What is Fear Biting in Dogs?

What is fear biting?

When a dog bites because he is in a state of panic, he is engaging in fear biting. However, this type of behavior cannot be classified as dominance aggression, which is a serious defect in a dog’s personality. A dog that bites out of fear does not necessarily mean that he is a vicious animal. He may just be a very Afraid dog.

Why does this occur?

Dogs, unlike humans, cannot scream “help” when they’re afraid. Fear-biting is the only way for a panic-stricken dog to show the tremendous fear that he is feeling. This is the only way he knows how to tell his owner that the situation is too much for him to handle. The majority of the time, fear-biting is caused by people who, although they mean well, are not equipped to deal with a dog who is in a state of panic. When they see a dog that is obviously scared, they may try to comfort it, or try to convince him that there is nothing to fear. While doing this, they get too close to the dog, and end up upping the ante. That is, by invading an anxiety-stricken dog’s space, they add fuel to the fire: he becomes even more nervous and resorts to fear biting.

Not having the ability to talk, dogs cannot say to us: “Backup, and get out of my space.” They cannot express to us that something is wrong, or that something is annoying them. They can only use their body-language to “talk” to us. If you want to learn how to stop dog biting, then you must first understand what causes it. Prevention requires you to be able to recognize and handle the signs of dog biting.

Dogs & Fear-Biting: What are the Warning Signs?

It is not difficult to see when your dog is uptight, frightened, or in a panic if you know what signs to watch out for.  Fear-biting will never occur without warning; it just happens when people don’t pay attention to the obvious signs.  Dogs that bite out of fear are submissive.  When these dogs are presented with an unfamiliar situation or strangers, they react in an abnormal way.  Fear-biting dogs lack the confidence of a dog that has been properly socialized and who is well-adjusted.  So, when they face the unknown (environment or people), they become extremely nervous and agitated.

The very first thing to watch out for in a frightened dog is a submissive posture.  Here are other distinct behaviors displayed by a scared, fear-biting dog:

  • He will tuck in his tail.  If his tail is docked, the dog will bend his hind legs down close to the ground and the haunches will draw in
  • He will have a hunched and lowered back
  • His ears will lay flat against his head
  • The elbows will be bent, and be close to the ground
  • Hyperventilation; heavy panting
  • Yawning: allowing him to reduce the stress he is feeling
  • He will not make eye contact
  • On rare occasion, and usually only in severe circumstances, a dog will urinate/defecate when he is afraid

What Causes Fear Biting in Dogs? | Anxious Dog Behavior | Dog Anxiety Problems

Every dog goes through two fear-imprint stages: the first occurs when the dog is around eight weeks old, and the second fear-imprint stage occurs at about fourteen weeks of age. It is during this time period that a puppy is more likely to be afraid of the world around him. New sights, sounds, experiences, and environments seem to startle dogs the most during this time.

If, during the formative years of his life, a dog has a very frightening experience that is handled improperly by its owner (i.e., if the owner fails to teach his dog that the object of his fear will not cause him harm and that there is nothing to be afraid of) he may always be fearful of what caused him to become afraid, and anything similar to it. For example, let’s suppose that your puppy was frightened by a friend of yours, who is also a police officer, that showed up at your door unexpectedly (in uniform). If, after feeling afraid, your dog never becomes used to this person, he may develop a permanent fear of anybody who looks like that police officer (men in uniform, other cops, etc).

Because of their breeding, some canines are just more nervous than other dogs, and therefore more likely to become anxious. Some breeds of dogs, usually those that have a higher level of intelligence and those that are emotionally dependent on the interactions that they have with people, are more prone to developing phobias and are very timid. Here are some of the dog breeds that can be classified as anxious: Weimaraners, Great Danes, and Border Collies.

If a dog has experienced a severe trauma or been abused in his past, he may engage in fear-biting. Several dogs that have been abandoned or abused are prone to anxiety, which, if left untreated, may result in fear-biting.

