Dogs are playful and fun-loving creatures. Part of their playstyle involves, running, chasing, leaping, pawing, sniffing, bowing, and even biting!
Biting is considered an integral part of how dogs socialize and interact with their fellow dogs and humans. The generic term for this form of mouth –to-limb, or mouth-to- organ contact is ‘mouthing’. It includes all mouth contact a dog has with an object, human or fellow dog, and encompasses nipping, chewing, and biting.
While playing, dogs tend to bite at each other’s limbs, necks, faces, basically any part of the body. This may be interpreted as an act of aggression but not in all instances. Dogs, bite as they play as a means of interaction, just as they similarly wag their tails, or playfully chase another dog. Here, the biting is part and parcel of a mutual and reciprocated playtime. However, biting may be aggressive if instigated by fear, frustration, stress, sickness, or general territorial-ness of the dog.
Biting Types of How Dogs Play
Biting occurs when dogs are happy, sad, mad, or frustrated. It may be confusing to interpret the state of mind and intention of the dog, outside the context of the dog’s immediate surroundings or activity it is engaged in. Knowledge of the various types of dog play is important and enables any dog owner to accurately decipher whether any biting was accidental, intentional, playful, or aggressive.
There are two types of dog play namely: Appropriate dog play and Inappropriate dog play. The distinguishing feature of these types of dog play is the demeanor and body movement depicted by the dogs, as they interact with one another. This is further detailed below.
Appropriate Dog Play
Here the dogs interact in a very bouncy, light, and fluid manner. A key characteristic of this type of play is that there is a lot of reciprocation and turn-taking. The demeanor of the dogs is also warm and endearing as in most cases the dogs are panting, happily wagging their tails or bouncingly chasing and leaping after one another.
Inappropriate Dog Play
This is whereby there are intentional acts of aggression depicted by either dog. This includes fierce body slams, constant air snapping, growling, sharp barking, and an eventual full-on battle. The movements of the dogs become very stiff and calculated, their ears become perked and their eyes dilated.
“According to Pet Central” (https://petcentral.chewy.com/training-pet-socialization-how-to-identify-fix-inappropriate-dog-play/) you can tell that there is growing tension between or among the dogs when you observe passing of menacing gazes, sharp and seemingly stern movements, little to no reciprocity or turn-taking among the dogs.
Most inappropriate play may escalate from an initially healthy appropriate dog play. This may be, for example, where one dog accidentally bites another too hard and the other retaliates leading to a fierce face-off.
Differences Between Dogs Play Biting and Aggressive Biting
Dogs play biting
occurs during appropriate dog play. The bites are intentional but mild. They occur during a friendly, playful engagement, they are deemed as part of the play. These bites may be numerous and reciprocated by both dogs. They normally do not break the skin of the other dog. Little to no pain is inflicted and the dogs seamlessly continue with their play.
“According to Cuteness Team” (https://www.cuteness.com/blog/content/neck-biting-between-dogs) the dogs tend to give one another a 10second pause- seemingly to reassure one another that the bite was friendly. For dogs that have been friends for a longer time and are acquainted with each other’s playstyle, biting may automatically be interpreted as playful and part of the fun engagement.
Dogs aggressive biting
Occurs during inappropriate play. The bite will be strong and vicious, calculated to inflict pain. This is because; the dogs are no longer playing but are heading into a fight. The bite will more likely break the skin of the other dog.
Usually, once a dog is aggressively bitten it will have a fight or flight response. It may opt to reciprocate the bite with several aggressive bites, body slams, and other war-like behavior or it may altogether yelp, cry and flee for safety at the owner’s feet.
Reasons for Dog Play-biting
Every form of dog tendency whether aggressive or playful has a genesis. “According to Wag walking” (https://wagwalking.com/behavior/why-do-dogs-bite-each-other) a dog may be prone to bite at another dog, due to the following reasons:
Breed of the dog
The breed of the dog informs the strength, size, and natural disposition of a dog. Dog breeds such as Pit Bulls and German Shepherds are naturally more aggressive than breeds such as Chihuahuas. Bigger dog breeds, similarly tend to be more aggressive.
Aggressive dogs easily lean in to use stronger body movements such as body slams, mounting each other, and biting while playing. Bites from these breeds, however soft and accidental tend to be more severe and painful.
Lack of proper training to prevent aggressive biting of other dogs
Proper training is a necessity. Dogs that are properly trained are less aggressive, more friendly, and sociable than those without training. Training allows dogs to gradually learn and develop all-rounded best practices on matters of hygiene, play, and proper social skills. This leads to harmonious living and interaction with family members and also fellow dogs.
It is best to start training your dog while still a puppy. At this age, they are more impressionable and easier to handle as compared to dogs that are bigger in size and age. You can train your dog on bite- inhibition and to altogether avoid biting while playing. This will culture your dog to optimize on other play styles and techniques such as pawing, chasing, or leaping without leaning into biting.
Perception of impending danger on the dog’s or dog owner’s property, family, or belongings.
Dogs are natural defenders and instinctively move to protect what is dear to them. This is why dogs are used as home gatekeepers, to wade off any unwanted encroachment or suspicious movement into the territory.
In the face of imminent danger from outsiders, dogs may charge or bark at the person, object, or animal, and if the affront does not cease, they may result in fierce biting.
Fear, threat, or startling of the dog
Dogs are intuitive in nature and this is why they are man’s best friends. A dog may feel all types of emotions just like a human being and move to act on them. When a dog feels threatened, they are more likely to lash out against the aggressor by biting. This is also true when they feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or stressed.
