your own dog by being a responsible dog owner. If you do not intend to breed your dog then having them spayed or neutered will help decrease the risk of bite related behaviors. Exercise and play with your dog on a regular basis to reinforce the human-animal bond and to expend excess energy that might otherwise be directed towards nervous energy. However, avoid aggressive games such as wrestling and tug of war which can lead to dominance issues. Train your dog well, they should know the basic commands such as sit, stay, come and leave it. Don’t allow your dog to roam free where they can be a danger to other people. Do try to socialize your dog and expose him to many different people and situations but take care not to overwhelm him. Keep your vaccinations up to date for a worst case scenario. In most states a dog can be destroyed if they bite someone and they are not up to date on vaccines. Seek professional help from your veterinarian if your dog shows any signs of aggression. If you have children take the time to educate them on how to act around dogs what to watch for and what to do if a dog attacks.
Mouthing, Nipping and Play Biting in Adult Dogs
Most pet parents don’t enjoy dogs who bite, chew and mouth their hands, limbs or clothing during play and interaction. The jaws of an adult dog can cause significantly more pain than puppy teeth, and adult dogs can inadvertently cause injury while mouthing. Mouthing is often more difficult to suppress in adult dogs because adults aren’t as sensitive to our reactions as puppies are, and they’re usually more difficult to control physically because of their size.
Adult dogs who mouth people probably never learned not to do so during puppyhood. It’s likely that their human parents didn’t teach them how to be gentle or to chew toys instead.
Is It Playful Mouthing or Aggressive Behavior ?
Most mouthing is normal dog behavior. But some dogs bite out of fear or frustration, and this type of biting can indicate problems with aggression. It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between normal play mouthing and mouthing that precedes aggressive behavior. In most cases, a playful dog will have a relaxed body and face. His muzzle might look wrinkled, but you won’t see a lot of tension in his facial muscles. Playful mouthing is usually less painful than more serious, aggressive biting. Most of the time, an aggressive dog’s body will look stiff. He may wrinkle his muzzle and pull back his lips to expose his teeth. Serious, aggressive bites are usually quicker and more painful than those delivered during play.
How to Minimize Your Dog’s Mouthing and Nipping
Dogs spend a great deal of time playing, chewing and investigating objects. They also enjoy playing with people, of course. Puppies chew on our fingers and toes, and they investigate people’s bodies with their mouths and teeth. This kind of behavior may seem cute when your dog is seven weeks old, but it’s not so endearing when he’s two or three years old—and much bigger!
It’s important to help your dog learn to curb his mouthy behavior. There are various ways to teach this lesson, some better than others. The ultimate goal is to train your dog to stop mouthing and biting people altogether. However, the first and most important objective is to teach him that people have very sensitive skin, so he must be very gentle when using his mouth during play.
Bite Inhibition: Teach Your Dog to Be Gentle
Bite inhibition refers to a dog’s ability to control the force of his mouthing. A puppy or dog who hasn’t learned bite inhibition with people doesn’t recognize the sensitivity of human skin, so he bites too hard, even in play. Some behaviorists and trainers believe that a dog who has learned to use his mouth gently when interacting with people will be less likely to bite hard and break skin if he ever bites someone in a situation apart from play—like when he’s afraid or in pain.
Young dogs usually learn bite inhibition during play with other dogs. If you watch a group of dogs playing, you’ll see plenty of chasing, pouncing and wrestling. Dogs also bite each other all over. Every now and then, a dog will bite his playmate too hard. The victim of the painful bite yelps and usually stops playing. The offender is often taken aback by the yelp and also stops playing for a moment. However, pretty soon both playmates are back in the game. Through this kind of interaction, dogs learn to control the intensity of their bites so that no one gets hurt and the play can continue without interruption. If dogs can learn from each other how to be gentle, they can learn the same lesson from people.
When you play with your dog, let him mouth on your hands. Continue play until he bites especially hard. When he does, immediately give a high-pitched yelp, as if you’re hurt, and let your hand go limp. This should startle your dog and cause him to stop mouthing you, at least momentarily. (If yelping seems to have no effect, you can say “Too bad!” or “You blew it!” in a stern voice instead.) Praise your dog for stopping or for licking you. Then resume play. If your dog bites you hard again, yelp again. Repeat these steps no more than three times within a 15-minute period.
If you find that yelping alone doesn’t work, you can switch to a time-out procedure. Time-outs are often effective for curbing mouthy behavior in adolescent and adult dogs. When your dog delivers a hard bite, yelp loudly. Then, when he startles and turns to look at you or looks around, remove your hand. Either ignore him for 10 to 20 seconds or, if he starts mouthing on you again, get up and move away for 10 to 20 seconds. If necessary, leave the room. After the short time-out, return to your dog and encourage him to play with you again. It’s important to teach him that gentle play continues, but painful play stops. Play with your dog until he bites hard again. When he does, repeat the sequence above. When your dog isn’t delivering really hard bites anymore, you can tighten up your rules a little. Require your dog to be even gentler. Yelp and stop play in response to moderaely hard bites. Persist with this process of yelping and then ignoring your dog or giving him a time-out for his hardest bites. As those disappear, do the same for his next-hardest bites, and so on, until your dog can play with your hands very gently, controlling the force of his mouthing so that you feel little or no pressure at all.
When Your Dog is Overly Aggressive Towards Other Dogs
Interdog Aggression in Dogs
Inter-dog aggression occurs when a dog is overly aggressive towards dogs in the same household or unfamiliar dogs. This behavior is often considered normal, but some dogs can become excessively aggressive due to learning and genetic factors.
Inter-dog aggression occurs much more frequently in non-neutered male dogs. Common signs usually start appearing when the dog reaches puberty (between six and nine months old) or becomes socially mature at 18 to 36 months. Generally, inter-dog aggression is more of a problem between dogs of the same gender.
Symptoms and Types of Aggression in Dogs
The most common symptoms of inter-dog aggression include growling, biting, lip lifting, snapping, and lunging towards another dog. These behaviors may be accompanied by fearful or submissive body postures and expressions such as crouching, tucking the tail under, licking the lips, and backing away. Typically, before a severe inter-dog aggression incident in the same household occurs, more discreet signs of social control will become noticeable. One tactic a dog may use is staring and blocking the other dog’s entrance into a room. A specific condition sometimes triggers the aggression, even though the dogs normally get along well.
Causes of Aggression in Dogs
The causes of this condition vary. A dog may have become overly aggressive because of its past experiences, including abuse and neglect. For example, it may not have socialized with other dogs as a puppy, or it may have had a traumatic encounter with another dog. Dogs rescued from dog fighting operations also tend to exhibit inter-dog aggression more frequently.
An owner’s behavior may also influence a manifestation of the condition (e.g., if an owner shows compassion for a weaker dog by punishing the more dominant dog). Other reasons for aggression are fear, wanting to protect territory and social status, or a painful medical condition.
Diagnosing Aggression in Dogs
There is no official procedure to diagnose inter-dog aggression. Some symptoms are very similar to canine “play” behavior and excited, non-aggressive arousal. Biochemistry, urine analysis, and other laboratory tests usually yield unremarkable results. But if any abnormalities are identified, they may help the veterinarian find an underlying cause for the aggression.
If a neurological condition is suspected, an MRI scan may be necessary to determine whether it is a central nervous system (CNS) disease, or to rule out other underlying neurological conditions.