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Dog biting

Stop Dog Biting – Training Your Dog Not to Bite

There is much joy and satisfaction to be gained from our relationships with our four-legged friends. But far too often we see headlines about someone being seriously injured or even killed from a dog bite or attack. Unfortunately, dog biting is an all too common problem, one which all pet owners should take very seriously. While it may be cute to watch a little toy dog snap and snarl, it’s quite a different matter when the dog is a large breed when biting can be truly dangerous.

What’s important to understand is that all dogs can bite under the right circumstances. This is a natural defensive behavior, and it’s unrealistic to think that any amount of forethought or training can completely eliminate all possibility of your dog ever biting. However, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk.

Prevention – Choosing the Right Breed

Preventing a biting problem is much easier than curing one. The first place to begin is before you even get a dog, by selecting a breed that is not known or bred to be aggressive. Biting can be an inbred genetic behavior trait in some breeds of dogs, and in some cases is desirable. For instance, guard dog breeds like Doberman Pinschers or Chow Chows are bred to be more aggressive. Herding dogs like Border Collies or Australian Shepherds are bred to nip at the heels of the animal being herded, which you or your children may end up substituting for. The often snappish behavior of some Terriers is a result of their having been bred to hunt out small vermin and rodents. Even German Shepherds, normally benign working dogs, if they descend from a line that has been bred for police work, can harbor inbred traits that make them undesirable as pets.

So do your homework on breeds, and unless you need an aggressive dog for a particular reason, choosing a calmer and more peaceful breed is the first step to preventing a biting problem. Some small breeds can be very “nippy,” so be sure you understand breed characteristics. Even if you feel you do need a guard or working dog, investigate any prospective puppy’s background very carefully, not just the parents, but go back several generations, to ensure that his line was not bred for or doesn’t include any traits you don’t want.

There is really no such thing as a “bad breed.” Most all dogs can be properly trained and socialized to be gentle, tolerant, and predictable. Your dog should be trained to obey basic commands: sit, stay, come, and down. This alone could prevent many dog-biting incidents.

(The following information is general.)

Potentially aggressive breeds:

Llasa Apso: can be cranky with kids
Toy poodles: bite out of self defense
Dachshunds: not very patient
Rhodesian Ridgebacks: very dominant breed
Miniature Pinschers: “big dog” mindset in little body
Pekinese: intolerant
Chihuahuas: prefer adults, not tolerant of kids
Chow Chow: one-person dogs, bite without warning
Giant Schnauzers: very dominant breed, will even challenge adults
Old English Sheep Dog: very protective of owner
Cocker Spaniel: very protective of owner
Rottweilers: very protective

Typically gentle breeds that have “bad boy” reputations:

German Shepherd: great with kids
Bulldog: gentle, playful
Rottweilers: can be gentle, affectionate
Great Danes: gentle, affectionate
Boxers: good with kids
Mastiffs: very docile

“Pit bull” is a bit of a misnomer. There really is no such breed. Generally, “pit bulls” are a cross between a “bulldog” breed and a terrier. They are also known as American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Most “pit bulls” are not aggressive by nature and tend to be gentle, playful and loving. However, there are those that have been bred and trained to be aggressive. Even then, they are more aggressive toward other animals, not people. Often, aggressive “pit bulls” have been abused and/or neglected. Then the dog is to be considered very dangerous.

However, all dogs can be provoked to bite by:

1. Try to take food or toy away from him. Never bother a dog while he is eating. The most common situation where a dog bite occurs is while a dog is eating.
2. Playing “tug of war” with a dog. Many dogs interpret this as aggression. If they “win,” they feel empowered. If they feel threatened, they may try to retaliate.
3. “Surprising” a dog by sneaking up on him or startling him while he is sleeping. Many times the dog’s defense mechanism will kick in, and he will bite in self-defense.
4. “Rough housing” with or other sudden movements toward the dog’s owner. Many dogs will see this as an attack on his owner, and will attack you to defend the owner.
5. Ignoring their warning! If a dogs barks ferociously or growls when you approach his territory, bed, etc. and you continue, that is an invitation to get bitten. They are warning you that they don’t like that and stop. Listen!
6. Inappropriate touching. Dogs generally don’t like their ears, tail, and feet tugged. Some don’t like being inverted up-side-down and rubbed on their belly. This is a position of submission and an aggressive dog will resist this “challenge” vigorously.