For example, if your neighbor’s cat would pounce on your unsuspecting dog, thereby startling it, there are more chances that the cat may be bitten. If a dog was vehemently chased by a pack of dogs in the dog park and felt overwhelmed and fearful, it would opt to bite off and scare its offenders to stop the troubling chase.
If the dog was abandoned and neglected while young
Researches undertaken by animal care centers, over the years, have shown that dogs that experienced neglect and rejection earlier on in their lives are more prone to bite than dogs raised in happy and loving families. This is because they are less socialized and therefore any incoming playful dog may be interpreted as a potential threat or danger.
Effects of Dog Biting
Besides the apparent pain and swelling that dog bites may cause, they may also:
Non-vaccinated dogs may easily transmit diseases such as Rabies to their fellow dogs or humans through bites.
Lead to Less play-time
A dog that cannot ‘help itself’ but bite others aggressively, may eventually be avoided by the other dogs. Just like humans, dogs are more comfortable interacting with fellow dogs that are fun and ‘safe’. They easily pick up on the play style and tendencies of the dog in one or two plays. Based on its experience, if the dog is too aggressive and always bites too hard, the dog will opt to play with other dogs in the park and not this one.
Poor socialization and development
The cumulative effect of being avoided by other dogs during playtime may affect the socialization of the dog. Dogs socialize with other dogs primarily through play, however, when they nip, bite or chew too hard, they will not have friends to interact with. Ultimately this affects their development as they will lag behind developing proper interaction skills.
Precautions to Take to Avoid and Stop Biting
“According to ASPCA” (https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/mouthing-nipping-and-play-biting-adult-dogs) there are several ways to minimize and eventually curb the occurrences of play-biting of your dog, these include:
Bite inhibition training
Consultation with professional
Use of dog muzzles
Bite Inhibition training
This trains the dog to control the force of his mouthing. The desired result is to have your dog nipping or biting gently on any human or fellow dog skin. If you are new to this type of training below is a guide on practical things you can do and common mistakes you can avoid doing to achieve the intended outcome.
Do’s of bite- inhibition training
i. Always encourage your dog to play with you – Since biting majorly ensues during playtime, always look for ways and opportunities to initiate play with your dog.
ii. Let out a high-pitched yelp if your dog bites too hard – The noise should be sufficient to startle the dog and pause playing. In most instances, the dog will wonder why you let out such a ‘painful’ sound and will have their attention fixed on you to determine whether it’s okay to continue with the play.
iii. Ignore your dog for some seconds – This is where the actual training starts. When you still have your dog’s attention, discontinue the play and turn aside from them. You can even opt to walk out of the room. However, this should only be for a few seconds. After this, return back to your dog and continue playing. Your dog will learn to associate this response to its biting and eventually begin to minimize the intensity of its bite while playing with you.
iv. Repeat this cycle – Repetition helps ingrain the lesson. As you resume playing with your dog, let out a high-pitched yelp if they bite too hard, ignore them for a few moments then initiate play again. Do this 2 to 3 times in a 10 to 15-minute play session. And repeat the same during the next play session.
Eventually, your dog will learn to not bite hard while playing. You can take this a step further, and perform the training in a manner to discourage any form of biting, even if the biting is gentle. Therefore, any form of biting on your skin will be met with the same regime.
Don’ts in Bite – inhibition training
i. Do not physically punish your dog for any aggressive biting – This may escalate the aggression and lead to further biting or an antagonistic relationship.
ii. Do not jerk your limb when bitten – This may be interpreted as a part of the play and the dog may continue biting or chewing on you. Instead, allow your limb to go limp, which will altogether stop the play.
In this video below Kaelin Munkelwitz teaches dog owners how they can train their dogs to stop biting and mouthing. He uses a grown dog thereby showcasing that the tips and tricks therein can be successfully applied to puppies and older dogs. The video touches on the common excitement build-up that dogs have and how to teach your dog the art of self-control.
Consult a Professional
If your dog continues to bite aggressively, you can seek professional advice in order to unearth the cause of such aggressive behavior. Professionals such as Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) and Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist (Dip ACVB) have worthwhile advice, tips, tricks, and training to recommend to you.
This should be the last resort and only when intense and consistent training and professional help have not aided in addressing the situation. “According to Pawster” (https://pawster.com/best-dog-muzzle/) a muzzle should only be used when the dog is in public. There are different types of muzzles such as soft dog muzzles; mesh muzzles and basket muzzles. The most advisable type would be a basket muzzle as it allows a great allowance for the dog to pant and thus prevents overheating.
Dogs are pack animals that enjoy bonding and playing with humans and other dogs. There are a variety of ways in which how dogs play with each other, and humans which t can sometimes be difficult to interpret, especially in situations when dogs starting biting or nipping.
It’s safe to say that dogs do play-bite. They can play-bite humans or other dogs. But not everyone will be comfortable with this so try to make sure that your dog doesn’t think it’s ok to nip at humans.
When playing with other dogs, the play sessions can quickly turn to aggression if there is some form of imbalance in the play dynamic, or if there is a lack of consent on the part of one dog. Try to be observant and vigilant of your dog’s play session with other dogs in case the session or any form of play biting or nipping escalates to aggression.
As stated earlier in this, dog biting can occur when dogs are happy, sad, mad, or frustrated so the key to differentiating the type of biting your dog is exhibiting is to understand the dynamics of the scenario in which biting occurred. If your dog has a problem with biting then why not try enlisting your dog in bite-inhibition training or get a dog behaviorist to work with your dog
Are there any other ways to eliminate aggressive biting in dogs?