One of the most common reasons for people to seek help from a dog trainer is to stop dog biting. If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this:
Any dog can bite.
And as the owner of a dog, the responsibility is yours to prevent it.
This behavior from the family pet isn't acceptable under any circumstances. It puts all members of their family at risk of harm. It also endangers any visitors that may enter your home or your property.
And it can cause you to lose your dog.
So what can you do to solve dog biting problems?
Prevention is the key. But before we can prevent dog biting, we first need to understand why they do it.
Why do dogs bite (6 Reasons)?
There are many reasons why dog bite. Here are some of the most common:
- To defend themselves or anything that they value. This includes guarding their food.
- For mothers, to protect their puppies.
- When they’re startled or surprised.
- When a human runs away from them, even in play.
- When they’re afraid or anxious.
- When they’re sick or injured.
But the good news is that dogs usually give plenty of warning before they bite. Learning to recognize the warning signs can reduce the risk of a dog attack.
8 Signs That a Dog Might Bite
These are the most common warning signs of dog biting. You should know how to read the signs and be sure children who will be around your dog understand them as well.
- They will often growl a warning first.
- They may look away (won’t make eye contact).
- You may see “half-moon eyes” or “whale eyes.” (A half-moon shape of the white of the dog’s eye is visible.)
- The hair on their backs may stand up.
- They may lick their lips or yawn. These are signs of anxiety, meaning they would prefer to be left alone.
- Their bodies may stiffen, and their ears and tails will stand up straight.
- They wag their tails in a particular way. The tail will be standing up and moving quickly from side to side. The dog will be rigid, unlike when they’re wagging for pleasure, and the body won’t be wiggling.
- They may tuck their tail between their legs and cower away from you. This is a scared dog, and fearful dogs are more likely to bite.
12 Tips On: How to Prevent Dog Biting?
1. Choose your breed responsibly!
As an example only, let's say you want a Pit Bull. You know how lovely their temperaments can be (and they can!), and you think they're misunderstood.
Whether you’re right or wrong about that won’t matter if your Pit Bull bites someone. According to DogBites.org, Pit Bulls were responsible for 66% (284 attacks) of all fatal dog attacks in the US in the past 14 years.
We are not picking on Pit Bulls (or any breed) here. We know they can be wonderful pets. But there are reasons why many more Pit Bulls than any other breed end up in shelters. They come with a considerable level of responsibility.
We can’t stress this enough: If you own a breed that has been known to bite, or a powerful and potentially dangerous breed such as a Rottweiler or German Shepherd, you must properly train and socialize it!
And please consider not adding one of these breeds to your family if you have children. In the year 2018, 42% of dog-related fatalities were of children under 6, and 69% of that year's fatal dog attacks were caused by the family’s own dog.
If the owner of a powerful and potentially dangerous breed doesn’t properly train and socialize their dog, their negligence could cause a severe or even fatal injury.
You will be responsible for any damage your dog may do to other human beings.
2. Choose your breeder carefully
If you’re purchasing a puppy, it’s equally important that you choose your breeder carefully. Reputable breeders are committed to breeding only sound representatives of a breed.
They will not breed individuals that show undue aggression. This is critical because a recent study has shown that aggression in dogs is a hereditary trait.
Further, they properly socialize their pups before they leave their facility. Even “bully” breeds have a lower risk of showing aggression later if they are bought from a responsible breeder.
But this does not mean that these dogs won’t bite! It just makes it less likely.
3. Leave your pup with his litter-mates until he is eight weeks of age
Just like human babies, puppies explore their brand-new world with their mouths. It’s natural for them to mouth things, and they don’t realize how razor-sharp their puppy teeth are.
Luckily, the natural way of things is for puppies’ mothers to teach them bite inhibition. They give their pups gentle correction when needed to teach them not to use too much pressure.
A puppy also learns that biting can hurt while playing with his siblings. Littermates help to teach each other how to be gentle, and that carries over to their interactions with people.
If a dog is taken away from its mother and siblings too early, they may not have completed that developmental task.
Responsible breeders will not do this, but puppy mills and backyard breeders do. If you get your puppy from one of these sources, it is more likely to have been removed from its mother too early.
And chances are good that it has not been adequately socialized.