Bite Inhibition

No matter what the breed, all puppies want and will try to bite. Biting and mouthing are normal behaviors for puppies. Dogs don’t have hands so they investigate objects and their environment with their mouths. To a curious puppy, everything about the world is brand new and exciting. He learns as he goes along. Playing is also a normal learning behavior for puppies, especially play-fighting. Play-fighting with littermates and other animals develops coordination, reflexes, and physical skills. In addition, it helps them develop social skills, and teaches them how to interact positively within their pack. And it’s great fun for them.

Bite inhibition refers to both a dog’s ability to control the force of his biting, and the training to reinforce that ability. If a puppy is left with its mother and littermates for a proper amount of time, they will be the ones to take care of his first training as to when and where biting is allowed. There is a fairly short window of time in which this can best be accomplished, which is part of the reason it’s not a good idea to take a puppy from its mother too soon. Puppies seem to learn a great deal about bite inhibition and authority between five and eight weeks of age through play with their mothers and littermates.

If you take a puppy when it’s very young, less than eight weeks old, then you will have to be the one to teach him to inhibit his biting tendencies. Puppies that receive little or no training in bite inhibition, either from their mothers or their people, may grow up to develop behavior problems.

For instance, if a puppy tries to bite his mother, she will yelp very loudly, growl in his face with bared teeth, and then turn away and shun him completely for a period of time. This gives him the message, loud and clear, that if he bites he will get an unpleasant reaction and then no attention at all. If he persists, the mother dog will turn on him, again with a snarling growl, get hold of him by the scruff of the neck with her teeth, and shake him sternly, not letting go until he goes limp in submission. Really obnoxious puppies are dealt with by mother dog knocking them over with her paw, pinning them to the ground, and pinching them with her teeth.

If you have a very young puppy, or one whose training was for some reason not accomplished in the natural way, then you must imitate mother dog’s “yelp, shun, shake and pin” tactics if you want the lesson about not biting to stick. If he bites you, yell, “Ouch!” very loudly, or give a high pitched yelp as the mother dog would do, grasp him firmly by the scruff of his neck, shake him (though don’t lift him up) and give the command, “No Bite!” Hold him down for a second or two, and then let him go and ignore him for several minutes. Repeat as necessary.

If you don’t like or have success using this method, there are a few others you can try. They include:

– Making a trade. Trade your arm (or foot or fingers) for an appropriate toy.
– Instant muzzle. The second your puppy tries to bite your hand, turn it around and grab his muzzle, holding it firmly closed for a few seconds.
– Shake the can. Fill an empty soda or other can with a handful of coins or pebbles. When your puppy starts to nip, startle him by shaking the can or dropping it next to him, while at the same time giving the command, “No Bite!” Praise him when he stops, and give him something appropriate to chew.
– Metal spoon. There are two variations on this method.
” The first is to put some food or a treat on the end of a metal spoon, and hold it up and slightly tilted downward, so the puppy has to reach up. If he just grabs, his teeth will hit the metal, and he won’t like that at all. In time he’ll learn to just open his mouth and let you drop the food into it. Keep moving the spoon closer to your fingers, so that eventually, he is opening his mouth and letting you put food into it without biting your fingers.
” The other spoon trick is to bend an old or cheap spoon handle over your thumb, keeping the bowl of it in the palm of your hand. Then extend your hand out to the puppy, and when he bites, he will bite the metal. Again, since he won’t like that at all, the idea is that he will eventually learn not to bite your hand.


