The Biting Dog

Understanding and Dealing with Canine Biting

All dogs are potential biters and biting is a normal part of every dog’s behavioral repertoire.

Fortunately, it’s relatively uncommon for dogs to bite and injure human beings. Contrary to expectations, victims of dog bites aren’t just burglars or mail carriers – records kept by departments of public health show that the most frequent victims are children and the elderly. Similarly, biters aren’t typically “wild,” uncontrolled dogs; they usually are pet dogs owned by the victim’s family or by a neighbor.

Why Do Dogs Bite?

A dog’s motivation for biting usually falls into one of three categories: territorial defense, social dominance or fear – or, all three. Play biting is another matter: It is part of puppies‘ play wrestling and the “mouthing” that occurs lacks the threatening body signals of a serious bite.
Understanding the problem is the first step in making your dog a safe member of your family and community.

Dominance-related biting isn’t simply a result of holding the “alpha” position in the family – it can be complex and unpredictable. From the dog’s point of view, each bite is provoked, although the provocation can be subtle and difficult for us to appreciate.

Biting, regardless of cause, is a serious problem that can sometimes lead to serious injury, loss of your dog and/or homeowner’s insurance, and even to lawsuits. If your dog has shown a tendency to bite, you can minimize the chances of further aggressive incidents by keeping him leashed – even indoors – and by not leaving him tied or fenced outdoors when unsupervised.

A behavioral specialist can guide you through issues of safety and prevention. He or she can help teach both you and your dog to feel confident and safe around frightening or provocative situations without resorting to physical punishment, which often exacerbates any potential for aggressiveness.