Any dog with teeth can bite, and dogs nip or bite for a wide variety of reasons. They can bite during play or because they are afraid, hurt, or even excited. The easiest best method for how to train a dog not to bite is to teach them not to bite as puppies. However, if you didn’t teach your puppy not to bite or adopted your dog as an adult, you may find yourself learning how to train a dog not to bite.
Remember that biting in dogs is a complex issue and not always one you should take on yourself. Never be afraid to consult with a dog trainer or veterinarian with any questions you may have. Here is how to train a dog not to bite.
Why Do Dogs Bite
Before we can treat the issue at hand, a dog that bites, first we need to understand why the dog is biting people. Once we know the trigger for this behavior, we can start to remedy it. Remember that when it comes to training dogs, if we only treat the symptom, in this case biting, and don’t address the cause, the likelihood of successful training is incredibly low.
Puppies Bite All the Time
Anyone who has brought home a young puppy can tell you that they bite – a lot. Puppies bite for several reasons, including because they are exploring their environment or when they are playing. These puppies will also bite because they are teething; dogs grow in their adult teeth between 3 and 6 months. If you bring your dog home as a puppy, you must start working on how to train a dog not to bite as soon as possible. If your puppy is teething, give them appropriate items to chew on to help soothe their mouths, such as a Kong® or soft bone.
If they are nipping you while playing, do not continue playing when they nip you. Give them a strong “no” and remove your attention for 5 seconds. If your puppy continues to bite, end the play session.
Puppies are naturally mouthy. They use their mouths to explore their environment. Your job as a puppy parent is to teach your dog that you do not like this mouthing behavior. The key is to communicate with them in a language they can understand.
Adult Dogs: Why Do They Bite?
While a mouthy little puppy might seem cute, once they grow into an adult dog, this behavior isn’t so cute anymore; this is why it’s essential to train a dog not to bite when they are a puppy. However, if you find yourself with an adult dog that bites, don’t give up just yet; you can still figure out how to train a dog not to bite. Let’s discuss a few of the main reasons why an adult dog might have a habit of biting.
Adult dogs may bite when they are overly excited. Dogs can become overexcited, just like human children (and sometimes human adults!). When they reach a certain threshold of excitement, they may lose control of themselves and show behavior they wouldn’t usually. This unusual behavior can include biting. If your dog often bites during play, when you first get home, or during some other type of exciting situation, this may be the root cause of your dog’s biting behavior.
Closely related to dogs that bite because they are excited are dogs that bite due to prey drive. While any dog can have prey drive, some breeds are more prone to it than others. Dogs that bite due to prey drive often become overexcited while chasing a dog or other animal. Once they catch that animal, their overexcitement causes them to bite. This behavior is residual from the dog’s wild canine ancestors who had to bring prey down to survive.
It’s vital to rule out that your dog isn’t experiencing any health problems causing them to bite. If you haven’t been quite able to pinpoint why your dog is biting, talk to a licensed veterinarian about the potential causes of the behavior, especially if it’s a newer issue.
Fear vs. Aggression
Fear is a massive cause of adult dog biting. Often a dog that bites out of fear was mistreated in their past or not properly socialized when they were young. Some dogs have one specific cause of their fear, such as men in baseball caps, while some have multiple. If a dog was not socialized around children as a puppy, they might fear children. No matter what your dog is afraid of (children, men, other dogs, etc.), they may resort to biting when they are put into a situation where they feel they cannot escape their trigger. This response is called the fight or flight response; when they cannot flee, they fight (bite) instead.
If a dog is frightened enough, they can become aggressive. Dogs can become aggressive for various reasons, but if your dog is biting out of aggression, you might want to seek out an experienced trainer. An aggressive dog could bite because they are territorial, keeping their home, owner, food, etc., safe from intruders. A dog might become aggressive because they are injured or frustrated too.
How To Train a Dog Not To Bite
Now that we’ve identified some of the reasons your dog might bite, we can talk about how to train a dog not to bite.
As we stated previously, the best way to train your dog not to bite is to train your puppy not to bite. This training not only includes giving them “time-outs” for biting but also socializing them. To properly socialize your puppy, you expose them to as many kinds of people, places, and experiences as you can at a young age. Socialization teaches your puppy that things are not scary at an age when they aren’t very fearful yet. They also learn to trust you in new situations instead of resorting to fearful or aggressive behavior.
Obedience training isn’t just about getting your dog to do what you want. This training deepens your bond and trust while also teaching your dog to focus on you, even in scary situations. If you can get your dog to focus on you during a stressful situation, you can bring them back under control with you instead of letting a situation escalate to a bite.
If your adult dog has a specific trigger that causes them to bite, for example, children, bicycles, or men, the best method is desensitization. A dog that behaves fearfully or aggressively to a specific trigger is sensitive to that trigger. To help them feel less sensitive, to desensitize them, you get them as close as you safely can to that trigger without them responding. If this means you need to be half a mile away from a playground full of children, so be it.
The desensitization method involves lowering your dog’s sensitivity threshold, minimizing the distance between your dog and the trigger before they react. Once you find your dog’s minimum distance, you slowly shorten that distance over time. If your dog reacts, move them further away from the trigger, calm them down, and reward the calm behavior. Desensitization takes a long time; there is no shortcut to helping your dog relearn appropriate behavior.
Patience and Determination
Dogs nip or bite for a wide variety of reasons. They can be playing, defending their territory, afraid, or even because they are sick or in pain.
For dogs who bite out of fear, defensiveness, or predatory instinct, it’s best to consult with a professional dog trainer. They can help you develop a training plan to desensitize your dog to whatever is causing their biting behavior. Changing a dog’s behavior in adulthood isn’t always easy, but you can and will see results in the long term with patience and determination.