Puppies have a tendency to mouth, chew, or pretend to bite their owners as a form of play, and they generally take well to training that discourages them from doing so. It’s typically a lot more difficult to teach a dog not to engage in these behaviors, and in adult dogs, the distinction between playfulness and aggression becomes that much more important.
If you need to teach your dog not to bite, don’t despair – there are things you can do to help. And if you or someone you care about has been injured by someone else’s aggressive pet, it’s time to consult with an experienced New Jersey dog bite lawyer.
The ASPCA shares that mouthing is part of a normal dog’s repertoire but that dogs tend to bite in response to either frustration or fear – and deciphering the difference can be difficult. Further, mouthing can precede aggression. The difference between aggressive and playful behaviors can be read in the dog’s body language. A playful dog generally displays a relaxed body and facial expression – without much tension in the facial muscles. An aggressive dog, on the other hand, will take on a stiff appearance, which may include a wrinkled muzzle and the baring of teeth.
Because the line between aggressive and playful is very fine, dog owners must accept the immense responsibility of teaching their pets not to engage in playful practices that could cross the line into aggressive behavior. The risk of someone suffering dog bite injuries is all too real.
Before getting down to the main agenda of teaching your dog not to bite, it’s important to address some practices that you’re well advised to avoid, including:
When it comes to teaching your dog not to bite, there are several basics to keep in mind.
While spaying or neutering your pup is not a cure-all and in no way guarantees your dog won’t bite, VCA Animal Hospitals share that it’s associated with decreased aggression. There are many excellent reasons for choosing to spay or neuter your dog, and helping to prevent dangerous dog bites is high on the list.
Dogs who aren’t exposed to new experiences tend to be more fearful of them, which is closely associated with aggression. Socializing your pet exposes them to new people, situations, and places, and when you keep the experiences positive, it teaches your pet not to fear the unknown. This can help greatly decrease their anxiety and frustration – both of which are closely associated with aggression. Your dog is never too old to improve their socialization – in controlled settings.
If the situation is right, any dog can go rogue and bite someone. As a pet owner, you should never assume that your dog is excluded from this characterization. Just because your pet has never exhibited aggression in the past doesn’t mean that it won’t in the future, which makes hypervigilance key.
Positive reinforcement refers to rewarding your dog’s appropriate behaviors – instead of focusing on those behaviors you’re attempting to change, such as aggression. The kinds of things that qualify as positive reinforcement include all the following:
The reinforcement of desired dog behaviors is considered more effective than punishing those behaviors you’re attempting to suppress.
Obedience training for dogs is highly effective, and obedient dogs are far easier to control. The more obedient your dog, the more focused they are on you and your commands, which improves your ability to avoid aggressive behaviors in your pet.
Your dog uses their body language to communicate with you, which makes understanding what they’re trying to tell you paramount. The basics include all the following:
When your dog exudes confidence, it will stand tall and straight with its head held high in the same way a human would. Their ears will also be perked up, and their eyes will shine bright. While your dog’s mouth may be open, it should appear relaxed, and its tail may curl loosely, sway gently, or hang in a relaxed fashion. A confident dog is generally at ease with the situation, friendly, and non-threatening.
A happy dog lets you know that they’re happy by giving you all the signals of confidence while including a tail wag and some light panting breaths. A happy dog looks friendly and shows no signs of anxiety or frustration.
A playful dog takes happiness to the next level, which can include all the following:
A playful dog may leap and jump for joy and might get into the play bow position, which includes stretching its front legs forward with its head facing straight ahead, and its rear ends pushed up in the air with a wiggle. This is a clear indication that your pup is ready to let the games begin.
An excited dog generally combines the physical expression of both happiness and playfulness – with some jumping, running around, panting, and even whining potentially thrown in for good measure. Your pet’s eyes will likely be wide, and their tongue may hang out of their mouth. Some dogs have a difficult time containing their excitement, which can lead to jumping on people and loud barking. Excitement can lead to overstimulation, which can segue into anxiety and even aggression. As such, excitement is a dog emotion that should grab your attention.
An anxious dog generally lowers its head while holding its ears partially back with its neck outstretched. Your dog may even display a furrowed brow and will likely strike a tense posture. If your dog is fearful, these signs can become more pronounced and can include whining, growling, and the baring of teeth. Aggression typically evolves from anxiety and fear, and the signs can include pinned back ears and forward lunges with narrowed, piercing eyes. The dog may bare its teeth, snap its jaw, and growl or bark in a threatening manner. The progression from anxiety to aggression can be slow to build or can be nearly instantaneous, which makes knowing your dog’s warning signs essential.
Puppies generally learn bite inhibition – or the ability to control the force they employ when mouthing – when they play with other dogs. Puppies tend to chase one another enthusiastically and engage in a good deal of pouncing and wrestling in the process, and occasionally, one of them will bite another a bit too hard. This leads to a yelp, which generally brings the play to an abrupt halt. The dog that did the biting hears the yelp and pays attention, taking a moment to process the information.
Finally, the young pups are likely to continue their frolicking. In this way, they learn to control the strength of their bites, which allows their play to continue uninterrupted.
Experts generally agree that if dogs can teach one another to play more gently, humans can accomplish the same goal with their pets. The suggested technique includes the following:
If the yelp alone is not effective, you can employ a brief time-out, which tends to be more effective for dogs that have passed the puppy stage. If your dog nips you, deliver that same yelp, and when they give you a startled look, it’s time to ignore them for 10 to 20 seconds. If they continue with the mouthing, it’s time to physically move away, which may mean leaving the room. After your brief time-out, go back for another round of playing – the idea is to teach your pet that engaging in gentle play is encouraged while painful bites grind things to a halt.
From here, you can refine your teaching technique by focusing on less forceful nips – thus reinforcing an ever-gentler approach.
Once you’ve taught your dog to be gentle, you can begin the process of teaching them not to mouth humans at all, which boils down to teaching them that their teeth and human skin don’t belong together. Tips for achieving this include:
David J. Cowhey at the New Jersey Dog Bite Lawyer is a formidable dog bite lawyer who dedicates his imposing practice to obtaining fair compensation that covers his clients’ complete physical, financial, and emotional losses. Your claim is important to your future, so please don’t wait to contact us online or call us at 866-343-3181 for more information today. We’re here to help