How to Train a Dog Not to Bite

Who let the dogs out? Let’s hope it wasn’t you if you do not know how to train a dog not to bite, and more specifically, your own dog. It is a natural behavior for puppies to bite, but this is not a behavior you want them to carry with them into their adult lives. Dogs do generally prefer to use their mouths over their paws for manipulating objects, but this should only be an acceptable behavior as your puppy learns to navigate their way through the big new world and figuring things out.

The most important thing that pet owners can do is to take responsibility for your own dogs. This means training him early on and being sure to socialize him properly, so that he gets along with other dogs and people he comes across. Ultimately, the general consensus is that dogs should be able to see all people as having a higher position in the pack and not believe they are alpha. This is a responsibility, as an owner, to ensure your dog knows his place and does not try to lash out to prove his dominance towards you or any other person.

According to recent studies, every year in the U.S., around 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs in some scenario. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the most frequent victims of dog bites, in order of frequency, are children, elderly people, and postal carriers. In this group of individuals bitten annually by a dog, approximately 20 of them actually die from these encounters. And in the vast majority of these dog bite cases, humans bear some of the responsibility by not knowing how to approach or interact with a dog, which is why knowing how to train a dog not to bite is so important.

Starting With A Puppy

As with most lessons in life, the best place to start is from the beginning. So if you’ve got a puppy on your hands, there is no better time to start training them not to bite than now. When puppies begin to teethe, they will naturally need things to chew on. It can be innocent and cute in the beginning, but a puppy’s teeth are very sharp and being so young, they typically do not realize how hard they’re actually biting. If this biting and nibbling behavior continues into their adulthood, it could lead to drawing blood and potentially causing a more serious injury down the road.

Try this:

  • When a puppy latches onto your hand or finger too hard, let your hand go limp and imitate that yelping sound. This should startle your dog and cause him to stop mouthing you, at least momentarily.
  • When the puppy releases, ignore them for approximately 15 seconds, then resume play.
  • Remember! Do not try to pull away from the bite as this can trigger your puppy’s chase instinct and actually make the problem worse.

The overall goal is to teach your puppy that gentle play can continue but rough play stops. Once you have deterred the hard bites, repeat this teaching process with more moderate bites. Eventually, you should be able to teach your pup that mouthing without biting down is okay, but anything more than that is not.

Redirect The Action

It’s important for an owner that wants to know how to train a dog not to bite, to teach your dog as a puppy what types of behaviors are acceptable even if they were intended to just be playful. If your puppy tries to mouth you, pull your hand away before they make contact, then provide a treat or grab a chewy toy to play with until they start chewing on that. You can also satisfy your puppy’s urge to mouth things with non-contact games, like fetch or tug-of-war. However, remember to never let the tugging become too aggressive, and teach your puppy the “let go” or “leave it” commands, so that you can always remove something from their mouth without receiving an aggressive response from your pup. Puppy aggression is quite common, but you want to make sure you get rid of this bad behavior before they turn into a full-grown dog.

Distract Their Attention

In addition to mouthing people, puppies will also mouth things in their environment, mostly out of curiosity which is natural for them to want to do. To appease this curiosity, provide an assortment of interesting and safe chew toys, chosen for your pup’s level of chewing and destructiveness — for example, if your little fur friend shreds plush toys like no one’s business, you may want to stick with rubber or hard plastic instead.

Another great idea for distracting puppies from nibbling on other things are to try using “hide the treat” toys which provide mental stimulation in addition to fun. Finally, arrange for playtime with your dog and other puppies or vaccinated adult 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. This will help to socialize them, and those dogs will also assist in the process of teaching your puppy when a bite is too hard. Consider it a lesson from their peer group!

Deterrence

The first is to associate the smell and the taste in your dog’s mind so that the scent alone will keep him away from unacceptable chewing targets. To do this, put a little bit of the product on a tissue or cotton ball, then put it in your pup’s mouth. They should spit it out right away. When they do spit it out, let him smell it so he makes the association. When training, place the product on any objects you don’t want him to lick or bite once a day for two to four weeks.

Educating Children

Because children are naturally drawn to animals, particularly dogs, because they’re cute and furry it’s important that they are also aware of how to train a dog not to bite. Children don’t understand that it’s not a good idea to run right up to a strange dog, which is how a lot of bites happen. Two thirds of all children bitten by dogs were bitten by the family dog, and this is often the reason it happens.

The first thing to teach your children is to never approach a strange dog, even if the dog seems friendly, and especially if the dog is alone. If the dog is with its owner, teach your children to ask permission from a distance to approach and pet the dog. And they should also know not to be upset if the owner prefers they did not pet their dog, because there’s probably a good reason for that.

