If you are a pet owner you must have experienced your dog mouthing your hands or clothing during play and interaction time. Especially if you are a new dog owner you must have wondered, why does my dog bite me when I pet him.
A scenario of dog biting its guardian in a house
Imagine a scenario, where you are a busy working professional and you had a rather busy day at office. After a long tiring and day, you are happy to reach home be with your spouse and kids.
After the dinner, when the kids are in their room and the spouse settles down to watch TV or a movie on Netflix, you also slumber on the sofa to get much needed rest.
At this time, you notice your dog dashing towards you with an eagerness that makes you think how much you and your dog love each other and how you extend your arms to give him a special cuddly pat. But what is this? ……your bites you hard!
Why Does My Dog Bite Me
Obviously you are taken aback at such a canine behavior (and probably annoyed too). You start looking for an answer, why does my dog bite me when I pet him? After all, you are his beloved guardian.
The Psychological Reasons For Dog Biting
There can be many reasons that a dog may bite you if you try to pet him.
After ruling out the possibilities of any medical conditions or negative associations with hands, there is a very common, plausible explanation for why some of our beloved dog snaps when we go to pet him.
It can be attributed to dog’s “frustration.” If you look at it from your dog’s perspective, it thinks that his beloved owner doesn’t understand what the dog wants or needs.
If there are other special reasons often diagnosed condition, it may require a skilled professional.
To understand this better, let us go back to our typical scenario in a household.
While you have been busy the whole day and going crazy, your pet dog has been spending that time eating, resting and waiting for something to do.
At the end of the day, when you finally reach home and sink into the couch after the dinner, you are hardly left with any energy or mood to play with your dog.
Whereas your dog has been resting and waiting to do something with you. It is when you arrive home, their day gets started.
The restless dogs are so eager to play and are mentally so stimulated to play with their owners. But when they approach you and see that you are with little energy only to pet them, they display their resentment by biting you.
Perhaps they are screaming at you, “I don’t want to be petted! It’s time to have some action! Let’s go out and play!”
Maybe your dog has tried more subtle ways of communicating this to you. But you seem to have missed those signs.
So now, the dog is very “frustrated”.
You might have experienced a similar behavior with your kids when they were little and active. There must have been times when you wanted to be left alone and rest for a while but the kids want you to tell them a story. If you did not oblige them, they did crazy things to show how upset they were!
The other reasons could be:
Why Does My Dog Bite Me….The reason is Mouthing
When puppies or adults dogs chew, bite or mouth their parents’ hands, clothing or limbs it is called mouthing. It can be playful mouthing as well as aggressive mouthing.
While playful mouthing is normal behavior but it is aggressive mouthing which could indicate problems like fear, frustration or aggression.
How to spot aggressive mouthing?
In most cases, it is possible to differentiate between playful mouthing and aggressive mouthing. All you need is careful observation of the body of your dog and its behavior.
For example, a happy and playful dog will have a relaxed body and normal face. Depending on the breed of your dog, its muzzle may not look wrinkled and there may not be any tension in his facial muscles.
Under such circumstances, the bite of a playful dog may be less painful. Whereas, the aggressive dog may have a stiff body and an aggressive stance. It may have wrinkled muzzle and pull back its lips to expose his teeth.
Its bites may be serious, usually quicker and more painful than those delivered during play.
How to Train Your Dog and Prevent Biting
Dogs can be trained to be gentle. This training should ideally start as early as possible in the life of the dog.
During your play time with your dog, allow him to mouth on your hands if it wants to. Let the playful continue. But if the dog bites hard, immediately let out a sharp cry of pain, as if you are seriously hurt, and let your hand go limp.
This should surprise your dog and the startling effect may make him to stop mouthing you, at least momentarily. (If crying out does not seem to have an effect on the dog, you can give a command in a stern voice “Very bad!” or “No Biting!” instead.
Then praise your dog when it stops or for licks you. Once again resume the play. If your dog bites you hard again, should out again.
Repeat these steps up to three times within a 15-minute period.
If you find that objecting loudly alone doesn’t work, you can switch to stage 2 which is a time-out method.
Turn away from your dog and ignore his for 20 to 30 seconds.
This procedure is generally effective for curbing aggressive mouthing behavior in adolescent and adult dogs.
Let us look at the time-out procedure again. When your dog bites you hard, shout out loudly. This should startle him and would let go of your hand and turn to look at you or looks around. Now pull out your hand and ignore him for 20 to 30 seconds.