If you have an adult dog who has not learned to control his biting and aggression it is helpful if you can determine the reasons for your dog’s aggressive behavior. Though often overlapping, aggressive behaviors can be roughly divided into four types:

1. Play biting occurs when the “cute” behaviors have been allowed to go on for too long, and the dog has become habituated to bite as a playful gesture.
2. Dominance. If your puppy or young dog growls when you approach him at his food dish, or growls or snaps when you try to groom him, or behaves aggressively toward other pets or your children, snapping or nipping, he is attempting to establish his dominance. He is trying to assert his position in the “pack” order, and he wants to be top dog.
3. Territorial aggression might show itself in a tendency to bark at the mailman, for instance, or to chase cars or bicycles, or spray urine to mark his territory. This is the type of behavior that often results in a dog biting the meter reader or the mailman.
4. Fear. This is a problem with extremely shy or timid dogs, who are very fearful, especially in new situations and with new people. This can be frustrating as they can strike out without warning and snap or bite if someone reaches for them or tries to pet them.

Though it is far preferable to have prevented such behavior in the first place, there are nevertheless some methods you can try to correct even established behavior. Of course, the younger the dog, the more likely you are to be successful. Patience, consistency, and persistence are of paramount importance.

Play Biting:

For play biting, refer back to the part on bite inhibition for puppies, and making it not fun for your dog to bite in play.

– Stop playing any and all roughhousing games such as tug-of-war or chasing games. Don’t let any games become too intense, and try to prevent your dog from becoming too excited, as that is often when biting occurs. Keep play sessions short.
– Give your dog plenty of opportunities to chew appropriately by providing him with sturdy bones and chew toys.
– If your dog growls or bites in play, say “No Bite” in a loud, firm voice, and immediately stop playing. If any toys were involved, take them away. Completely ignore your dog for a few minutes, and then resume play. If he bites, do it all over again. Repeat this as often as necessary. When your dog gets to the point of obeying the “No Bite” command without additional correction, be sure to praise and reward him.
– Try putting something bitter or hot on your hands. Then, when your dog bites you and backs off from the bad taste, praise him, and immediately give him something appropriate to bite, like a chew toy. One tip is to only put the nasty substance on the backs of your hands, so as not to get the taste on any treats you many hand out as rewards.

Dominance Biting
In the case of a dog with a dominant biting problem, the only solution is to make yourself the pack leader (alpha dog) in no uncertain terms. The dog must be at the bottom of the pack. You absolutely must be willing and able to dominate every aspect of your dog’s life, or you have lost before you’ve begun.

Refuse to tolerate his dominance aggression:
– Never, ever, under any circumstances, let your dog win a showdown. Be absolutely and consistently in charge, and never weaken that stance.
– Do not let him eat until you command him to come, and give him permission.
– Make him sit and heel before being petted, or going outside, or getting into or out of the car. It’s not the sitting and heeling that’s so important, as establishing the fact that you make the rules, and he must do as you say. An aggressive dog will always exploit any weakness on your part, so don’t show any.
– Crate him during meals, and do not let him eat until you have finished.
– When you play games like “fetch” or “tug of war,” do not let your dog end up with the ball or rope when you are finished. Keep it yourself, even if you have to wrestle it out of his mouth. Remember, you must win!
– Do not let your dog sleep in your bedroom or on your bed – reserve this space for your family, and enforce the boundaries.
– Buy a muzzle and keep it on except for feeding and giving treats.
– Try to alter any objects or people that seem to trigger aggressive behavior. For example, if your dog is occupying a living room chair and growls when you approach, then forbid him the chair – no exceptions. Or if he growls at one family member, then make that person responsible for his care, as dogs do not usually bite someone on whom they rely for food and water. Of course, especially if this is a child, supervise very carefully so you can step in if necessary to protect that person from being bitten.

