I was down with a fever for two weeks last month and my boss decided to visit me at home, out of courtesy. It was a touching gesture, to say the least.
My pet German Shepherd, whom I had locked up in the kids’ room, somehow managed to escape and scratched my boss’s leg with its teeth and landed me in a very embarrassing situation. It was just a few scratches on his leg which required the precautionary tetanus shots, but this incident was enough to send me researching dog behavior.
I consulted dog behavior analysts and studied lots of books on the subject to avoid such a mishappening in the future. Here is the gist of what I was told by experts and what I read.
Causes of Dog Biting
Having a dog or a pup that bites can give you serious headache. But it is not a problem that can not be solved. To control such uncalled for aggression, we need to adopt a behavioral approach.
Most dogs do not bite without any reason or provocation at all.
Try to know exactly why your dog bites.
The most common causes associated with biting are:
- Lack of training: A dog which has not been trained to obey is likely to be more hostile. Training ingrains some discipline in a dog and grooms it. Training mellows down a dog’s behavior and makes it more manageable. An obedient dog is usually more intelligent and sensible.
- Lack of exposure: A dog which has not been ‘exposed’ to different situations and articles may get scared when he finds himself facing such a contingency. A dog, for instance, might get so scared on seeing an elephant for the first time that it might bite out of fear in such a situation.
- Physical agony: A dog which is in pain due to some illness or injury could retaliate if it feels someone is going to touch its tender spot. Just to avoid physical contact, it might bite whosoever approaches it.
- Ill-treatment: A dog which has been abused and mistreated is likely to become irritable. If you feel that is the reason for your dog’s hostile behavior, an animal behaviorist could be approached.
How to Control Dog Biting?
Most instances of dog biting are either mishandled or not given the attention they deserve. Pups which develop the habit of biting will, in most likelihood, be a ferocious offender when it grows up. This situation can be avoided if an effort is made to understand the exact cause of biting while the puppy is still young and easy to train.
Dogs usually bite to assert themselves as the leaders of their ‘pack’. As the pack leader, it bites all the members of the pack to assert its supremacy. Dogs which do not resist are presumed to be ‘followers’.
When you bring home a dog, it sees you also as a member of its pack. If you allow it to get away with gentle nips at the hand or feet, it is likely to interpret this leniency as your submission to its leadership. Howsoever cute and adorable it may look at that stage, it can have serious consequences later.
The dog will start feeling like the undisputed leader of the pack. When it sees a stranger in the house or in the surroundings, it will want to bite that person once to assert his leadership. If that person resists, he might be in for a nasty surprise.
The puppy has to be dissuaded form biting. If your pup bites you, just press the nape of its neck with your hand using a little force, to give it the impression that you have bitten it back. The dog will understand that you have not accepted it as the leader. It will assume that you are the leader and obey you. Alternately, a dog which has been trained to obey basic commands might understand the meaning of a stern NO.
If you allow your pup to bite you gently when it is in a playful mood, it is time for you to tell it who the leader of the pack is. The sooner the pup accepts one of the family members as the leader, the better it is or everyone. However, you need to do this very gently and without losing your composure.
If not controlled during its ‘puppy-hood’, it will see himself as the undisputed BOSS of the household by the time it grows up. And whenever anyone in the family does something to offend the boss, it will want to bite you to reassert itself and to show you your ‘rightful’ place.
Such dogs need to be handled by qualified behavior experts. They can show the dog that it has been demoted in the pack and establish you as the leader.
Besides this, the following might also help:
- Buy toys for your dog: Chewing and biting are a dog’s instincts. They enjoy doing so, especially so when they are on teething. So, buy your dog lots of toys to play with, so that it does not want to sink its teeth into the members of the family.
- Show your disapproval: if the dog/ puppy bites you or even nips at your hand mildly while playing, just throw it back gently, give it a nasty look and say a loud NO, to make it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated.
- Avoid hitting: Take care not to hit the pup physically. This will only make it hate you and fear you. To make your disapproval evident, you could even stop playing and not talk to it for a few minutes. The puppy will know that it has been shunned for behaving badly and try not to offend you in future, because puppies hate being ignored. They will do anything to please you just to snuggle close to you and get your love and attention.
- Consistency of approach: All members of the family be consistent with the list of do’s and dont’s. Different set of instructions from different members will send conflicting signals to the dog.
If you feel that your dog is biting just to show its dominance, try following these simple instructions to show your dog its place.
- Give the dog a basic training in obedience and etiquette. You may need to avail of an expert’s services for that.
- Make the dog obey your instructions to come, sit and wait for its food. This puts you at the helm of affairs.
- Give it a fixed amount to eat and remove the bowl after that. Letting the dog have free access to food will again send it wrong signals. It must know that you are the boss and it can get food only if it pleases you.
- Make it clear to your pet that certain areas like the bedroom, the bed, the couches, etc. are off-limits for him.
All these seemingly simple acts leave a deep impact on the puppy’s mind and establishes you as the boss. Besides this, teach all members of the family to be respectful towards the pet and not to disturb it while it is having meals or sleeping. Dog biting is a serious problem, no doubt. But with a little patience and determination, you can train even the most ferocious canines.