How To Stop Your Dog From Biting (Or Nipping!)

dog biting

Having a dog that bites or nips can pose a real problem – and regardless of whether it’s truly aggressive behavior or simply overzealous play biting – it’s crucial to get this behavior under control before it leads to risky situations or even a dog that’s impossible to live with.

So with this in mind, we’re going to explain some of the common reasons which may cause a dog to bite, and what you can do to avoid these situations from occurring.

Additionally, you’ll learn some simple techniques you can use to stop your young dog or puppy from biting (or learning the habit, to begin with).

The Reasons

Understanding the reasons behind a behavior are one of the first steps towards changing it.

So before we get into the training methods, it’s worth taking a closer look at the reasons why your dog may be biting or nipping.

They Didn’t Learn “Bite Inhibition”

Firstly, the problem of biting or nipping is usually most common with young dogs and puppies who haven’t quite learned “bite inhibition” yet.

It’s natural for puppies to nip, mouth, and “play bite” during times of play, and their jaws aren’t quite as strong as an adult dog, so this usually isn’t a problem.

But as time goes by and they become stronger, they naturally learn to suppress the “strength” of their bite to avoid seriously hurting each other.

However, there’s a number of reasons which can stop this process from happening (such as the dog not being socialized with other dogs very often, or not been trained to suppress their bite).

If you have an adult dog who tends to play bite often (or simply play bites too hard) then there’s a good chance they were never trained how to be gentler when they were a puppy. Fortunately, this is something you can usually train out of them quite quickly.

Fear

If your dog is biting in a serious, non-playful way, then one of the reasons could be fear. This often happens with strangers or people your dog doesn’t know well – and anyone who the dog perceives to be a threat.

Attacking the mailman is a common and classic example of this fear-based aggressive behavior.

Pain

Dog owners are often shocked by how their usually friendly dog can lash out and bite when they are in pain.

This can be a natural reaction in some situations due to the distress they’re under, so you’ll need to be careful if this is the case.

Of course, if your dog is in pain for any reason, then you should consult a vet immediately.

Possessiveness 

Certain breeds of dog (often ones with guarding or herding traits) can be more possessive than others, and they may bite to defend what they’re trying to protect.

As examples of this behavior, they will often guard items such as toys, food, territory,  or even a favorite chair.

Playful Or Aggressive?

One of the crucial distinctions you’ll need to make when you’re dealing with a dog that bites is whether the behavior is fuelled by aggression or playfulness.

If your dog is biting out of fear or pure aggression, then professional intervention is going to be the safest option. It simply isn’t worth the risk to do this yourself if you’re not experienced in this area because an aggressive dog can cause serious injury until the biting is under control.

On the other hand, playful biting is sometimes due to a lack of “bite inhibition”, and these things can be easier to handle.

But a professional can still help if you’re worried about biting behavior because it’s often more serious than simply teaching your dog basic obedience skills.

So how can you tell the difference? Well, it may be quite obvious based on your dog’s body language, but you can also tell by the type of bite. Playful biting is less painful, and your dog’s body will be more relaxed and at ease. An aggressive dog tends to stiffen up and pull the lips back in an aggressive gesture.

Teaching Your Dog To Be Gentle

If your dog hasn’t learned to reduce the strength of their bite when playing, then this is the first thing you’ll need to work on.

Often, a young dog or puppy will get too excited during play, and this is when they tend to bite too hard – not out of aggression or a desire to hurt – but simply because they haven’t had a chance to realize the sensitivity of a human’s skin.

The “Ouch!” Technique

So what can you do to teach your dog to play gently? Well, you can use what we like to call the “ouch!” technique.

All you need to do is play with your dog like normal. But when your dog becomes too excited and bites you overly hard, say “ouch!”, as if they’ve hurt you (more than they really may have, of course), and take your hand away.

Doing this is likely to startle your dog, and they may be a little confused at first. During these next few moments, it’s important to ignore your dog for up to 30 seconds or so. Even if they continue to “play”, you must not continue or engage in any playful behavior with them just yet.

After a certain amount of time has passed, you can continue to play, but if they bite too hard again – then you’ll need to repeat the same steps as described. This will gradually teach your dog that you will play with them, not only when they play in a gentler way.

In most cases, this trick will be tremendously effective and work surprisingly fast when it comes to correcting their behavior.

A Useful Distraction

If your dog continues to play too rough, you may want to divert their attention by giving them a toy to play with after the “ouch” technique, rather than letting them bite you!

If your dog tends to bite things a little harder when overexcited, it’s better to redirect the behavior onto something more appropriate in the short term.

Another useful trick is to use a device like The Pet Corrector, which emits a hissing sound that’s quite similar to the noise made by geese. Like many animals, this noise is a natural deterrent for dogs, so it tends to work very well for discouraging unwanted behaviors.

A Tasty Deterrent

Another option you have is to use taste deterrents to reduce your dog’s pleasure from biting. This means putting some bitter apple spray on your clothes or hands, so when your dog bites or even mouths you, the bad taste they experience will deter them from mouthing you further.

However, this method is likely to stop your dog mouthing you entirely, and make possibly make less likely to “play” in the same way. So whether this is what you’d like to happen depends on how severe the problem is, and how you like to play with your dog.

Avoid Stressful Situations

One of the most common reasons why a dog will bite is due to stress, usually in the form of fear. A dog may panic around new people and during new situations, and this can sometimes manifest itself as aggression and biting.

So if this is a major trigger, it may be best to reduce your dog’s exposure to these situations until you have a better handle on their behavior.