Be sure to follow standard procedures of dog training by observing and promptly rewarding any signs of submission from your dog, such as laying his ears down against his head, or lowering his head and curling his tail around his body, or refusing to make eye contact. Praise him and give him with treats. But don’t praise him and love him out of the blue for no reason at all, no matter how affectionate you might feel, as this will just confuse him.

In order to avoid a situation where the dog obeys only you, but is still aggressive toward other family members, you may have to train them too, particularly if you have a family member(s) who is passive or submissive. For instance, it’s common to see a situation where a dog will obey the husband in a family, but completely ignore the wife or children. Don’t let this happen. Encourage your family members (with your supervision) to also establish their dominance over the dog, using the same methods, and promptly praising and rewarding submissive behavior.

Eventually, step it up a notch, to include training the dog to let you hold his paws, or hold his head still, or hold him down in a laying position. Again, always promptly praise and reward the desired behavior.

Territorial Aggression

If your dog exhibits territorial aggression, some of the specific steps might differ a bit, but essentially the main approach is the same:
– The first step is to assert your dominance as leader of the pack, and establish the hierarchy of the pack, with every other member of your family in order above the dog, who is at the bottom. If you do this systematically and consistently, your dog will look to you for direction when, for example, someone comes to your door. If you accept the person, your dog will too. If you are fearful or alarmed, your dog will be too.
– Get a few friends or neighbors to help you out by approaching your house and cautiously feeding your dog some treats. Or ask a willing friend to take your dog for short walks on a leash. The idea is for the dog to accept your leadership as to who is and is not trustworthy.
– Clearly establish the limits of your dog’s territory by fencing your yard and making sure he knows where he is and is not allowed – on the porch, for instance, but not the front steps; or on the sofa, but not the bed.
– If your dog chases cars or bicycles, take a ride, arming yourself first with a squirt gun of some range, loaded with diluted vinegar. Drive slowly and when the dog gives chase and/or tries to nip, squirt him decisively, between the eyes if you can, saying “No” firmly each time. Do it again. Eventually he will get the idea that it is not fun to chase a moving vehicle. If necessary, repeat the lesson with a bicycle, tricycle, scooter, or whatever other conveyance he likes to chase.
– If he chases your children, arm them with a squirt gun and have them repeat the exercise as above, firmly saying “No” every time the dog tries to nip. If they are very little, then you watch for the behavior and do the squirting and give the command yourself.


Dogs who bite out of fear have likely missed an important window of opportunity for socialization when they were very young, were born to a mother who is also shy, or else have an inborn genetic leaning toward timidity. The best way to correct this type of behavior is to try to re-socialize a timid dog so that he is not so scared. If you can increase his confidence, you can decrease the likelihood that he will bite out of fear.
Some ways to do this are:
– Watch for signs your dog is uncomfortable, scared, or angry. Dogs don’t know how to cry, so a frightened dog’s instinct is to bite.
– Socialize your dog. Keep him on a short, tight leash. Introduce him to many different types of people and situations so that he is not nervous or frightened under normal social circumstances. Shy or fearful dogs can react defensively when approached by unfamiliar people. They may try to keep strangers away by growling, snarling or snapping. These behaviors must not be ignored. No dog should be allowed to get away with acting aggressively towards humans. The fact that your dog is shy is no excuse to condone growling or biting. You must instantly and effectively reprimand such behavior. As soon as your dog stops acting aggressive, praise him because you want your dog to think that his obnoxious behavior causes you to get angry – not that the presence of the stranger brings on the reprimand.
– Feed him only from your hands, taking care, of course, that he is not agitated or in an unfamiliar situation that could result in your being bitten.
– Ask your veterinarian about using a prescribed tranquilizer to calm your dog while exposing him to anxiety-inducing situations.