Above all, teach your children how to stay calm around dogs. A lot of kids have very high energy and can be loud or erratic, both of which can make dogs anxious or over-excited. Especially with strange dogs, they should never yell or run away. If you want to add a dog to your family but are worried they will be aggressive with your children, try choosing a dog breed that is less aggressive compared to others.

Educate Yourself

Most mouthing is normal dog behavior. But some dogs bite out of fear or frustration, and this type of biting can indicate problems with canine aggression. It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between normal play mouthing and mouthing that precedes aggressive behavior. If you suspect that your dog’s biting seems to be more of an aggressive behavior rather than just playful, you should consult a qualified professional to help you properly curb this issue.

What You Should Do

  • Learn how to read your dog’s body language so you can anticipate the signs that a bite may be coming and avoid a potential encounter.
    • There are signals to look out for which indicate that a dog may be about to attack:
      • Ears pinned back
      • Fur along their back may stand up in a visible pattern
      • An aggressive dog’s body will look stiff and they may wrinkle their muzzle and pull back their lips to expose their teeth as a way to intimidate you.
      • If the dog makes intense and direct eye contact with you, this is a clear sign that you should back off immediately.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities for your dog to play with other friendly, vaccinated dogs. They can release a lot of their built-up energy by playing with these other dogs and will have less desire to play roughly with you.
  • Try using a time-out procedure if your dog is not reacting to your pleas for them to stop mouthing at you.
    • First, try ignoring them for 10-to-20 seconds. If your dog starts mouthing on you again, get up and move away for another 10-to-20 seconds. If necessary, leave the room entirely to make your point clear.
    • 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 cannot and will not be tolerated.
  • If a time-out isn’t viable or effective, you can consider using a taste deterrent as a tactic.
    • Spray the deterrent on areas of your body and clothing that your dog likes to mouth before you have an interaction with them. If your dog mouths you or your clothing, stop moving and wait for them to react to the bad taste of the deterrent. To really drive this point home, apply the deterrent to your body and clothes for at least two weeks. After two weeks of being punished by the bitter taste every time they mouth you, your dog will likely learn his mouthy behavior has undesirable consequences.
  • Teach your dog to be gentle.
    • By teaching your dog that people have very sensitive skin, they will learn to be gentle when using their mouth during play of any kind.
  • Avoid waving your fingers or toes in your dog’s face or slapping the sides of his face to entice him to play. Doing these things can actually encourage your dog to bite at your hands and feet, which goes against the whole point of trying to learn how to train a dog not to bite.
    • Also, avoid jerking your hands or feet away from your dog. Jerky movements might seem like a game to your dog and encourage him to jump forward and grab at you. It’s much more effective to let your hands or feet go limp so that they aren’t much fun to play with.
  • Try to encourage non-contact forms of play, such as fetch or tug-of-war, rather than wrestling and rough play with your hands.
    • Teaching your dog to play tug-of-war prepares him for dealing with arousal and frustration. To keep tug-of-war safe and fun for you and your dog, you’ll need to follow strict rules.
    • Once your dog can play tug safely, keep tug toys in your pocket or in a place where you can easily access them. If they start to mouth you, then immediately redirect them to the tug toy. Ideally, your dog will start to anticipate and look for a toy when they feel an urge to mouth something (or someone).
  • Teach your dog impulse control with specific exercises such as “sit’, “wait” and “leave it.”
  • Do not discourage your dog from playing with you in general. Play builds a strong bond between a dog and his human family. You want to teach your dog to play gently rather than not at all.
  • Slapping or hitting dogs for playful mouthing can cause them to bite harder. They usually react by playing more aggressively. Physical punishment can also make your dog afraid of you—and it can even cause real aggression.
    • Avoid scruff shaking, whacking your dog on the nose, sticking your fingers down his throat and all other punishments that might hurt or scare him.
  • Your dog should also be trained to be submissive so that in a situation that involves a group of humans, your dog is able to take food or toys away from them without issue.

Training An Adult Dog

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. 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.

Ankle Biters

For whatever reason, many dogs become fascinated with nipping at people’s feet or ankles when they walk. This is particularly true of herding breeds. To stop your puppy from nipping at your heels, keep a favorite toy in your pocket. When your dog bites at you, stop moving, then wave the toy around to distract them until they latch onto it. The idea is to teach your dog that good things happen when bad behavior stops.

Mouthing and nipping are natural behaviors for puppies but unwanted in dogs. Sadly, a large majority of dogs surrendered to shelters by their owners are between eighteen months and two years of age — the point at which “cute” puppy behavior becomes frustrating to the owner. By taking these few simple steps early on can help to prevent that bad behavior down the line, and help you both to have a stress-free, life-long relationship!

 

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