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How to stop a dog from biting?

Golden labrador puppy biting cane advice
© Pixabay

It is natural for a dog to bite. She uses her mouth far more than her paws for manipulating objects (for obvious reasons). 

By Nick Whittle

While she is a puppy, such behaviour is to be expected (although it should still not be encouraged), but when she grows up she should gradually learn to control the use of her mouth. Your attempts to stop your dog from biting someone or a dog should thus begin during puppyhood.

Puppies begin to chew things when their teeth grow, but you need to teach your dog that a human hand is not something to chew on. Indeed, as your dog grows into a juvenile, the strength of her jaw increases exponentially.

If she was to be allowed to continue biting into adulthood danger could be just around the corner: the bite force of an average adult Rottweiler is 328 pounds per square inch: the equivalent of placing 23 kilogrammes of weight on 1 cm of skin.

It is generally accepted that there are five reasons for the adult dog to bite.

Protection

Dogs can feel protective over food, people, toys or territory. Food is a primary resource for dogs, thus they might be particularly protective of it. Even the most placid dog may bite if you try to remove her food bowl while she is trying to eat. Certain other breeds will exhibit protective aggression over toys, or if they feel their owner is being threatened.

Fear

A dog that is fearful rather than easy-going and relaxed is more likely to bite a person. Early socialisation of a dog will get her used to vets, strangers and other dogs. Well-organised family training and awareness prevents young children from scaring a pet.

Pain and illness

A dog in pain will want to be by itself. You should thus take more care when approaching a poorly dog because she is liable to bite; it is her way of telling you to leave her alone, and unless you intend to take her to the vet you should do just that. All breeds of dog are liable to contract some illness in their life and older dogs often suffer the pain of arthritis.

Maternal protection

All animals (including humans) exhibit a maternal defensiveness when they have offspring. A dog that has given birth to puppies will be exhausted, probably sore and most definitely defensive. After all, she wants to make sure her puppies are safe. A dog nursing will bite you if you get too close or attempt to take one of the puppies away.

Prey drive

Most dogs will want to chase other animals. It is part of their inbuilt prey drive. When they see an animal or human that is running they will want to give chase and possibly bite. Well-rounded and well-trained dogs will at this point be recalled or will know that this is not appropriate behaviour. However, prey aggression is one of the most difficult forms of aggression to interrupt. If your dog is prone to exhibit this behaviour, it is safer to keep her on a lead in risky situations.

Here are three ways to try to stop your dog from biting:

1. Inhibit the biting

A puppy playfully biting another puppy is a way of developing a bond. But it is also a way for each to learn about self-awareness. During rough play, if the biting is hard enough to cause pain, then the puppy on the receiving end will yelp. The biting puppy will then stop, and over time, learn to moderate the strength of her bite. This is known as bite inhibition, and it can be used in our efforts to eradicate the biting. If a puppy bites you, make a yelping sound or say ‘ow’ loudly enough for her to be startled, let your hand go limp, then leave the room altogether.

2. Redirect

You should try to avoid your puppy’s mouthing of your skin. As hard as it is to deny a little animal its gaming pleasure, you should have in your mind the Big Picture: that of preventing your grown-up dog from hurting someone. When your puppy shows interest in biting, substitute a toy for your hand: allow her to bite a treat, or a plastic chew toy. This will give her as much pleasure and relief from teething as does your skin.

Dog ownership involves training a dog not to bite.
When your puppy shows interest in biting, substitute a toy for your hand © Pixabay


3. Distract

Games to distract your puppy will provide her with mental stimulation and the reward of the chew. Hiding chew toys and treats around the house will stimulate her and she won't be thinking about her next chewing session while she is on your lap. You should also play with your dog. For instance, engage in a friendly game of tug of war! It will take her mind off the destruction of pieces of furniture and other anti-social habits. Meeting other dogs is also a great method of distracting your puppy and will aid her socialisation.

There are special chemicals on the market that you can use to deter biting, such as sprays for your hand that are bitter to taste. However, training with such compounds is not very effective: for instance, to spray a ‘no-chew’ chemical on your left hand may deter her from biting your left hand but may not do so for your right. It is also of no use when the puppy is presented with a new set of hands or other parts of the body. Training of the offence by psychological means is the safest and most responsible way to stop a dog from biting.

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