Dogs use their mouths as tools, crunching on kibble, gnawing on bones, tearing apart squeaky toys and fetching sticks. It’s also common for overexcited puppies or friendly adult dogs to clog your hand, but biting can be harmful.
Nipping can be an annoying and potentially dangerous habit in dogs. While most dogs bite as part of play, some do it to send a strong message. Whether your dog bites out of playfulness or aggression, you shouldn’t ignore this unpleasant habit.
In the United States, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, and 800,000 of those dog bites require medical attention.1 Dealing with nippy dogs (and teaching your canine companion friendlier forms of play) can help you avoid a trip to the ER and ensure your dog learns safe and appropriate ways to interact.
Why do dogs nip?
Pinching can be accidental or intentional, and it can happen for a number of reasons, including:
If your dog is a puppy, chances are he’s biting because he wants to engage you in a game (puppies nip for fun) or because he’s teething. Puppies often chew playfully, to relieve teething pain or to explore their surroundings.
Not all dogs nip in all situations. Some dogs nab people out of aggression, fear, guarding behavior, or playfulness.seven Some dogs are aggressive towards other dogs. Their “reactive” behavior may be due to things like lack of socialization and training, fear, pain, frustration, or even high prey.8
The good news is that with patience and consistency, there are many ways to help your dog deal with this common bad behavior and prevent your dog from biting.
Steps to prevent dog biting
The best way to deal with pinching is to prevent the behavior before it starts. Try these strategies to prevent your dog from biting:
- Avoid high risk situations Some dogs are more prone to nip in certain situations, especially when startled or frightened. You can reduce the risk of your dog biting if you avoid petting him when he is sleeping, eating, sick, injured, growling, barking or looking for time alone.1
- Get plenty of exercise: Pinching could be your dog’s way of trying to burn off excess energy. Walks, fetch games, trips to the dog park, and other forms of regular exercise can help your dog feel calm, which could reduce mouthing behaviors.4
- Offer appropriate chew toys: Dogs explore the world with their mouths, and offering chew bones and toys gives them positive opportunities to engage in this behavior. These toys can also be used to redirect their behavior. If your dog is starting to get angry with you, offer him a chew toy instead.4
- Use positive reinforcement: Punishing your dog can cause aggression and make the nipping behavior worse. Instead of yelling at your dog or using physical punishment for biting, offer him a chew toy or bone and praise him for chewing it instead.
- Socialize your dog: Dogs that feel uncomfortable in unfamiliar situations can be scared to death. Socializing your dog by introducing him to new people, places, and other dogs will help him feel more comfortable and reduce the risk of fear bites.1
What to do when a dog nips or bites
Sometimes strategies to prevent pinching aren’t enough to stop the behavior. If your dog is biting, follow these steps:
- Show your dog that he hurts you: Dogs may not realize that pinching is painful. When your dog bites, let out a high-pitched cry, this should startle the dog and prevent it from biting. Offer a firm “no” if your dog does not respond to the yelp. Once your dog stops biting, praise him for his behavior.5
- Stop playing: When a dog bites during a game like fetch or tug of war, stop the game. The same goes for dogs that use their mouths to get attention. Do not reinforce the behavior; ignore your dog if he starts nipping to get you to interact.4
- Take a break : Gently put your dog in his crate or other “time out” area, and take him out when he’s calm.4
What to do when a dog pinches or bites children
A dog biting or biting a child is a major cause for concern. If this happens, act immediately.
- Separate the dog and the child. Put the dog in a separate room or crate so you can take care of your child. Examine the area for bites or scratches and seek medical attention, if necessary.1
- Examine the cause. Was the nipping or biting unprovoked or did the dog bite a child because the child was being disrespectful (pulling the tail or ears; chasing, hitting or climbing the dog)? Children need to learn to treat dogs with respect. Play time between dogs and young children should always be supervised.2
- Call a trainer. Biting or pinching without provocation is not acceptable. Call a trainer to schedule sessions to address the behavior and keep children separated from the dog until a solid training plan is established.2
- Consider alternatives. A family with active children is not the best environment for all dogs. For everyone’s safety, you may need to consider rehoming a nippy dog, but be sure to tell the rescue group why you are looking for a new home so they can find a child-free home for your dog.9
When to ask for help pinching
While there are several strategies you can use at home to prevent pinches or remedy them when they occur, you may want to call in the pros to make sure you’re doing everything you can to banish them. The behaviour.
Find a trainer who uses positive reinforcement training to work with you and your dog to learn why your dog bites and the best ways to stop it.2 Enrolling in obedience classes can also help your dog learn proper behaviors and provide you with the tools you need to prevent your dog from biting.6 With a little effort, consistent training, and positive reinforcement, you can keep the dog from biting and have a happy, well-behaved dog.
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1“Dog Bite Prevention.” American Veterinary Medical Association. Accessed August 19, 2022.
2Sassafras Lowrey, CTDI. “Why do dogs bite? Understand why dogs react. American Kennel Club. Published April 1, 2021. Accessed August 19, 2022.
3Marie Kerl. “Why is my puppy biting me and chewing my clothes? » American Kennel Club. Published July 7, 2020. Accessed August 19, 2022.
4“Mouth Management in Dogs.” Animal protection society. Accessed August 19, 2022.
5“Blowing, Nipping and Play Biting in Adult Dogs.” ASPCA. Accessed August 19, 2022.
6AKC staff. “Basic Obedience Training for Puppies: Where to Start.” American Kennel Club. Published March 2, 2020. Accessed August 19, 2022.
7. Debra Horwitz. “Dog Behavior Problems – Aggression Towards Family Members – Introduction and Safety.” VCA veterinary hospitals. Accessed September 5, 2022.
8Earin Rakosky. “What is aggression? Dog reactivity versus dog aggression. American Kennel Club. Published August 19, 2020. Accessed September 5, 2022.
9. Sassafras Lowrey, CTDI. “Rehousing a dog responsibly.” American Kennel Club. Published April 19, 2022. Accessed September 5, 2022.