Why Do Dogs Bite?

by Rob Harris
    Dogs bite during play, but also out of aggression.

    Dogs bite during play, but also out of aggression.

    Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

    You reach for the treat you just gave your dog and snap! He nips at your hand. When did your sweet pup become a biter? A biting dog can be a serious problem, causing damaging injuries. Understanding where the bad behavior is coming from can help you correct it quickly.

    Dominance and Territory

    Your pooch has a built-in need to establish the pecking order in the household. If you don't establish dominance as the alpha leader, your dog might assume that that he's in charge. When you try to tell him what to do, such as to get off the couch, he's likely to bite as you push him because he believes you're not the boss of him. In the same vein, he might bite to show you what territory he considers his. For example, sticking your hand inside his crate might lead to a nip.

    Pain and Fear

    When a dog starts biting suddenly, especially if the bite happens as you're petting your pup, watch him for signs of pain. The pain can be as simple as an upset stomach, a temporary pain such as a bee sting or something more serious, such as a broken bone or internal injury. Your canine companion is likely to bite unexpectedly when he's scared, such as after an especially loud boom of thunder or if the neighbor's screaming kids just ran through his house.


    Sticking your hand between your pooch and his food is not always a good idea. In the wild, canines don't always know where their next meal is coming from, so they become overly protective of their food. Your dog has that same ingrained thought pattern. Even though he knows you're going to feed him every day, he won't be happy if you try to take his food or treat away while he's eating it and can bite out of instinct. Some dogs also bite when you try to take a toy away.

    Other Issues

    Puppies tend to bite more than adult dogs, in part because they haven't learned proper behavior, but also because they are exploring new tastes and textures. The puppies' mom might also be aggressive, biting to protect her babies from perceived threats. If your dog is barking at the neighbor's pooch, be careful grabbing at him -- when his hackles are up, he might turn and snap before he knows it's you. Some herding breeds, such as border collies and Australian shepherds, often nip at the heels of children as they run in an attempt to herd them to safer ground.

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    About the Author

    While studying journalism in the Army and at the University of Missouri, Rob Harris developed a lifelong love of physical fitness and nutrition, contributing often to a dairy industry newsletter. He has also worked with and created blogs for several family businesses including a professional dog kennel and a flower shop, where he used his experience as an avid gardener to grow plants for sale.

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