What if man’s best friend is leaving bite marks or puncture wounds on your skin? The good news is that you can train and teach (your) dog not to bite.
To teach your dog not to bite you need to define your role as pack leader. Once that is established, socialize your dog with as many different types of people, situations, and environments as possible. Desensitizing and redirecting your dog’s attention is key in warding off unwanted behavior.
I will teach you first how to establish and define your role as a pack leader by using basic commands. From there you will learn how to desensitize your dog to certain situations through socialization and finally how to redirect your dog’s attention during aggressive biting and even play biting.
I have been a dog owner my entire life and currently am the proud owner of four dogs. In order to live in harmony and minimize the chaos, I have used this method of training and it does work.
How to Establish and Define the Pack Leader
When you think of a pack leader you typically think of it as being a dog. In this case, the pack leader is you. The goal is to take the dog’s natural instincts and curb them so that it meshes into behavior that is acceptable to your lifestyle and those around you.
Dogs, just like children, need consistent rules and boundaries. Boundaries create security and predictability for dogs and as a result, reduces anxiety. Anxiety and fear are the number one cause of aggressive behavior such as biting.
Triggers For Aggressive Behavior In Dogs
To understand your dog’s aggression, it’s important to understand the cause of the aggression. There are typically two triggers that always set the alarm off for aggressive behavior.
- Fear is one of the main culprits. If a dog perceives danger, the dog is going to bite to either protect himself or the dog’s owner. Fear without boundaries precipitates aggression.
- Territory is another main culprit. Dogs are going to protect their owners, home, food, and toys. Their initial instinct is to go after anyone who is perceived as a threat to their territory.
To establish your role as the dominant pack leader, you need to teach your dog some basic training exercises and basic commands. These exercises include teaching your dog how to heel and to walk obediently on a leash. This teaches the dog that you are in control and in charge of all situations even when strangers or other distractions are present.
Practice this with your dog as you go on walks. As you pass other obstacles or as other walkers approach you, practice the ‘heel’ command by first saying the word and slightly tugging on the leash. Do this until you can say the word and your dog will heel without having to tug on the leash.
This will teach your dog to obey the command whether or not the dog is on the leash. Reward your dog with positive reinforcement as the dog obeys the command with a tug on the leash and then without the tug. This way your dog knows what to expect and that you are in complete control of the situation at all times which will relieve the dog’s anxiety and fear.
Basic Commands Your Dog Should Know As Part Of The Pack
Control is a key element of establishing and defining the pack leader’s role. Control is a result of teaching your dog basic commands. By teaching basic commands, you are controlling your dog’s behavior or the way your dog responds in a particular situation.
Some of the basic commands every dog should know when establishing the realm of obeying include the following:
The key is to consistently use these commands and to train for short periods of time every day. Again, dogs are like children, you can only hold their attention for a limited amount of time, but that is all the time you need for effective training.
These commands define you as the pack leader and teach your dog how to respond appropriately. This provides a way for you to reign in your dog and take control of the situation whether on or off a leash.
How to Socialize Your Dog
Once you have your basic training down, it is time to socialize. I can’t stress enough how important socialization is in shaping your dog’s behavior. The sooner you socialize, the better.
Take your dog with you whenever and wherever you can so that your dog is exposed over and over again to as many different scenarios as possible. Let your dog interact with different types of people, especially children. Children in particular are common victims of dog biting because they are more likely to spontaneously run up and try to pet or hug your dog, in which case, neither you nor your dog has time to react appropriately.
Not only do you need to expose your dog regularly to different types of people, but you also need to expose your dog to all kinds of situations and environments. This includes other dogs, people riding bikes, loud noises, and the list goes on. Try to keep all situations calm, positive, and under control.
Desensitizing Your Dog Is Part Of Socialization
Desensitizing your dog is another way to ward off fear and avoid aggressive behavior such as biting. The goal here is to gradually diminish the fear to the point of becoming less sensitive or indifferent to the stimulus.
It’s important to read your dog’s body language to determine exactly what triggers the biting and what your dog needs to be desensitized to.
How to Read Your Dog’s Body Language
You may even put the fire out before it ignites. Dogs have very specific behaviors they exhibit when they are experiencing fear or anxiety. These behaviors include some and/or all of the following:
- Growling and snarling
- Showing teeth
- Excessive barking
- Lunging or charging
- Standing very rigid with their fur standing straight up on their back
If you can recognize the signs of fear, then you can determine what your dog is fearful of and have a window of opportunity to either avoid the situation altogether or to implement one of the training methods for diverting aggression.
Once that is determined, expose your dog to less intense versions of what is causing his fear. As your dog becomes comfortable with each level, gradually increase the intensity.