Stop Dog Biting: Can a Fearful Dog Be Trained Not to Bite?

In order to deal with the problem of fear-biting, you must first accept the fact that although a dog’s behavior can usually be altered for the better, sometimes there are instances when, no matter what you do, your dog will be afraid of a certain object, person, or situation for as long as he lives. Unfortunately, it is impossible to compel a puppy or dog to get over his phobia. Patience, perseverance, and consistency are all necessary for proper treatment of fear-biting. If you are too tough on your dog (screaming and yelling, showing anger/frustration etc), you will only end up exacerbating the problem, as your dog’s level of anxiety will heighten. So, a scared dog is incapable of being taught not to bite; he’s reacting out of instinct (to protect himself from what he views as danger) and panic. Even the best, most modern training that exists today will not stop a puppy or dog from biting when it is in a state of panic, as instinct and panic are powerful motivators that cannot be counteracted.

Although you cannot Directly stop fear biting through dog training, there are things that you can do in order to prevent, or drastically reduce the likelihood, that it will occur. The first thing you can do is to increase your dog’s level of confidence. A boost in confidence will ultimately decrease your dog’s level of anxiety. Next, you need to be observant and find out exactly what is causing him to feel afraid. Once you are able to pinpoint the root of his phobia, you must then try to make him comfortable in the presence of fearful object or situation.

Quick Tip: If your puppy bites when he is in a state of heightened anxiety, then it is extremely important for you to nip this behavior problem in the bud before it gets out of hand. Although this problem is Not Directly treatable through obedience training techniques, you can use indirect methods to prevent/stop your scared puppies from turning into fear-biters.

Boosting a Dog’s Confidence & Using Desensitization to Stop Fear Biting

Step #1 Boosting Your Dog’s Self Esteem

An excellent way to teach your dog to feel more confident about himself is by giving him praise and other rewards strategically.  You must always remember to only give rewards (such as treats) to your dog when he deserves them.  If you give your dog treats when they are not earned, those treats will no longer serve as powerful motivators to bring about good behavior.  When trying to stop dog biting that results from fear, your main goal is to make the dog aware of his achievements and positive behavior which will, in turn, enable him to feel more confident about himself.  This can be done by giving your dogs praise, treats, etc. when he has accomplished a task or followed a command.  Dogs are intelligent animals; they can differentiate between a reward that was earned as compared to one that was given for no good reason.  Begin building your dog’s self-esteem slowly by starting with basic dog obedience training that lasts between five to ten minutes per day.  It is important to set your dog up to succeed.  In order to do this, you should begin with the easiest commands, and be certain that your dog is 100% comfortable with them before moving on to more difficult, advanced commands.  During obedience training lessons, make sure to reward your dog with praise or treats when he exhibits good behavior. As was mentioned above, this will allow him to feel better and more confident about himself and his surroundings.

Step #2  Desensitizing Your Dog to the Object He Fears

Desensitization of the feared object means that you will allow your dog to become used to and comfortable with the thing that is causing him to become afraid.  This process cannot be rushed; it must be done at a pace that your dog is agreeable with.  The most important thing to remember when trying to desensitize your dog is to keep him within  his comfort zone at all times.  Your main goal is to keep your dog as calm as you can so that he will learn, through directly interacting with the feared object, that it is not so frightening after all.

So, let’s assume that your dog is frightened every time you play the guitar.  To get him accustomed to the guitar, you should start making it a normal part of everyday life.   Remember, it is important to begin slowly and not to rush things.  You can begin by leaving the guitar in a place of the house where he will surely notice it.  Put in in a place where he will be sure to be in contact with it  (for example, near his favorite spot on the couch).   Give him ample time to sniff it and observe it.  Make playtime occur near the guitar, place his food bowl near it, etc.  You should try your best to weave the feared object or situation into your dog’s daily routine as much as you can.