If you have tried all the above methods for training your dog not to bite and nothing has worked, the only choice you may have left is to manage him so that he does not bite you or anyone else. Some ways to do this are:
– Muzzle him. Depending on his degree of aggressiveness, you could use merely a soft fabric muzzle, or a sturdy leather one. For large or extremely aggressive dogs a steel and leather muzzle is the only kind strong enough.
– Contain him. If your dog is an aggressive guard dog, rather than a pet, you may have no choice but to contain him while people are around, if you want to be absolutely sure he doesn’t bit anyone. You could tether him with a chain or other sturdy tie; or keep him in a run or outdoor kennel; or secure him indoors in a crate or confined to a particular room or area of your home. Contain him or else take a chance on someone being bitten, and possibility of fines and lawsuits.
– Euthanasia. This is extreme but if your dog has already bitten viciously, and is a full-grown, adult dog, especially a large breed, the most humane thing to do may be to have him euthanized. Consider that he will not enjoy a life of constant confinement, nor will you enjoy peace of mind, having to always be on guard lest he get loose and bite again. This is the most extreme solution, and not to be taken lightly, but if your situation warrants it, it can save you much grief in the end, as well as possibly save a life.

Of course, the best thing to do is be aware of the potential problems inherent in biting behavior long before matters can ever get to an extreme state. As you can see, recognizing and understanding the importance of proper bite inhibition is the key to preventing and correcting any biting problems, whether they stem from play or aggression or fear. Establish your dominance from the start, give yourself and your dog the benefit of obedience training, communicate well, be consistent, correct any problems the instant they appear, and you and your dog will enjoy a peaceful, happy and loving relationship for many years to come.

The Bottom Line:

Train your dog. Accompanying your dog to a training class is an excellent way to socialize him and to learn proper training techniques. Teach basic commands. Train your dog. Teach basic commands.

One cause of biting is pain. If you suspect pain as the cause, see your veterinarian immediately. Keep your dog healthy.

License your dog as required by law, and provide regular veterinary care. Make sure you have him vaccinated against rabies and other diseases. Spayed or neutered dogs are much less likely to bite. An unneutered dog is more than 3 times as likely to attack. Often this alone will do a great deal to reduce unwanted aggressive behaviors, including biting.

Dogs are social animals. Spend quality time with your dog and make your dog a member of your family – dogs who spend a great deal of time alone in the backyard or tied on a chain often become dangerous. Dogs that are well-socialized and supervised are much less likely to bite.

Just as humans do, dogs protect things they care about such as their food and favorite toys. They also protect spaces – their own and their owners. Eating and sleeping areas, yards, porches, and parked cars are all commonly defended by dogs.

The vast majority of dogs are safe, reliable companions. But even a friendly dog may bite if threatened, angry, afraid, or hurt.

Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog.

Always walk your dog on-leash.

Get your dog used to having you touch and groom him at an early age. Dogs have to have a lot of care and grooming throughout their lifetime that involves touching, stroking, holding, or restraining. He may only be warning you with a growl, but if you let it be there will come a time when you have to give him medication or otherwise restrain him, and he’s liable to bite.

Properly socialize your puppy. Before the age of 4 months, your puppy should be introduced to all of the things he’ll see in his adult lifetime. (If not then it’s likely he’ll be terrified of those things later when he encounters them.) Socialize him beyond the normal casual encounters with people, by exposing him to a wide range of different sights, sounds, and textures.

– Textures could include pavement, rugs, cement, sand, grass, gravel, linoleum, and dirt.
– Sights would include other animals, trees, insects, men with beards and/or mustaches, women and men with hats, people in wheelchairs, people with canes, teenagers, traffic, the veterinarian, toddlers, vacuum cleaners, cars, bicycles, stairs, etc.
– Sounds may include loud thunder, traffic, airplanes, trains, the sounds of children playing, music, and normal household sounds.

Introduce him to everything! If the dog is not afraid of it, he won’t try to attack it to defend himself. A well-adjusted dog is not a biting dog.

There is no way to guarantee that your dog will never bite someone. But you can significantly reduce the possibility of it ever happening.

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