No matter how close you are to your dogs, sometimes the unexpected can happen and your dog bites you. So now what? The first step, of course, is to stay calm. This isn’t the end of your relationship and doesn’t mean that your dog has turned into an aggressive killer. There are lots of reasons a dog might bite. To find the solution, you first have to figure out your cause.
If your dog is a puppy and suddenly clamps down on your thumb, don’t worry. All puppies go through this phase, and it’s your perfect opportunity to correct the behavior so it diminishes in the future, as we explain here.
But what if your dog isn’t a puppy? There are five reasons that a dog may bite:
- Maternal instincts — mother with puppies
- Pain — medical issue
- Possessiveness — you tried to take something away
- Fear — you scared the dog
- Prey drive — you were playing an aggressive game
What to Do if Your Puppy Bites You?
At a certain stage, puppies bite. It’s what they do, first when they’re teething, and then later as they try to establish dominance. The important thing to remember is that a puppy doesn’t bite you because it hates you. It bites you because you’re there, it feels something soft, and it has teeth.
Sometimes, a puppy may even break the skin but, again, the important thing to remember is that this is just a stage of the puppy’s growth. In order to deal with it, remember two things. The first is to remain calm. A nip from a puppy may hurt, but the less you react to it, the less importance your puppy will attach to it.
Second, in order to break your puppy of this habit, you need to learn the signs of when she is about to nip, then correct her with a quick pinch on the scruff just before she decides to do it. This will redirect her from her instinct to bite, and eventually teach her not to do so.
What to Do if Your Dog Bites You?
Follow the general procedures, and then look at the causes of the bite. If it happened during a dog fight, then it was most likely accidental — your dog was in an aggressive zone and you were in the wrong place — so it was nothing personal, and you probably don’t have to worry about your dog suddenly biting you again.
Do not discipline your dog long after the fact. She won’t connect discipline now with what she did in the past, so it will just confuse her. If she does remember biting you, she may show signs of submission afterwards (ears, tail, and head down). Practice no talk, no touch, and no eye contact for a while and remain calm.
If your dog suddenly nips at you for no apparent reason, consult your veterinarian first. This may be a sign of pain or a hidden injury, which your vet can diagnose. If there are no obvious medical causes, then you have to look at what happened leading up to the bite. For example, did you suddenly sit too close to him on the couch, try to take away a favorite toy, or get too near the food bowl while he was eating?
In those cases, you need to work with your dog to eliminate budding aggression by establishing rules, boundaries, and limitations, consulting with a professional trainer if necessary.
Is your dog in pain? If you’re bitten unexpectedly and none of the other three reasons apply, it’s time to take a trip to the vet. Dogs are very good at hiding pain, but if you touch a sore spot that they’ve been keeping secret, they can react instinctively with a warning nip. Your vet can determine whether your dog is feeling pain, or if they have some other neurological condition that caused the unexpected behavior.
This leaves possessiveness, fear, and the prey drive, of which the first is the most serious and takes longer to deal with. Let’s look at the other two first.
If your dog bites you because you scared him, then you need to build trust in the relationship. It may just be a one-time thing — you moved toward the dog too quickly, or sat too close to him while he was sleeping, for example. But if you don’t build trust after an incident like this, it can happen more often whenever your dog is feeling insecure, and anyone can be the target.
Work on discipline
Second, work on discipline by teaching him simple tricks, particularly sit and stay, using positive reinforcement. At first, this may be a treat, but if you gradually switch over the reward to praise and affection, then you become the treat. Your dog will associate you with pleasant things, and so become far less likely to react with fearful aggression.
Humans manipulate the world mostly with their hands, while dogs manipulate it mostly with their mouths. Needless to say, a dog’s teeth are a lot sharper than human fingers, so unintentional or accidental bites can happen. Just remember when they do it that it isn’t the end of the world. Stay calm, figure out what caused it, and then take the right steps to prevent it from happening again.