Dogs are often playful creatures, and they love spending quality time having fun with their special people. It’s one of the things that makes them so lovable and fun. What’s not so lovable, though, is getting nipped by a dog that bites when it is overly excited. Or, worse, having to apologize to a guest because your excitable dog bit them.
Fortunately, there are things you can do as a dog owner to keep your pet from engaging in this biting behavior when excited. There are several things you can do about it. If you go about it the right way, it should be pretty easy to fix the problem.
What Causes Excited Biting?
Several different things could be causing the problem:
- That’s just how some dogs play. Dogs are naturally hunting animals and need to know how to use their teeth. A big part of how a dog learns to do that is through play. It is only natural for dogs to sometimes bite when they’re playing. Play biting their litter mates during puppyhood is how dogs learn to use their teeth. Puppy bites or puppy nipping are normal, but if your adult dog continues nipping and play biting, it could become a problem.
- Poor socialization. Some dogs learn bad habits when they’re young, just like some people do. Instead of growing out of the habit of biting and getting aggressive, they learn to lean into it. This is often the result of poor discipline and training while the dog is a puppy. The result is a dog that bites a lot, especially when excited.
- They’re exploring. Dogs don’t have hands, so they rely on their mouths to explore and interact with the world. So, when they want to learn about something, they put it in their mouths and give it a little bite to see what happens. During play, an excited dog can become eager to interact and explore the fun and exciting world around them. So they bite. Isn’t that fun and exciting?
- They’re trying to protect themselves. Some dogs get easily overstimulated. And, since overstimulation makes them feel bad, they feel the need to defend themselves. And, of course, a dog’s first line of self-defense is biting. So, if play gets too intense, they can suddenly bite unexpectedly. This can also cause some dogs to get worked up to the point of biting if a stranger is nearby.
- Teething. This one applies only to puppies. Some puppies, like some human babies, have a difficult time teething. And, just like teething human babies, teething puppies find that biting relieves the pain and discomfort of teething.
- Health issues. Severa dog health problems can lead to excited biting as well. Hyperthyroidism, for example, can make a dog hyperactive, easily wound up, and prone to biting. Any condition that causes pain or discomfort can also lead to this unwanted behavior.
What Can I Do to Keep My Dog from Biting when Excited?
You can try a few things to keep your dog from biting when excited.
- Leave the room. This immediately de-escalates the situation because you’re taking away the source of the dog’s excitement. It also trains the dog to not bite in the future because they will come to associate biting with the immediate loss of their favorite person/play partner.
- Gating or crating. You can also try putting your dog behind a pet gate or in their crate in response to a bite. Leave them there until they calm down, then let them out and try interacting with them again. Do not give them a chew toy or tug toy while they are in the crate.
- Hand on the head. One of the ways dogs show dominance over each other is to put a paw or other body part on top of another dog, showing that they are literally above them. It’s never a good idea to smack your dog to train it (especially to train it not to bite), so this is an ideal replacement. When your dog nips while excited, stay calm. Don’t lunge at the dog or act aggressively, reach out your hand, place it on your dog’s head, and leave it there for a minute or two.
- Talk to a professional. Dog training isn’t for everyone, and part of responsible dog ownership is knowing when to ask for help. If you don’t have the patience, time, or talent to train your dog not to bite, let a certified professional dog trainer do it. They’ll get the job done right and probably faster than you could do it yourself anyway.
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Things to Avoid When Training Your Dog Not to Bite
There are many things you should never do when trying to train your dog out of nipping behavior. And unfortunately, some of them are popular techniques for supposedly training your dog to avoid bad behavior.
- Don’t smack your dog. Many people think you can use a smack on the nose or head to train a dog to avoid negative or unwanted behavior like biting. However, this will just provoke a fear or aggression reaction in your dog, making it more likely they will bite, not less.
- Don’t hold your dog’s mouth shut. Some people advocate this as a gentler method of negative reinforcement. However, it can also provoke fear or aggression reactions. And, by sticking your hand right near your dog’s mouth, you make a second bite more likely.
- Don’t pin your dog to the floor. This used to be a popular method of dog training. The idea was that because wolves roll onto their backs to show submission, putting your dog into a submissive posture will make them see you as dominant and more likely to obey you. There are three problems with this idea. A: Wolves don’t do that. B: Dogs aren’t wolves. C: This will just make your dog either afraid of you or competitive and aggressive toward you.
- Don’t yell or shake a can of pennies. Making a sudden, loud, scary noise is supposed to get your dog to stop biting through negative reinforcement. However, being repeatedly scared is traumatizing, often leading to even more aggressive behavior.
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