Dogs are very playful when they are happy. This is one of the reasons why they are man’s best friends because being with them will never get boring.
Playing with dogs is one of the highlights of a dog parents’ day. It is also one of the fond memories that we look to when we feel sad or when we want to relax.
This interaction is so important for the health of both dog and owner. It is great especially when the need to de-stress arises.
Dog Biting When Playing: A Concern You Should Address
There are times when we should be mindful of our dog’s behavior when we are playing with them. This is especially true when we observe instances of dog biting when playing.
We want to keep playing with our dogs and them to be happy when playing with us. Hence, we need to make sure that our dogs will play with us safely in a non-aggressive context.
The emotions of dogs can sometimes get out of hand. Our dogs can get overly excited and can start to think that we are also a dog like them.
This can lead to physical contact that can even lead to what is called “play-biting”. It is a common activity that dogs and puppies do when they play with other dogs and puppies.
Is it normal for dogs to bite during play? Play-biting, nipping, is a normal part of puppy behavior, but that doesn’t mean you have to be ok with it.
A dog bite while playing might seem harmless at first. But if you don’t teach your dog how to control or avoid it, then it could actually get worse and hurt people for real.
You need to teach your dog quickly that this isn’t ok, but how do you do that?
Have you ever watched puppies play? They’re constantly using their mouths and nipping at each other, but never too hard.
They very seldom actually hurt each other. When a dog bites when playing with one another, it is usually never an indicator of an intent to hurt. It is actually part of the play experience for our canine friends.
If one of them does bite too hard, the bitten dog will usually yelp and stop playing. The biter soon realizes that if he continues to bite that hard, no one will play with him.
Some dogs are eager to socialize or to engage in interaction. They will show behavior that ensure even more socialization or interaction with others.
But how do you teach your dog that it’s ok to play that way, but not ok to bite or nip people, even in play?
What generally happens is that as you’re playing with your dog, he gets more and more excited. Eventually biting down on your hand, or your clothing, or your shoes, or whatever he can reach.
A dog biting when excited is a very strong signal you need to take charge and arrest the behavior asap before it gets worse. Both for the dog and his human or dog playmate.
Stop it Right Away
The best way to start teaching that this is not good behavior is to stop the nipping as soon as you start to notice it.
If you are going to invest in behavior training for your dog, it is imperative to include sessions on how to stop a dog from biting when playing.
Your dog needs to be trained on this behavior whether he is playing with people or fellow dogs. This is the responsibility of every well-meaning dog owner.
Sit and Get Your Dog Excited!
Start by teaching him how to sit. It might seem like such a simplistic suggestion, but this is the most basic step to take and teach when you want to stop dog biting when playing.
Once he’s mastered that, start acting excited, waving your arms around, making loud noises, etc. What you are trying to accomplish here is for him to be influenced by your excited behavior so he will mimic it.
When he starts to get too excited, and you think he’s about to start nipping, freeze what you’re doing, stand up straight, and have him sit still again.
Repeat this a few more times, trying to go wild for longer and longer times before your dog gets overly excited.
To ensure success in this, it is very important to be attuned to your dog’s body language and patterns of behavior. You need to be aware of the signs that will confirm he is about to start nipping, so when you spot it you can go arrest it right away.
Once your dog has mastered this, you’ll be able to incorporate it into your daily play routine, and any time your pup starts to get overly excited. Your dog will quickly learn that it’s not ok to bite or even playfully nip at people.
At this early stage of training, it is important to remember that your dog relies on you to help him master the appropriate behavior. And also steer clear of demonstrating the inappropriate ones, like biting or nipping.
If your dog starts to get very mouthy or bites, walk away for around 30 seconds. Keep doing this when the same behavior comes up, so your dog will see the connection and realize the threshold for play.
Nipping at people is a harmful behavior that can even lead to serious injury.
It is best to make sure your dog understands that you do not have a thick layer of skin. And if they really want to bite something, it is best to buy them a chew toy. This is so they have an activity strictly directed to stimulate their biting behavior.
This redirection will be discussed in the next paragraph.
Redirect their mouth behavior
Redirecting inappropriate behavior like biting or nipping is helpful. This is because you are able to avoid an accidental biting and yet still give your dog an outlet for his high level of excitement.
You can also try to redirect your puppy’s mouth behavior using games that involve his mouth, but don’t necessarily involve biting. Like tug-of-war or fetch.
Get creative with whatever items you have at home that you are willing to use for games like these. And keep using them so your dog will identify them as things that are ok to bite whenever they are feeling overly excited.
Store bought toys are great, but if you have things around the house (an old baseball mitt, an odd piece of unused rope, etc.) then those will work great, too!
The important thing to ensure is that your dog knows which things are ok to bite (toys, old rugs, play things, etc.) and which aren’t (legs, arms, hands, other body parts of humans and fellow dogs).
It is important to make this distinction clear until your dog knows what is acceptable to bite and what is not.
For tug-of-war, make sure the tugging never gets too aggressive. And that your dog knows commands like “leave it” or “drop “it” so you can easily get things out of his mouth if you need to.
When you fail to keep the aggressive behavior from escalating, trust that it will be a lot more challenging to get your dog to refocus and obey the commands that are given a little too late.
Again, we go back to the idea of an owner needing to know his dog’s patterns of behavior so any behaviors are de-escalated at the right time.