When your dog acts calm at each level, reward your dog with positive reinforcement such as praise or a treat. This may just simply be the act of allowing an unfamiliar person to gradually move closer to your dog at each level. Let the stranger gradually reward your dog as well with positive reinforcement so that the dog can learn to trust strangers.
How to Teach Your Dog Bite Inhibition
It’s also important to teach your dog not to bite during non-aggressive situations. Bite inhibition comes in handy, particularly when a puppy starts mouthing and nipping hands, toes, and toys. Dogs, especially puppies, are just playing and exploring their world.
However, these innocent behaviors still hurt at times, they especially hurt the small tender hands and feet of children. If allowed to continue, this innocent behavior will later develop into more aggressive behavior as the dog ages. As with most undesirable behavior, the earlier you nip this undesired behavior in the bud, the better.
To teach bite inhibition, whenever your dog nips or bites your hand while playing, let out a loud high-pitched sound and stop playing. This will startle your dog and your dog will back off. Reward your dog with positive reinforcement when your dog backs off and again when the dog starts playing again.
Eventually, your dog will associate biting with lack of attention or interaction, which is one of those things dogs crave the most. You are the world to your dog and the last thing your dog wants is to be cut off from you.
How to Redirect Your Dog’s Attention
Redirecting your dog’s attention during unwanted behaviors is extremely effective. This works both as a precursor to aggressive biting and non-aggressive biting. For aggressive biting, use the basic commands to redirect your dog’s attention back to you.
For non-aggressive, as in play biting, simply offer something in replacement for your hand or toes. When your dog starts mouthing, nipping, or biting, offer your dog a more desirable replacement like a toy or treat.
The ultimate goal in both events is to diffuse the situation and bring it back under control. That control falls under the pack leader’s role, and remember, you are the pack leader.
What to Keep in Mind When Training Your Dog
There are a few key elements to keep in mind when training your dog who’s boss, socialization skills, bite inhibition, and redirection that will make life easier both for you and your dog. These include the following:
- Be consistent with training
- Train in short periods of time
- Use positive reinforcements such as praise and treats
- Negative reinforcement will reinforce negative behavior
- Train in a calm environment with few distractions
- Be extremely patient
There are three points worth reemphasizing from the list above:
Consistency with training reinforces the reaction over and over again until it becomes a learned response but automatic without any forethought. This ties in with Pavlov’s Theory of Classical Conditioning which has been proven that dogs learn by association. Dogs can take two stimuli and associate the two together to learn a new response.
Positive over negative reinforcement is so, so important. Negative reinforcement can be so detrimental and actually just exacerbates the unwanted behavior. Negative reinforcement only results in your dog becoming more anxious and fearing you and remember fear and anxiety precipitate the biting.
Good things come to those who wait and who are patient and this is so true when it comes to training desired behaviors from your dog. Dogs have a sixth sense and pick up on what you are feeling. If you have become impatient, irritated, frustrated, and anxious then this spills over to your dog and then the dog becomes anxious, which again will only exacerbate the unwanted behavior.
What Are Other Ways of Minimizing Dog Aggression
There are two more ways that aren’t exactly training methods but are proactive measures that will make training a little easier and minimize the chances for aggression.
- Spaying or neutering your dog will help with aggression issues. Fixed dogs are less likely to exhibit aggressive behavior because they become less territorial, protective, and dominant.
- Exercise is a way for dogs to burn off a lot of energy. Dogs who get a lot of exercise are less anxious, frustrated, and less likely to lash out with aggressive behavior. Not only physical exercise but dogs also need mental exercise. Dog puzzles are a great way to ward off boredom and anxiety.
Who to Seek For Professional Dog Training
If all else fails, reach out to the professionals. There are behavioral specialists professionally trained to handle undesired behaviors in pets. These professionals according to the ASPCA fall into four categories. These include trainers, certified professional dog trainers, applied animal behaviorists, and Diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.
The result from all of this training can be the most rewarding experience for you and your dog. The training and transitioning of your dog into your lifestyle will create a bond like no other. In fact, it’s a bond that will last a lifetime.
Dogs are always there for you, are part of the family, and expect very little in return. They’re waiting by the door when you come home every day, they love unconditionally, and they are very loyal companions and great company.
It’s important to create and nurture that bond so that you and your dog can fall into harmony with one another. Dogs have come so far from living in the wild to domesticated animals to being a loyal companion and part of the family.
No one will ever love or respect you as much as your dog.
About THE AUTHOR
I have had dogs my whole life and have always trained my own dogs with patience and positive reinforcement. My dogs are my life. My family always had dogs growing up. I've trained dogs for clients while working at a local dog daycare. I hope that my research and experiences are helpful to you as I share them here.Read More About Russell Wright