If you have been around puppies, chances are you would have been at the receiving end of a few bites. At their tender age, it is often one of the ways they learn about the world. Puppies can bite when they are teething, playing, socializing or exploring.
While such behavior can feel cute for a time, it’s best to nip it in the bud if your puppy keeps at it for too long.
Grown-up dogs, on the other hand, bite out of fear or protectiveness. And if you let the behavior go unchecked, it might turn into a habit that is hard to get rid of.
This could have been the case with Commander Biden, whose bite required a member of the US Secret Service to get medical treatment in September 2023. Commander was later shifted out of the White House to make the workplace safer for on-site staff.
Dog biting can stem from various causes, including but not limited to stress and unfamiliar situations. Dogs must be trained not to bite, but before that it is crucial to understand why they do so.
Happiest Health spoke to experts to understand why dogs bite and the best way to prevent it from becoming a regular occurrence.
Why do dogs bite?
Even domesticated dogs tend to bite if they are threatened or frightened. An article published in PubMed Central states that while some dogs can bite even without provocation, your canine companion is not always at fault. “Dogs resent being disturbed while eating and dislike being threatened or feeling that their territory is being invaded, and they can be jealous of attention given to other family members,” it says.
Injuries and illness in dogs are also common reasons for biting. For instance, a dog in pain will naturally snap when approached to play. Moreover, in the case of dogs with separation anxiety, biting could be a sign of distress. It manifests as an attempt to prevent you from leaving home.
And in puppies, teething is a painful phase. Just like infants, they teethe for five to six months — without knowing what is and isn’t acceptable to nip on.
Talking about some common habits that might excite dogs, leading to a bite, Vicky Franklin, canine behaviorist and founder of Fetch-Canine Training and Rehabilitation Centre, Bangalore, says: “Competitive games like tug, overstimulation and heightened food aggression in dogs can increase the chances of biting. It is best to avoid these while working towards preventing this behavior.”
How to prevent dog bites?
Understanding your dogs is the first step to preventing dog bites. “Start noticing the changes in your pooch’s behavior and body language,” says Aditya Parmar, a Bangalore-based dog trainer. “Then, you can identify when they are tired and ensure the necessary time to rest and recharge. Similarly, you can spot if the abundance of energy comes from a lack of exercise, and redirect your dog accordingly.”
Experts suggest a few tips to train dogs not to bite:
- Distinguish between chewable and non-chewable things
“Dogs can be conditioned to chew on certain objects instead of other things that can be hazardous,” says Franklin. This training should start right from puppyhood when the pup can chew on approved objects. “Initially, if they chew on something else, simply take it away and replace it with their chew toy,” he adds. “But if the habit continues, you can correct the behavior with a firm verbal command — ‘No’ — and then [give them] an appropriate chew toy.”
- Socialize your dog
Happy and healthy dogs are less likely to get frightened or bite in unfamiliar circumstances. “Dogs, irrespective of breed, are less likely to bite when placed in an environment that teaches tolerance and sharing,” says Parmar. As your dog socializes with different people and other dogs, they are mentally stimulated and exposed to ample examples of acceptable behavior.
- Positive reinforcements
Franklin suggests a balance of positive reinforcement and correction while training your canine companion. “While teaching your dog not to bite, positive reinforcements and a time-out procedure are beneficial,” Parmar says. While dogs used to only punishment are more likely to respond aggressively, those trained through positive reinforcement, such as treats and praises, are more inclined to react favorably over time.
- Sufficient exercise
Lack of activity can make dogs hyper. Hence, when you approach them to play, they might get overexcited and playfully bite without realizing how much force they are exerting. When dogs are exercised, they have exerted enough energy and are unlikely to snap. Moreover, they are too tired to bite.
- Appropriate training
Training is a crucial part of ensuring that your dog does not bite. By ensuring that they are constantly attuned to your reactions and by training them to obey commands such as ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘leave it’, you can redirect your pooch when necessary.
“Over time, a puppy with no prior history of biting and who has been trained properly is unlikely to bite even when the ‘parent’ is not around,” says Franklin. “A dog with bite history might need longer and more consistent training — rehabilitation could take three months to a year, and its reinforcement can take just as long. But by reinforcing the right behavior, you cut down on chances of the dog biting.”
What to do if your dog bites?
It is important to act immediately and without panicking in case of a dog bite.
The victim should wash the wound thoroughly with soap and lukewarm water, and then seek medical assistance. The rabies vaccine is also necessary when the skin is broken as a result of a bite.
It is crucial to let your pet know that biting hurts you.
Puppies usually learn it when they nip at each other while playing with their littermates or the mother. When one puppy bites the other too hard, they yelp. Likewise, dogs can be trained by making a high-pitched voice — something like ‘Ah, that hurt’ — to help them understand that the bite was painful. This allows them to distinguish between a playful nip and a harsh one, thus moderating the force of the bite. When your dog understands that you were injured, they are likely to avoid repeating the action in the future.
Preventing a dog from biting is not a one-time training — rather, it needs to be constantly reinforced. With consistent training and timely intervention, you can train a dog not to bite.
- Puppies bite when they are teething or while playing. Grown-up dogs, however, bite out of fear or protectiveness.
- Noticing the changes in your pooch’s behavior will help identify when they are tired or in pain and likely to bite.
- You can redirect your pooch from biting with appropriate training and by teaching them to obey verbal commands.