How to stop a dog from biting

One of the most common reasons for people to seek help from a dog trainer is to stop dog biting.

This behavior from the family pet isn't acceptable under any circumstances, because it puts all members of their family at risk of harm.

An Aggressive Biting Dog

What can you do to solve dog biting problems, or to prevent them from occurring in the first place? 

1. Leave your pup with his litter mates until he is 8 weeks of age

This allows him plenty of opportunities to learn bite inhibition. When he is playing with his siblings, he will inevitably bite a little hard. The result is a squeal from his playmate, and the end of the game. Over time, his four legged family will train him how to control how hard he bites, and this will carry over into his interactions with people.

2. Start training your puppy early

Puppies use their mouth and teeth to investigate the world around them. 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.

Puppy

3. Use restraints when children are around

Some herding breeds, such as the Border Collie, have a strong instinct to bite as they are moving stock. If you own one of these breeds, it may be difficult to change this behavior, and they may still nip your children's heels as they run around after them.

To manage this, lock your dog away 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 important 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. Also, if he does manage to nip someone, there could be serious consequences.

Happy DogA common reason for dogs to bite is because they are nervous.

They may snap at you because they are in a situation that makes them frightened, 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, and this will help to stop dog biting behavior due to fear and anxiety.

Some dogs, in spite of the best training when young, still grow up to be fearful and anxious. 

These dogs should be protected from any situation that makes them nervous, to avoid them from getting in a position where they may snap.

5. Monitor adopted dogs closely as they settle in

If you are adopting an adult dog, be extremely careful until he has settled in, and you can evaluate his temperament.

Again, dog training classes will teach your dog to respect you and have confidence in you, which will help to reduce any biting behavior.

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6. Use Reward Based Training

Your dog may snap when you attempt to touch his food bowl or his bone. Use reward based training methods to teach him that it is okay for you to do this, and reinforce that training regularly.

7. Teach Him the Leave It Command!!

Do you have an enthusiastic feeder who manages to bite your fingers when you give him a treat? 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 had, but only let him have it if he takes it from you gently.

And You Leave It to the Professionals

If you are thinking about dealing with your dog biting problems on your own, don't, as this isn't a task for an inexperienced dog trainer.

This is a risky behavior and if you get it wrong, you may get bitten. You may also make your dog's biting behavior worse. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist who will work out a dog training program to manage your dog.

By doing so, you can stop dog biting in its tracks and enjoy the companionship of a safe and trustworthy canine companion.

Bite Inhibition

Smiling girl hugging Shiba dog, who is partially on her lap (touch and restraint desensitization).Teach our puppy bite inhibition.

3 legged dog (Siberian Husky) sitting on grass, with nose smelling a dog treat enhanced hand.Hand-feeding is a good way to train for bite inhibition.

Some dogs may have low bite thresholds. This means that they resort to biting or aggression even with fairly low, seemingly harmless stimuli.

One of my dogs, a Shiba Inu, can get mouthy when he is excited or frustrated, when I restrain him, when I stop him from doing something, and much more. Because of this, it is extremely important to train him to have good bite inhibition.

I start bite inhibition exercises as soon as I bring a puppy home. Even though puppy teeth are sharp, a puppy does not have the jaw strength of an adult, and is not capable of doing as much damage. Once my puppy has a soft mouth, I train him to stop biting on people.

Hand-feeding is a good way to teach our puppies to control the force of their bites. I hand-feed my puppy at least some of his kibble every day. If he bites too hard when getting his food, I do a sharp ouch or yelp, and ignore him for a few seconds. This teaches him that if he bites too hard, the food stops.

If my puppy is taking food from me gently, I praise him and keep the food coming. Often, I will combine hand-feeding with puppy obedience training and dog grooming sessions. Hand-feeding can also help prevent food aggression issues, so I continue this practice throughout my dog’s life.

We can also get Ian Dunbar’s book After You Get Your Puppy, for an overview of bite inhibition training.

Initially, Dunbar may come across as somewhat alarmist. We may feel that if we do not meet his somewhat unrealistic dog socialization and puppy training demands, things are going to go badly. I just try to ignore the alarmist talk, and focus on the bite inhibition and handling exercises, which are quite useful.

I am very thankful that my puppy (now adult dog) has a soft mouth. Because my Shiba Inu has good bite inhibition, we were able to solve many of his subsequent issues, which would have been difficult to deal with if he were biting at full strength.

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Shiba Inu biting on cardboard stick.Good bite inhibition allowed us to solve many of Shiba Sephy’s problems, which would have been difficult to deal with if he were biting at full strength.

When Our Puppy Bites …

When our puppy bites, it is important NOT to jerk our hand away. If we jerk away, we will likely get scratched. In addition, sudden and quick movements may make our puppy think that it is a fun game. This rewards the biting behavior, and encourages him to bite on us even more.

In the worst case, quick movements can activate a dog’s prey drive, and encourage aggressive behaviors. Therefore, it is important to control this reflex action, and stay still. In addition, I give a no-mark or yelp as a puppy might do to his litter-mates, when they are playing too rough.