If the dog starts to mouth on you again, get up and move away from him for 10 to 20 seconds. This may even require you to leave the room.
After a short time-out, return to your dog and encourage him to play with you again.
It’s important to teach him that he can participate in gentle play, but painful play will stop immediately.
Continue to play with your dog until he bites hard again. If and when he does, repeat the above sequence
When your dog isn’t delivering really hard bites anymore, you can tighten up your rules a little. Demand your dog to be even gentler.
Train him the same way. Yelp and stop playing in response to moderately hard bites. Persist with this procedure of yelping and then ignoring your dog or giving him a time-out for his hardest bites.
As moderate level of bites disappear, do the same for his next-hard level bites, and so on, until your dog can play with your hands very gently, controlling the force of his mouthing so that you feel little or no pressure at all.
Another alternative procedure to above procedure in the third stage might be to lead the dog by the collar into a small room and give him five minutes or so of time out.
If you can’t get control of this aggressive behavior of your dog by yourself then you should hire the services of a good dog trainer.
If aggressive mouthing behavior is not curbed, someone outside of your family might be bitten and you could be dealing with an unwanted law suit.
Next Level of Training: Tips to Prevent the Dog From Biting At All
Now that you have trained your dog to be gentle with his mouthing, you can take your dog to the next level: teach him to avoid mouthing people altogether.
You may find following tips useful:
- Give him a toy or chew bone when your dog tries to gnaw on fingers.
- Dogs have been found to mouth on people’s hands or clothing when stroked, and patted. If your dog gets all furious up when you pet him, distract him by feeding him small treats from your other hand. This will help train your dog to get used to the human touch without mouthing.
- Go in for non-contact forms of play, such as fetch a ball or frizzby and tug-of-war, rather than cuddling, wrestling and a rougher play with your hands.
- To keep tug-of-war game safe and fun for both of you, you’ll have to follow strict rules. Once your dog can play tug safely, keep tug toys handy so you can easily access them. If he starts to mouth you, you can immediately point his attention to his tug toys.
- When well trained, he’ll start to ask for tug game with you when he feels like mouthing.
- Teach your dog aggression control and impulse control with specific commands such as sit, wait and leave it.
If despite the training your dog again bites at your feet and ankles, carry his favorite tug toy with you. Whenever he attacks you, instantly stop moving your feet. Take out the toy and wave it enticingly. When your dog grabs the toy from you, move away. If you don’t happen to be carrying the toy, just freeze and wait for your dog to stop mouthing your hand. The moment he stops, praise him and reward him with some toy. Repeat these steps until your dog gets used to watching you move around without going after your hand or feet.
Some general precautions, if you are the owner
- Avoid waving your fingers or any other object in your dog’s face or slapping the edges of his face to prod him to play.
- Doing this may actually prod your dog to bite your hand.
- Do not discourage your dog from if it wants to play with you. Playing together helps to build a robust bond between the dog and his human family. Of course, you may teach your dog how to play gently instead of not playing at all.
- Try not to pull your hand away with a jerk when he mouths. Jerky movements might seem like a sort of a game to your dog and encourage him to leap forward and grab your hand again. It’s far more effective to let your hand go limp in order that they aren’t much fun to play with.
- Punishing your dog for mouthing by slapping or hitting can cause him to bite harder. They typically react by playing more aggressively. Physical punishment also can make your dog scared of you—and it can even cause them to use real aggressive behavior.
- Avoid scruff shaking, whacking your dog on the nose, sticking something down his throat and any other type of punishment which may hurt or scare him.
When Not to Pet a Dog, especially if you are not the owner
Let’s cast a quick glance at some circumstances when you may want to play it safe and avoid petting a dog. A number of these are quite obvious, while others are less so. As a general rule of thumb, don’t pet a dog when:
- The owner isn’t around
- The dog may be a stray or unknown to you
- It is behind a fence, inside a car,
- The dog is in a neighborhood and perceives it as it’s territory
- It is tied
- The dog is near food or other things like toys, bones, a dead animal , a food wrapper, or trash
- The dog is sleeping or resting
- The dog is watching over its puppies
- It belongs to a breed that’s known to be aggressive such as guard dog (although no generalizations can be made)
- The dog is giving hints of disliking your touch, like moving away, shrinking, or hiding between its owner’s legs
- The dog is giving signals like asking you to travel away, like lunging, barking, or growling.
Hope this article was informative and helpful. For more pet related articles, you like to chose from our pet series.