What if it’s a new or an unfamiliar dog? Distracting dogs can be difficult if you do not know them well or do not know how to distract them.
It is best to observe your dog’s behavior first and learn what toys they like best and what food can distract them before doing this activity.
This will take some time and ample doses of trial and error. Be consistent and do training and observation every day. This way you can resolve the nipping and biting concern before your dog actually ends up seriously hurting someone else.
Signs that Signal Your Intervention
Here are some signs of stress and warning signals to know when it’s time to intervene with your techniques to keep play biting and play fighting from turning into all-out aggression:
- Your dog tenses and becomes stiff. This is a sign that he’s stressed. When he is rigid and standing straight, demonstrating furred brows and tightened muscles.
- Your dog appears to freeze. When your dog suddenly ceases to move, they might be entering a nervous state.
- Your dog stares directly at another dog. An unblinking stare or excessive stalking is another sign of dog play making an aggressive turn.
- You can hear your dog snarling. The smallest hint of a snarl is already a sign that your dog is uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, many humans ignore it, dismissing it as a harmless sound. A lip curling and making a snarling sound is often followed by a growl or a bite.
- Your dog emits growling noises. Growling is often present during play, but this is alongside a relaxed and loose body language.
When you notice growling accompanied by any of the previously mentioned body language related to aggression, you already know that there is a behavior that you need to address before it turns violent.
Yelp means Help!
Another method utilizes the behavior you see in other dogs. When your dog bites a little too hard, try to make a loud sound similar to the yelp another dog would make, then ignore your dog for 10-20 seconds.
Don’t pull away, though. That can trigger your dog’s chase instinct and make it worse. What you want is for your dog to get out of his excited state, not increase it with the irresistible possibility of a chase.
Just yelp and let him know that what he just did isn’t ok. The sound of a fellow dog yelping (even when made by a human) is something he is familiar with, and the hope is that he will quickly recognize it in others as well.
If this doesn’t seem to be working after you’ve done it about three times in a fifteen minute span, take a time out. Your goal here is to make sure your dog knows that rough play will stop immediately.
Play biting is a normal part of a growing puppy’s life. This is more commonly known as mouthing, which is the act of a dog gently biting you or other pups at play. Mouthing is a way for pups to bite and fight without actually harming each other.
This is a survival instinct, which ensures the dog will be able to survive in the wild. However, pressure is still involved – so if a puppy’s teeth are already developed then the recipient of a bite will definitely feel it.
This is especially true for bigger dogs, given that they have larger and sharper teeth compared to more diminutive canines.
Even though they’re small, a puppy’s teeth can be sharp! Just because play-biting is a normal part of puppy growth, that doesn’t mean you have to settle for torn clothing or even being bitten.
Dogs play biting with other dogs might seem like a cute thing to watch. But it can mean injury when they’ve grown up a little and really learn to sink their teeth into flesh.
Try some of the techniques listed here and you should be able to play with your puppy bite-free in no time!
The great thing about training your dog to avoid or redirect biting behavior is that you can start as early as possible.
Slowly introduce the idea of play biting as an unacceptable behavior that needs to stop now. There’s no need to wait for your dog to reach a certain level of maturity.
When developmentally appropriate training techniques are employed consistently, there’s no reason why a puppy won’t learn to stop play biting!
Don’t Forget Praise and Positive Reinforcement
Every time your dog demonstrates the ability to stop or redirect the biting behavior, make sure you know how pleased you are for a job well done!
Positive reinforcement helps in this type of situation. Your dog will be able to confirm that he did the right behavior since his owner appears to be pleased.
We love spending time with our dogs, if we can do it all the time then why not? If only there is a job that only allows you to keep playing with your dog, then this can be the dream job of dog parents everywhere.
Playing with a dog helps with their socioemotional health and well-being. Every responsible and loving dog owner such as yourself knows that
And when you teach them about what behaviors are acceptable and not acceptable, their relationships with all other humans and fellow dogs will improve tremendously.
You might be very well informed about each and every behavior your dog demonstrates. But this is not true for your neighbors and other people unfamiliar with him.
They might not be able to tell the difference, and might think ill of your dog if he ends up not being able to control his behavior.
Wouldn’t it be best for you to train him properly so you can avoid having to deal with others who might think differently about your dog?
Like all the activities that we do with our dogs, rules, and boundaries should be present to make sure that no one will get hurt, whether it is you or your dog.
If this is true for humans, then why not for our canine friends? In all the training that we do, there should always be patience, consistency and clear communication between you and your dog.
These three things make up the recipe for success in getting your dog to show appropriate behaviors that will keep him and others safe and happy. This is especially true when you want to address the issue of dog biting while playing.
Of course, not all dogs will automatically understand or be trained within a given number of days or weeks.
Some dogs are easy to train. Others will need more patience, consistency and communication to eventually learn not to bite when playing.
Do not make them feel that you are reprimanding them for biting you and that you are angry with them. Instead make them understand that what they did is wrong, and you are teaching them what is the correct behavior.
Focus on correcting the behavior so you don’t dwell on the fact that it is taking your dog some time to master this.
Make sure that your dog come out of this training feeling more confident and comfortable with you. Instead of being traumatized and afraid.
Do you feel confident by now to embark on a journey of addressing play biting behavior in your dog? The earlier you begin, the easier training and redirecting your dog’s biting behavior will be, so the best time to start is today!
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