Teach Your Fear-Biting Dog to Change His Perspective

Now, once your dog becomes used to the object of his fear and he is able to be around it without displaying extreme signs of panic (urinating, hiding underneath the bed, etc.), you can begin to counter-condition him. This is not difficult to do. You begin by teaching him to identify positive feelings (calmness, rather than anxiety) as being associated with the feared person, situation, or object. This may sound quite challenging, but don’t worry. You can do this easily by just giving out treats and/or praise when your dog makes obvious improvements when confronting his phobia.

Here are some Tips on What To Do and what Not To Do when dealing with a fear-biting dog:

Do:

  • Be a strong role model; your dog’s emotional cues are dependent upon you:  act in a direct and consistent manner.
  • When your dog is afraid, be sure to speak to him in a calm and serious tone of voice.
  • Socialize your dog on a frequent basis, and as much as possible.  Although the most important time to socialize is between the ages of 8-16 weeks, socialization must continue throughout your dog’s life.  If he has more and more contact with different people and environments, it will be less difficult for your dog to learn that there are not too many things that he should fear.
  • You must have patience and take things slowly; never rush your dog to face the thing that he is fears.  Remember,  your goal is to reverse his fear-reflex, and this will never happen if your dog learns that negative things (feelings of anxiousness or panic) are connected with the thing that he is afraid of.
  • Watch your dog’s body language:  Occasional whining and shaking are normal; however, if he starts to urinate on himself or hyperventilate, this is a sign that your dog needs is in need of some breathing room.

Don’t:

  • Invade a dog’s space when he is afraid.  The most important thing to remember is that a dog in a state of panic needs his own space.  Take two steps back, and wait for the dog to calm done and come to you.  You’ll run the risk of being bitten by a fearful dog if you make, or force, him outside of his zones of comfort.
  • Coddle your dog or give him treats/praise for any fearful behavior.  You must reserve rewards for good behavior; that is, behavior that you wish to occur

Have a Biting Puppy? Nipping & Play Biting is Normal in Puppies

It is very common for puppies to nip, or playfully bite at your hands and clothing. However, adult dogs who have never learned how to inhibit their biting behaviors at a young age will continue to engage in this behavior. Nipping is a normal, natural behavior for dogs. They use their mouths, as we use our eyes and hands, to discover what is going on in the world around them. Nipping should not be confused with aggressive dog behavior, as it is not a form of aggression. Rather, dogs nip in order to communicate, interact, explore, and play. Soon after puppies are born, they start using their mouths to acquaint themselves with their surroundings. After just a few weeks old, a puppy will use his mouth to play with his brothers and sisters. Some grown dogs, typically the ones whose masters have encouraged them to play aggressively, or who have been taken from the litter prematurely, keep up the habit of nipping when they play and when they encounter a stressful situation or environment. Pups within the same litter will bite and mouth each other, and this is the way that they play together. This “playtime” is a very crucial stage in a dog’s development, as it is when he will be taught, from his siblings, how much is too much. That is, through their reactions to his behavior, a dog will learn how to restrain himself from biting too hard.

When, for example, a pup bites his sibling and causes him pain, the hurt pup will let out a loud cry or yelp and will not continue to play with him. This, in turn, will show the biting puppy that when he bites like he just did, he will receive negative consequences: he’ll be left out of the game and ignored by his fellow littermates. When, on the other hand, he is severely bitten by one of his brothers or sisters, he will be taught how painful a bite can be . This explains why puppies that have been taken out of the litter prematurely are usually maladjusted; they didn’t get the chance to learn the important lessons stemming from the interactions with their family members. So, the next time you think about taking a puppy away from his mother, think twice, as he may not yet be ready, and if done too early, it will have an effect on his future development.

