Every year in the United States four-and-a-half million people are bitten by dogs and 20 percent of them end up needing medical attention for their wounds. Even sadder, children are more often victims of dog bites than adults.
There are many causes for dogs biting. It is rare if a dog bite results because a dog was born with the inherent nature to bite (I’m talking biting, not chewing or playful nipping, although nipping could be the first sign of a problem to be dealt with). Usually biting is something that happens because a dog is trying to send a message. It could be of protecting something it finds valuable like food, or because it is irritated or not feeling well.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association dogs may bite because it finds itself in a stressful situation or it may bite to defend itself or its territory. They may be scared or startled. Dogs also might nip and bite during play. That’s why it’s a good idea to avoid wrestling or playing tug-of-war with your dog. These types of activities can make your dog overly excited, which may lead to a nip or a bite.
As an owner you have to be aware from your first interaction with your new dog for any tendencies it might have to nip or bite. Even if it may be something it does naturally, you have to teach it that biting is not acceptable. For my dogs – which I got as puppies – one of the first lessons I taught them was not to nip or bite. I did this during their first play session. The first time they nipped at me I would place the meaty end of my hand in their mouth and push lightly backwards forcing their mouth further open. As I did so, I would say “no” repeatedly. Repeating this exercise shortly made them understand that biting was not acceptable.
While this works for puppies, for an older dog that tends to bite or nip other tools may come in handy.
Seeing It Coming
Dog ownership means, among other things, whatever the dog may do you are responsible for it. That message includes dog biting.
There are several signs that a dog is poised to bite in anger. Its ears may be pinned back, its body stiffens, and its fur may stand on edge. This is why you should always proceed cautiously when approaching a dog that you are not familiar with. Children, in particular, have to be taught caution when approaching a dog. But, you want to do it in a way that doesn’t create fear in the child. Lead by example. Tell the child she or he must always ask permission of the dog’s owner if the dog is not your own. Teach it how to let the dog become comfortable before reaching out to pet it.
Steps To Consider
One way to minimize a dog’s tendency to bite is to reduce its aggressiveness. Having a dog spayed or neutered will help decrease the risk of bite related behaviors.
Regularly exercising and playing with your dog will help it learn acceptable from unwanted behaviors. It will also serve to burn off excess energy. However, avoid games that involve rough housing; that will lead to aggressive behavior.
All of your training, such as the basic commands of sit, stay, come and leave it will help enforce discipline and insure the dog knows you are in charge. If a dog doesn’t feel that you are in command it will take over those duties and that means guarding its territory and property by any means it deems necessary, including biting.
Don’t let your dog roam free where they can put other dogs or people at risk. Socialization is a good way to help prevent your dog from biting. Socializing your pet helps your dog feel at ease in different situations. By introducing your dog to people and other animals while it’s a puppy, it feels more comfortable in different situations as it gets older.
Should your dog show any signs of aggression and you feel you unable to modify its behavior, you should consider getting advice from your vet or find a qualified professional dog trainer to help you out. But, letting bad behavior go without immediate correction is only going to make matters worse. Remember that a dog’s behavior has to be dealt with immediately. It won’t recall what it did wrong a few minutes or hours after it happened. It will assume that if there is no correction that it has carte blanche to do it again and again.
As an owner everything your dog does – good or bad – is your responsibility. Taking a few steps very early in the dog’s development will help it become a pet in good standing in your home and throughout your community.