4. Begin puppy training right away
When you bring your pup home, enroll him in puppy pre-school, where he can further learn how to safely explore his world, including your hands, with his mouth.
Beyond this, obedience training is crucial. The better your control over your dog, the less likely he is to bite.
Be sure to use positive reinforcement methods for the best results.
At least one study has found that dogs trained with punishment methods are more likely to be fearful and aggressive—and 25% more likely to bite than dogs trained with positive reinforcement only.
5. Socialize early and well
Socializing is crucial for many reasons, not the least of which is the prevention of biting. A common reason for dogs to bite is because they’re anxious. They may snap because they’re in a situation that frightens them, and they feel they have to defend themselves.
If you raise your puppy with positive training techniques and introduce him to all sorts of people and places, then he will grow up to be more relaxed and confident. This will help to prevent dog biting behavior due to fear or anxiety.
Some dogs, in spite of the best training when young, still grow up to be fearful and anxious.
If your dog is one of these, work with your vet or a dog behaviorist to treat his anxiety. A fearful dog is a biting threat. In the meantime, avoid situations where he may feel overwhelmed and apt to bite. You will also need to watch him strictly around children.
6. Teach or reinforce bite inhibition
Do you have an enthusiastic feeder who bites your fingers when you give him a treat? Or bites a little too hard when he plays? Although this isn't associated with aggressive behavior, it still hurts and needs to be stopped.
Teach your dog a “leave it” command, and when he is doing that reliably, start to offer him food treats in your hand. Only let him have it if he takes it from you gently.
Once he has a reliable “leave it,” you can use that to teach him to mouth softly.
7. Deal with food-guarding behavior
Your dog may snap when you attempt to touch his food bowl or his bone. It’s essential that you eliminate this food-guarding behavior, especially if that dog will be around children.
Use reward-based training methods to train him to allow you (or anyone) to take his food dish away. Reinforce this training regularly.
8. Don’t stop your dog from growling
Many dog owners feel that their dog’s growling is inappropriate and try to control it. This is a bad idea. Growling is a warning sign that your dog is anxious or uncomfortable. If he is trained not to growl, he may go directly to biting with no warning at all.
Just be sure that everyone in the family knows to respect his wishes and back away when he growls.
9. Spay or neuter your dog
Altered dogs tend to be less aggressive than intact animals. According to the Human Society, most dog bites involve dogs that are not spayed or neutered.
10. Confine or restrain your dog when children are around
Some herding breeds, such as the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, have a strong instinct to nip at heels in an attempt to “herd” their humans. If you have one of these breeds, it may be difficult to change this behavior, and they may still nip your children's heels. This could be a danger to a very young child.
To manage this, confine your dog when children are playing, or keep him under control on a leash.
A useful training technique to help stop this behavior is to teach your dog to look at you on command. Train him until he is extremely reliable, then use that command whenever he turns to look at a child running past. Reward him handsomely for doing it.
Over time, he will look at you whenever a child is playing nearby. However, it's essential that you don't take your eyes off your dog when children are around because if he rounds them up again, your dog training efforts can be undone.
And if he does manage to nip someone, there could be serious consequences.
11. Monitor adopted dogs closely
If you are adopting an adult dog, be extremely careful until he has settled in and you can evaluate his temperament.
It will take a while for your new family member to relax and adapt to his new situation. You need to keep a close eye on him until he’s comfortable.
Here is another area where obedience classes are a good idea. They would teach your dog to respect you as his new owner and to have confidence in you, which will help to reduce the risk of biting behavior.
This activity would also be a great bonding experience for the two of you. The more you work together, the more comfortable your dog will feel in his new home.
12. Reinforce Training
Once you are satisfied that you have a well-socialized, obedient dog, don’t assume that your job is done. You should continue to socialize and train your dog throughout its life.
Behaviors that aren’t reinforced can be forgotten or extinguished over time.
For instance, if your children stopped using the basic courtesies of “please” and “thank you,” you would notice. If you let it go without reminding or correction, they may stop using them entirely.
The same is true for dogs. Teaching them to be good citizens is not a “one and done” task. They need consistency and gentle reinforcement all of their lives.
Reduce Dog Biting Risk: Teach Children to Respect Dogs
Dogs aren’t the only parties that need good citizenship training. We also need to teach our children how to safely interact with dogs.