How to Stop a Puppy from Biting

When you bring your new puppy into the home, you must continue to teach him how to control his biting, because it is much easier for a dog to cause injury to a human as compared to another canine.  A dog that has no sense of bite inhibition is not only a nuisance, he can also be a great danger.  One minute, you can be playing with him, and the next minute he can turn around and bite you hard enough to cause pain and damage.  The game is over: you’re in agony as your dog sits there, wagging his tail.  Puppies, unlike adult dogs, don’t have the capability to cause any serious injuries because their jaws are not very strong.  Even though a pup’s teeth are as sharp as a razor, he will only be able to draw a small amount of blood when he bites because his jaw is not strong enough, yet.  So, it is your duty to nip this bad behavior problem in the bud before your biting puppy grows up to be an aggressive dog.

Here is how to stop a puppy from biting:

  • You need to establish the amount of mouthing/nipping you are willing to accept while playing with your pup and stick to that threshold.  Are you ok with your dog touching your hand with his teeth so long as he doesn’t exert any pressure, or do you want to make it clear to him that you will not tolerate any tooth-skin contact?
  • When your puppy goes above the threshold that you’ve set, you must yelp loudly as if you’re truly in pain and turn your whole body so that you are no longer facing him.
  • Get up and walk away, remembering to keep your eyes and face turned away from him.
  • Do not speak to or touch your puppy.  Your main goal is to make your pup feel socially isolated for approximately 30 seconds.  This is enough time for him to learn that his behavior caused your negative reaction.  If too much time passes, the lesson may not sink in because he may become distracted and forget that your response was elicited by his behavior.
  • If there are other people in the same room as you and your dog, they must act like you.  That is, they cannot give your pup mixed messages by playing with or showering him with attention because, if they do, all of your efforts will go down the drain.

***Please note that the above puppy training method will also work on adult dogs; however, it will take longer to see the results.

Stop Puppy Biting with Dog Bones or Chew Toys

Have you ever noticed, while you are petting or playing with your puppy, that he has the need to chew on something? Some adult dogs also act this way during playtime, but this behavior is more common to puppies. To prevent your puppy from learning to use your hands or fingers as chew toys, you should give him an object that he can sink his teeth into, like a rawhide bone or a rubber squeeze toy. If your pup attempts to nip at your face or hands even with the chew object present:

  1. Scold him immediately with a loud “NO” or “AHHHH” to make it clear to him that you did not like what he just tried to do. This should startle him and cause him to stop.
  2. As soon as he backs off, give him lots of praise (in this case, you’re rewarding him for having stopped, not for his nipping) and then quickly try to make him refocus on his rawhide bone or chew toy.
  3. When he clenches his jaw around the toy, shower him with praise again and pet him.

You should Never use physical violence to try to stop puppy biting. It is not at all necessary, and any use of physical force will only backfire: it will actually provoke your dog to nip and bite you. Giving your dog the cold shoulder is the Best way to let your dog know that you are upset with him, as it is humane and it works extremely well. Your dog wants to make you happy, but he just is not aware of how to go about doing so. However, he will learn to do so if you socially isolate him for 20-30 seconds, as is outlined in the previous article on puppy biting.

If your dog is overly excited and tries to bite you repeatedly even after you have given him the cold shoulder, he needs a time out. Put him into his crate or a small room. Make sure that he is alone, and let him stay in there for at least five minutes so that he has a chance to cool off. Once he has calmed down, you can bring him back into his area and begin playing with him again, but this time don’t be as rambunctuous until you are sure that he can handle the play without trying to nip at you again.

Some dogs are more hyper and mouthy by nature (eg: high-energy herding breeds). If you have one of these, then it is best to engage in no-contact play whenever possible. Fetch, as well as Frisbee, are excellent games that you can play with this type of dog. Don’t ever play rough games such as slap boxing or wrestling, as they will not only encourage biting; this type of play will illicit your dog’s aggressive instinct, which is not something you want to do. Rather, when playing with your pup, always try to keep games amicable and low-key.