A dog attempts to bite a girl's hand.

Can You Trust a Dog That Bites?

Having your dog bite you or somebody else is one of the scariest situations for pet parents to deal with. Your dog is often seen as your best friend, and it’s hard to understand why they’d resort to aggressive behavior.

If your dog has bitten someone, it’s natural to question whether you can ever trust them again. The good news is that in many situations, a dog that’s bitten can go on to live a long and happy life with no other incidents. But to know if a dog that’s bitten can be trusted again, it’s vital to understand why they bit in the first place.

Why Do Dogs Bite?

It’s important to know that just because your dog bites, it doesn’t mean that they’re a bad dog. Under certain circumstances, any dog can bite.

To better understand your dog and whether or not you can move forward from the incident, you need to learn what circumstances led to your dog biting. Here are a few reasons that dogs will bite (even those without a history of biting):

1. Fear

All dogs have a stress threshold. Below that threshold, your dog is relaxed, happy, and responsive to training. When your dog encounters something that’s triggering for them, their stress level will rise. Once their stress level has exceeded their threshold, your dog will become too overwhelmed to respond rationally.

In these “over threshold” situations, many dogs will turn to biting as a means of escape. This happens because they’re so stressed and scared that they don’t know how to respond in any other way. What causes a dog’s stress level to rise will differ from dog-to-dog, as will their threshold level. For some dogs, it’s loud noises. For others, it could be the presence of cars or other dogs.

2. Play

Many dogs get mouthy or bite each other lightly when they’re playing. To us, this behavior can look and sound aggressive, but it’s perfectly natural for dogs. Biting is a common way for them to interact with each other and the world.

If your dog bites while playing with you or another dog, this is a behavior that’s easily addressed with the help of a trainer.

3. Defense

Dogs aren’t naturally prone to share, and many will develop a habit of resource guarding. This means they may snap at you or another dog that tries to approach their food, toys, or anything else that they deem valuable.

Similarly, some breeds are predisposed to feel protective over their family and their home. If a dog feels that their home is threatened or their family is in danger, they may lash out at the perceived threat.

4. Pain

Being injured, ill, or otherwise in pain is understandably stressful for your dog. Not only does the physical pain affect their behavior, but the fear of what’s going on can also put your dog over their individual threshold.

If you try to lift your dog and they suddenly snap at you, there’s a good chance that they’re injured or in pain. Contact your veterinarian as soon as possible so they can assess the situation.

5. Frustration

Just like fear can put your dog over their threshold, frustration can also add to your pup’s stress levels. If your dog has been backed into a corner or otherwise put into a situation where they feel trapped, they may bite out of frustration and as a means of escape.

Your dog can also become overwhelmed or frustrated on a walk if the leash is holding them back from where they want to go. This is called a redirected bite, and they’re channeling their frustration at what they feel is holding them back.

Understanding Dog Body Language

When you understand what caused your dog to bite, you can work on managing their environment to prevent future bites and rebuild trust between you. Once you understand your dog’s triggers, it’s crucial to understand their body language and watch for cues that they’re stressed and may bite again.

Common signs that your dog is stressed and approaching their threshold include:

If your dog is showing any of these signs, they’re over their threshold and may be about to bite:

Be aware that not all dogs will show these signs before they bite, so it’s important to watch their body language before they reach this point and diffuse their stress as much as possible.

Can You Train Your Dog Not to Bite?

For many situations, like play biting, you can absolutely work with a trainer to teach your dog manners for playing with you and other dogs. In some situations, dogs also grow out of this as they age.

For reactivity or fear-based biting, you can also work with a trainer to better understand your dog’s triggers. They can help you to counter condition your dog to either not react to their triggers or have a positive association with them. While this isn’t easy, it’s possible with plenty of care and dedication.

Can a Dog That Bites Ever Be Trusted Again?

With enough patience and care, many dogs can learn how to manage their stress levels more effectively. As you build better communication skills with your dog, you’ll also start to rebuild your trust with them.

Always approach a dog that’s bitten with caution, and work with a professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist to help modify their responses. Remember, any dog will bite under the right circumstances. So, it’s up to you to learn how to better read their body language and avoid a situation that puts you or others at risk.