Many dog biting incidents are preventable, particularly those involving children. Teaching kids how to safely and respectfully approach any dog will significantly lessen their risk of being bitten.
The following general tips are from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This is an excellent list to use for teaching children dog safety.
14 Tips On: How to Safely Approach a Dog?
- Always ask for permission before you try to pet an unfamiliar dog.
- Always let an unfamiliar dog see and smell you before you pet it.
- If an unfamiliar dog approaches you, stand still and don’t move.
- Don’t make eye contact with the dog.
- Tell the dog firmly, “No!” or “Go Home!” in a deep voice.
- Keep your body turned a little to one side so you’re not looking at the dog head-on.
- Bring your hands up to your neck and keep your elbows in.
- Don’t run away from a dog. Most will chase you.
- Be sure to leave the dog an escape route.
- Either wait for the dog to move on or back away very slowly.
- If you are knocked over by a dog, roll into the fetal position, cover your head, and protect your neck and ears with your hands.
- Don’t bother a sleeping dog, a dog that’s eating, or a mother that’s taking care of her puppies.
- Don’t play aggressively with any dog.
- If you see any stray dogs that “aren’t acting right,” let an adult know right away.
And No Hugs, Please!
You should also teach your children never to place their face close to a dog’s head. That means no hugs!
Hugging dogs is a major cause of dog bites to children. They need to understand that most dogs don't enjoy hugging as we humans do.
Hugging makes many dogs anxious because it feels like confinement to them, not affection. When dogs are confined, they can’t use their preferred discomfort strategy: escape.
Most dogs also prefer not to be patted on the head. Teach your children to pet dogs on their chests or behind their ears, never on the top of the head.
How to Stop Dog Biting
So, we know how to prevent dog biting. But what can you do to stop it if your dog has already bitten someone?
The one thing you absolutely can't do is nothing. A single dog bite is a serious concern that you need to address.
Our advice to stop dog biting:
- Do not punish your dog! Harsh punishments only tend to reinforce aggression!
- Figure out what caused your dog to bite and see that he doesn’t get that opportunity again.
- Make an appointment with your vet, especially if you think your dog hasn’t been acting right. You need to rule out illness or injury.
- Get help from professionals. Dog biting is a serious issue that requires an expert’s input. It isn’t a task for an inexperienced dog trainer.
Ask your vet for a referral to a dog trainer or behaviorist who is experienced with dog biting. They will help you create a behavior modification program.
- Consider rehoming your dog. If you’re unwilling or unable to commit to a behavioral management plan, consider finding a new home for your dog. This is not advice we give lightly, but without behavior modification, the risk is high that your dog will bite again.
What to Do After Your Dog Bites Someone
- Don’t panic, but act quickly.
- Confine the dog in a closed room or a crate.
- Comfort the bite victim and clean the wound(s).
- Exchange contact and insurance information with the bite victim.
- Exchange the same information with any witnesses.
- Report the incident to local authorities.
- Be prepared to show proof of rabies vaccination.
Dog Bites and the Law
Depending on the severity of the bite or attack, you can expect one or more of the following:
- Your dog may be quarantined. If his rabies vaccination is not up to date, the quarantine period may be longer.
- Your dog may be labeled a “dangerous dog.” Again, statutes vary from state to state, but you will have to comply with legal requirements if you choose to keep your dog.
- Depending on the seriousness and circumstances of the attack, your dog may be euthanized.
- You could face criminal charges and be held legally and/or financially responsible for the attack.
- The victim may decide to press charges, so you may need to hire a lawyer. And if you lose in court, it could cost you a lot more in damages.
Responsible Dog Ownership is the Answer
Dog biting is a larger problem than many people realize. In the 14 years from 2005 to 2018, 433 Americans were killed by dogs, and 208 of those were children under the age of nine.
As for nonfatal bites, 4.5 million Americans sustained bites in 2018, and 800,000 required medical care.
Many dog experts believe that most of these dog bites could be prevented if all dog owners trained and socialized their dogs adequately. But many people don’t realize the importance of this.
Preventing or stopping dog biting is a responsibility shared by all dog owners, regardless of breed. While statistics show that most fatal dog bites are inflicted by only a few breeds, we know that any dog can bite.
Follow our tips for raising a well-adjusted, well-trained dog, and you will be doing your part to stop dog biting.