Has your dog or puppy recently started nipping?
Whilst young dogs are growing and dealing with new experiences, they will tend to experiment with their behavior, but what can start as rough play, mouthing or nipping can soon turn into more aggressive, and therefore dangerous behavior. So, how do you make sure your dog’s habit to nip doesn’t continue or even develop into something more serious?
Why do dogs bite?
Dogs can bite for many reasons. A bite can be a reaction to a stress or fear stimulus, a sign of illness or pain, or an effort to protect themselves if they feel under threat.
Dogs have some vital needs which, once met, they will try to guard or protect. These vital needs make their lives more comfortable and include shelter or a safe space, food, water, toys, and other stimulating objects.
Some of these needs are very clear since they are truly vital for survival, but your dog will also recognize when any object, even a stick, piece of clothing, or a tennis ball makes them more confident or comfortable, and this will become ‘vital’ to them. Once deemed vital, any situation that puts these items under threat has the potential to cause a bite.
How to stop dog bites
Understanding why your dog might bite is a good step to reducing the chances that they will. Being wary of any situation where you are removing something of value from them, be that food, water, toys, or their access to a safe, quiet space, is crucial.
Dog behavior, particularly aggression, is a complicated subject, where there are lots of conflicting opinions on the best approach. For example, some behaviorists will recommend encouraging your dog to give up items of value from a young age, to get them used to the fact that the object is then replaced, but others feel that a dog should always feel comfortable that their items of value will never be under threat.
Following the advice below will give you some handy tips to stay as safe as possible around your dog and not encourage any dangerous behavior. However, since aggressive behaviors can get out of control quickly, and lead to serious injuries, the most important thing to do is speak to your veterinarian and a certified behaviorist if you have any concerns, however minor.
Playful or aggressive?
Dogs can bite or nip during normal playing behavior, especially when they are young. It can be tempting to ignore innocent behavior like this, but dog parents who have tolerated, or even encouraged, their puppies biting or mouthing them during this playful stage can then end up asking ‘How do I stop my dog from biting me?’ when they get older and it gets out of hand. Even when biting is playful, injuries can occur, so making sure no hands are placed between two playing dogs is sensible.
Mouthing of your hands or feet is a common way that puppies will try to interact with you, but discouraging this is important to stop the behavior from continuing into adulthood. Simply interrupt the game, turn away, and ignore them for a minute or two, keeping your hands and feet out of sight. They’ll soon learn that biting or nipping stops the game, and that’s the last thing they want!
Dogs can also bite as a response to over-excitement, especially if they are young or have had less training. The way to stop your dog from biting when excited is to recognize situations where your dog may become over-excited and provide an alternative outlet in the form of a chew or toy. The worst thing you can do if you want to stop your dog from biting you when excited is to react to it by shouting or saying ‘ouch’ — that noise reaction will probably excite them further and encourage them to continue the game.
How to interact safely with a dog
To be as safe as possible when interacting with a dog, there are a few guidelines to follow:
Firstly, understand the potential triggers of a bite. Most dogs bite from fear, so think carefully about your behavior to make sure you aren’t accidentally being threatening. Don’t loom over the dog — crouch to their level so you’re less scary, and position yourself sideways on, as this is less threatening.
You should also familiarize yourself with the body language that dogs will usually display when they are uncomfortable with the situation that they are in. Signs that your dog might be stressed in a situation include:
- turning face away,
- unusually dark and wide eyes,
If you spot your dog showing these signs, retreat from the situation quietly, or allow your dog the space and opportunity to move away to where they feel safer.
If your dog is in pain or unwell, they are far more likely to bite. If avoidable, do not approach them, and try to avoid touching them unnecessarily, especially somewhere that might hurt.
What to do to treat a bite wound
If you are bitten by a dog, it is important to seek medical attention right away. Bite wounds often contain nasty bacteria and sometimes debris so your doctor will want to properly clean and assess it before stitching or bandaging it. You may also need a rabies vaccination.
If you can, clean the wound gently with saline and apply pressure with a sterile dressing on your way to the doctor’s office.
Tips for preventing bites
- Get to know the reasons why dogs can bite and work to avoid those situations.
- Discourage your puppy from mouthing your hands or feet by stopping play immediately. Chew toys and other stimulating toys can be a good alternative.
- Familiarize yourself with the body language signals your dog might be giving you if they are uncomfortable with the situation they are in.
- If your dog or another dog is showing signs that they are stressed, do not ignore them, end your interaction and leave, or give them space to move away to somewhere where they feel safer.
- If you are concerned about your dog’s behavior, seek advice from your veterinarian and a certified behaviorist.
How to stop my dog from biting strangers and other dogs
If your dog has previously bitten, or you have concerns with their behavior, it is important to take action to reduce the risk to others, even whilst you are seeking expert behaviorist advice, or in the process of training. It is your responsibility to stop your dog from biting other dogs, strangers, or visitors.
Sensible safety measures would include warning groomers, veterinary staff, other dog owners, and any other members of the public that come into contact with your dog, that they can bite or show aggression. Until you are more confident with your dog’s training, you may want to shut them away when people visit the house.
If your dog has previously displayed some concerning behaviors, ensure you have a sturdy leash, collar, or harness to give you the best control over them. Walk your dog in areas where fewer people and dogs are present, keep your dog on a lead unless in a secure, familiar area and consider using a muzzle when out in public to provide extra protection.
How to stop your dog from biting his paws
If your dog is less inclined to bite other people or dogs but you often see him biting himself, this could be a sign that he needs to be seen and examined by a veterinarian. Skin allergies, full or infected anal glands, fleas, and other parasites that live on the skin, can cause a dog to lick and bite their paws, groin, bottom, or flanks.
Biting paws can also be a sign of boredom or frustration, so ensuring that your dog has stimulating toys and a good exercise regime may help to reduce this behavior.
The final word on dog bites…
Biting behavior in your dog may start small and seemingly innocent, but it can quickly develop into more serious and dangerous behavior. Many serious dog bites happen every year, sometimes involving a stranger or even a child, and sadly in many circumstances the dogs that have bitten are brought to a veterinarian for euthanasia because the risk of a bite happening again is too high for the pet parents to cope with.
Recognizing your dog’s body language and any unwanted behaviors that could potentially lead to a more serious bite, then seeking expert veterinary and behaviorist advice will ensure that interventions are put in place before a serious accident occurs.
Whilst awaiting veterinary advice, make sure you learn the signs which might indicate your dog is feeling uneasy so that you can give him space or an escape route before he feels he needs to bite. Many people will just assume that a dog is safe to approach and handle, so warn anyone who enters the home or comes into close contact with your dog outside that he may bite and to be careful.
If the worst happens, and you or someone you know experiences a dog bite, clean the wound, apply a clean dressing if possible and seek medical advice or go to your local accident and emergency immediately.