Having a dog that bites or nips can sometimes pose a real problem, and regardless of whether it’s truly aggressive behavior or simply overzealous play biting, it’s crucial to get this behavior under control before it leads to risky situations or even a dog that’s impossible to live with due to their nipping or biting.
With this in mind, we’re going to explain some of the common reasons which may cause your dog or puppy to bite and nip, as well as explore the things you can do to prevent or correct the habit.
Why Does My Dog Bite And Nip?
Understanding the reasons behind any behavior is one of the first steps towards changing it, so before we get into the training methods, it’s worth taking a closer look at the reasons why your dog may be biting or nipping.
Your Puppy Didn’t Learn “Bite Inhibition”
The problem of biting or nipping is often most common with young dogs and puppies who haven’t learned “bite inhibition” yet, which is simply the technical term for learning how hard to bite during play.
It’s natural for puppies to nip, mouth, and “play bite” during times of play, and because their jaws aren’t quite as strong as an adult dog this usually isn’t a problem yet. Of course, a puppy’s teeth tend to be very sharp (almost like little needles), and this sharpness aids in their bite inhibition lessons, because it’s likely to cause their siblings to yelp if they bite too hard, but without causing any real damage or long-term harm.
As time goes by, your dog’s adult teeth will grow and their jaw will become stronger. Hopefully, they will have learned to naturally suppress the strength of their bite to avoid seriously hurting anyone during play.
However, there are a number of reasons which can interrupt this natural process from happening, such as the dog not being socialized with other dogs very often, or not been trained to suppress their bite while playing with their owner.
If you have an adult dog who tends to play bite often (or simply play bites too hard) then there’s a good chance they were never taught how to play in a gentler manner while they were still a puppy. Fortunately, it’s possible to employ a few simple training tactics that should encourage safer play, which we will cover shortly.
Is Your Dog Biting Out Of Fear?
Before we address the training tactics, it’s important to determine the reasons why your dog is biting or nipping, because it isn’t always due to overzealous play.
If your dog is biting in a serious, non-playful way, then one of the reasons could be fear. This type of biting may happen with strangers or people your dog doesn’t know well, as well as anyone who the dog perceives to be a threat.
This form of biting can be quite dangerous as there’s always the risk of injury, particularly if you have a powerful dog with strong jaws. If you’re struggling, then it’s wise to consult a professional dog trainer who can work with you to resolve the issue.
Is Your Dog In Pain?
Dog owners are often shocked by how their usually friendly dog can lash out and bite when they’re in pain. Biting while in pain is a natural reaction due to the distress your dog is under, so you’ll need to be careful if this is the case. Of course, if your dog is in pain for any reason, then you should consult a vet immediately.
Is Your Dog Being Possessive?
Certain breeds of dog (often ones with guarding or herding traits) can be more possessive than others, and they may bite to defend what they’re trying to protect. However, this resource guarding behavior isn’t limited to particular breeds, and most dogs can display possessive behavior under the right circumstances.
For example, your dog may be inclined to guard items such as toys, food, territory, or even a favorite chair! When your dog is being possessive, you may need to approach the nipping and biting from a different perspective.
Is The Biting Playful Or Aggressive?
One of the crucial distinctions you’ll need to make when you’re dealing with a dog who bites and nips is whether the behavior is being fueled by aggression or playfulness.
If your dog is biting out of fear or pure aggression, then professional intervention is going to be the safest option. It simply isn’t worth the risk to do this by yourself if you’re not experienced in the area because an aggressive dog can cause serious injury until the biting is under control, especially if they’re a powerful breed with strong jaws and a damaging bite.
On the other hand, excessive playful biting is often due to a lack of bite inhibition, and these things can be easier to handle.
So, how can you tell the difference? It may be quite obvious based on your dog’s body language, so this should be the first thing to pay attention to, but you can also tell by the type of bite.
Playful biting is less painful, and your dog’s body will be more relaxed and at ease, so it will be more like a play session getting out of hand rather than an intent to harm or defend. An aggressive dog tends to stiffen up and won’t have the usual playful, friendly demeanor.
Teaching Your Dog To Be Gentle
If your dog hasn’t learned to reduce the strength of their bite while playing, then this is the first thing you’ll need to work on, and it will often give the quickest results, too.
A young dog or puppy can easily get too excited during play, and this is when they tend to bite too hard – not out of aggression or a desire to hurt – but simply because they haven’t had a chance to realize the sensitivity of a human’s skin.
The “Ouch!” Technique
So what can you do to teach your dog to play gently? Well, you can use what we like to call the “ouch!” technique.
All you need to do is play with your dog as normal. But when your dog becomes too excited and bites you too hard, say “ouch!” or make a ‘yelping’ sound as if they’ve hurt you, and take your hand away.
Making this noise is likely to startle your dog, and they may be a little confused at first. During these next few moments, it’s important to ignore your dog for a short period of time, so they learn that the game as ended. Even if they continue to play or try to restart the game, you must not continue or engage in any playful behavior with them just yet.
After a certain amount of time has passed, you can continue to play, but if they bite too hard again, then you’ll need to repeat the same steps as described. This technique will gradually teach your dog that you are only willing to play when they bite in a gentler way, and because your dog enjoys playing, they’ll soon learn the new rules.
In most cases, this trick will be tremendously effective and it’ll work surprisingly fast when it comes to correcting their biting or nipping behavior.
A Useful Distraction
If your dog continues to play too rough, then you may want to divert their attention by giving them a toy to play with after the “ouch” technique, rather than letting them bite you!
If your dog tends to bite harder when overexcited, it’s wise to redirect the behavior onto something more appropriate in the short term. Having a suitable chew toy for redirecting the biting behavior is always a great idea.
In some cases, you may want to consider only playing with your dog via toys rather than using your hands, especially if you have a powerful breed.
A Tasty Deterrent
Another option is to use taste deterrents to reduce your dog’s pleasure from biting. One way to use this tactic involves putting some bitter apple spray on your clothes or hands, so when your dog bites or mouths you, the bad taste they experience will deter them from continuing the behavior.
However, it’s worth noting that this method is likely to stop your dog mouthing entirely, so whether this is what you’d like to happen depends on how severe the problem is and how you like to play with your dog.
Another reason why a dog will bite is due to stress, usually in the form of fear. A dog may panic around new people and during new situations, and this can sometimes manifest itself as aggression and biting.
If stress is a major trigger for your dog, then it may be best to reduce your dog’s exposure to these situations until you have a better handle on their behavior. If your dog is overly nervous and anxious, it may be useful to try a pressure wrap such as the Thundershirt, which is an excellent way to keep your dog calmer and more relaxed in general, and it can be used in a variety of different scenarios with great results.