I usually yelp when it is an accidental dog bite, for example when my dog gets his teeth on me while taking food out of my hand. Yelping is also appropriate for puppies that are still learning the rules. Otherwise, I use No for adult and adolescent dogs, who should know better.

After the no-mark, I always follow-up with a positive command, e.g. redirect him onto a toy.

Shiba Inu with big grin from getting a tummy rub. Do not mistake a Shiba's grin for aggression.When our puppy is biting us, it is important NOT to jerk away.

1. Redirect Our Puppy onto a Toy

Man scratching Shiba Inu on his inner rear leg. Shiba Inu is on his back with rear legs open, and a red ball toy in his mouth.Redirect our puppy onto a toy.

This technique is especially useful for an untrained puppy. It lets him know that it is ok to bite on a toy, but not ok to bite on people.

For example, my dog gets excited and starts biting when I scratch his tummy. Therefore, I used that as a training exercise to get him to bite on a toy, instead of on my hand. Since I can start the exercise anytime I want, I control the environment and make sure that I have multiple soft toys nearby for use. I make sure to reward my dog very well with food and affection when he redirects, so that I further reinforce the behavior.

A toy can also be useful for those cases where the puppy is losing control, and getting a bit too excited or frustrated. Giving him something to redirect his excitement or frustration at, may help to calm him down.

If I do not have a toy handy, I can also redirect by giving my puppy an alternate and simple command that he knows very well, e.g. Sit.

Man scratching Shiba Inu while holding a ball toy to redirect playful puppy biting. Dog on back with rear legs open.My dog gets excited and starts biting when I scratch his tummy, so initially, I used that as a training exercise to get him to bite on a toy instead of on my hand.

3. Timeout

Girl smiling and scratching Husky dog in the backyard. Smiling Shiba Inu in the background.Dogs like their freedom and they like being with their pack.

Most dogs value their freedom to roam around the house and backyard. Dogs are also pack animals, and like being with both human and canine members of the family. Since a timeout takes away both of these things, it is an extremely effective method of dog discipline.

When giving my dog a timeout –

  • I make sure to put him in a really boring room, with no windows that he can reach. Currently, my dog’s timeout area is the laundry room.
  • I check that the room is safe, and contains nothing that he can chew, play, or interact with in any way.
  • Finally, I ensure that nobody gives puppy any attention during his timeout period.

It is better not to use a crate for timeouts. Crates are useful for transportation, management, and more. Therefore, I ensure that the crate is a happy place, where my dog feels comfortable going to for some peace and quiet, for sleep, and to chew on his favorite toy.

I find that a timeout is the most effective way to stop my dogs from biting. However, I only use it when my puppy is deliberately acting out, and not for accidental bites.

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Initially, I start with a short 1 minute timeout. If my dog continues to bite right after he comes out, I return him to the laundry room for a much longer period of time (about 15 minutes). Be flexible with the timeout duration, and adjust it according to our dog’s age, temperament, and behavior. Some trainers do not believe in long timeouts, while others may ignore their dogs (timeout lite) for hours.

Do not use timeouts for training mistakes or lack of motivation.

Shiba Inu sleeping on walking shoes and mat.Shiba Inu – Independent, Aloof, and Stubborn

Some trainers suggest using aversive techniques to stop dog biting. For example, one suggested making my hand into a fist (so my fingers are safe), and then pushing my fist gently in when my puppy bites. This is uncomfortable for the puppy, and he will likely release our hand.

While it did get my puppy to release my hand, it did not reduce his biting behavior. In fact, my dog responds badly to any aversive methods. Doing this made him want to bite on me even more, because he got a reaction, and now has something (my fist) to fight with.

The same thing occurred with spraying water on his muzzle; he just started attacking the water bottle.

Ultimately, aversive techniques were not very effective with my dog, and caused even more behavioral issues. With aversive methods, it is difficult to trick a puppy into thinking that the bad stimulus is not coming from us. This can compromise a puppy’s trust and weaken our bond with him.

Instead, when my puppy bites,

  1. I first use a no-mark, for example, No or Ack-Ack to let him know that it is an undesirable behavior.
  2. Then, I redirect him onto a toy or give him an alternate command, for example Sit. If he stops biting and follows the command, then I praise him and reward him with attention and a fun game.
  3. If he continues to bite, I start with a timeout-lite by first withdrawing my attention. I do this by standing up, folding my arms, and turning away from him.
  4. If he escalates his behavior and starts to jump or bite on my clothing, then I quickly remove him to his full timeout area.

I always try to set my dog up for success by managing his excitement level. When he starts biting, I try to redirect and turn things into a positive learning experience. I only escalate my response when I absolutely have to, and I try my best to minimize those instances.

Man training Shiba Inu, who is doing a Down and Look.Shiba Inu Sephy did not respond well to aversive methods. Reward training yielded much better results.

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