Pet Tips

Tip 70 – Dog nips or bites owner – dog nips or bites kids, family members or guests

Although most domesticated adult dogs don’t bite family members, all dogs have the potential to bite. A dog’s teeth are one of its tools and it uses them to accomplish its goals. Whether it is trying to get something it wants through aggressive behaviour, or it is defending itself or your family, some dogs may nip or bite. Dogs know full well how to behave with each other, but they don’t automatically know our human rules. Given that we choose to bring them into our lives, it is our responsibility to teach them how to behave properly and to correct their bad behaviour when necessary. That said, if you ever feel that you cannot correct a dog’s aggressive behaviour, you must immediately call your veterinarian or a dog trainer for advice. Almost all biting and nipping behaviour can be solved fairly easily.

Dogs can nip or bite humans for various reasons, and the most common reason is because it thinks it’s the boss or at least an important vice president. In the wild, dogs are pack animals and they follow their leader. Every dog in the pack knows its place and they all know who the leader is. You can bet your last nickel that a low ranking dog will NEVER bite the leader. It just doesn’t happen. When dogs bite or nip family members it is usually because the dog thinks it is of a higher rank. The most usual targets are children or adults that show fear. The scenario goes like this: The dog threatens a family member by nipping or biting, the family member backs down, gives the dog what it wants (reward) and the dog’s higher status is confirmed by this submissive behaviour.

The most gentle and humane way to control this situation is by teaching the dog that all humans are higher ranking than dogs. This is easily accomplished by controlling the dog’s food resources, toy resources, and by making the dog work for what it wants. In the wild the top dog controls the food resources, and it eats first. Therefore the human family should eat all meals first and dog food should not be left out all day. Let your dog know that YOU are the boss of the food. Let your dog see you put the food in the bowl and give the dog 5-10 minutes to eat it and then take it way until supper time even if it is not finished. It will quickly learn that it eats according to your schedule.

Don’t let the dog nip at your fingers when you’re trying to give it a treat. Fold your arms while NOT looking at the dog and wait until it calms down. Then look at the dog, tell the dog to sit, THEN give the treat. Don’t just give or drop a dog toy because the dog threatens to nip at you. Instead, teach the dog to sit and then reward it by giving the dog the toy. These techniques gently lower or demote the dog to an important but lower ranking member of the pack (your family). Dogs that have been demoted don’t bite their ‘superiors’ and are generally calmer and less stressed because they don’t have to worry about being top dog. A good article on the alpha or top dog and lowering its status is located here.

If it is a puppy that is biting or nipping it is probably doing this as a matter of play or it may never have learned bite inhibition (controlling the strength of the bite). In either case the puppy needs to learn its boundaries. Click here for a past tip dedicated to dog biting and dog bite inhibition.

As noted before, dog aggression and biting can be very serious issues. If you can’t control the situation yourself, ask your vet for advice or for a dog trainer referral. It goes without saying that children need adult supervision while interacting with dogs at all times.

As noted before, dog aggression and biting can be very serious issues. If you can’t control the situation yourself, ask your vet for advice or for a dog trainer referral. It goes without saying that children need adult supervision while interacting with dogs at all times.

22 Responses to this Article, So Far

  1. Avatar Dottie Weber says:

    our dog jumps on us when my husband puts his arms around me or kisses me goodnight or grands give me a hug & kiss,.She pretty much jumps on me..,a couple of days ago she jumped & bit me in my side.Didn’t break the skin but still hurt..She can jump really high…She also nips/bites our grands especially 1 grandson.he likes to tease her & has hurt her intentially.She growls & bites to no avail.And at times they’ll set together & be ok….she growls & bites if someone gets one of her toys.We try to keep them up & away when company comes. Also I can’t stand the incessant shrill barking,mostly when she sees someone outside or walking by…..I need HELP!!!!!!!!!!!! the dog was my husbands idea,but I love her to pieces.

  2. Avatar Dottie Weber says:

    she has learned so many things Also,I don’t know how I forgot {& it’s probably not relevant here but she constantly scratches.She gets baths every 2 weeks also we use the Advantage Multi + a flea collar. Any advice ? we take her for allergy shots & her vet has us use children allergy meds.

    • Avatar Marko says:

      The scratching could easily be medical and she needs to see a vet to confirm this. If it’s not medical, I recommend you post this same question on our bulletin board. It’s free.
      Good luck.

  3. Avatar damione says:

    MY dog keeps biting people and i need to know how to get him to stop biting people

  4. Avatar Sarah Cummins says:

    Hello, i have recently moved in with a family member and they have a black springer spaniel, he has come from a rough past and has a few issues about being on a lead and being held on a collar, he thinks hes top dog and this is easy to see, if hes told of or somethings done to him that he dosnt like he will lunge at you and bark with his mouth open, ive tried everything to show him that im top dog but it isnt working. Is it possible that its too late to change anything about him and does his past affect him? Even if it was really tragic?

    • Avatar Marko says:

      Hi Sarah,

      How can you be top dog if you just moved into the DOG’s house? The dog certainly does not agree with your opinion of who is boss.
      In my experience professional dog training from a referred trainer will help solve this….
      I recommend you post this on our forum as there is way too much missing info here. i have additional questions for you and so will our members.

      But it is almost certainly NOT too late, you just need someone who has seen this and treated similar cases countless times.
      Good luck!

  5. Avatar lee says:

    I have a 7mo American Bully, he is an awesome dog and we love him to death. I have 2 kids 5 and 3 yrs old. He has always been very kid friendly and shows no aggression towards anyone. Recently he has been nipping at my youngest son who is 3yrs old.

    I do watch a lot of Cesar Milian and have aquired the Alpha Roll in the sense of my dog knows that I am the Pack leader. 2nd is command is my Oldest son @ 5 yrs old. Then there is my wife who has a natural fear of dogs has been using our dog as a way to get over her sketchy fears of the K9 and it has been working well, but she still has her moments.

    Now it comes to my youngest of the bunch my 2nd son who is 3yrs old. I know that when it comes to training the dog, I have to train my family as well. For some reason the Dog only seems to nip or bite my youngest son and not my oldest. With my oldest I have taught him to feed the dog in the correct manner in which it lets the dog know that he is the source of food. My youngest is the only child to roll around with the dog, hug him, tug him and bug him. I am teaching him slowly to stop doing this, but it seems as though the dog has found itself to be above my youngest. Is there a good way to bring him down from that state of mind? It’s kind of starting to scare my wife a bit as my dog is growling at her and my youngest when she splits them up and sides with my youngest son.

    I would really like for this issue not to continue and possibly have to rehome him, due to my youngest feeling threatned.


    • Avatar Marko says:

      Get the dog obedience trained. I recommend group obedience training from a trainer that comes referred by someone you trust.

      This will help YOU train the dog not to bite your children…..but this is something that needs to be done by a pro and it’s not really that difficult. Dogs are instinctual creatures and when your 3 year old ignores all of the warning signs that your dog gives before he bites…. what else is the dog to do but bite?

      It is impossible to blindly write out what needs to be done because we don’t know your dog, the triggers, the environment etc. That’s why you need someone w/experience to show and demonstrate what to do.

      Dogs should NEVER be left alone with children as children do not know how to act with dogs and you cannot teach a 3 year old this.

      Even the 5 year old imo, is too young to interact solo with this dog at this point. A 5 year old is too young to be “second in command” – because 5 year olds cannot always read a dog’s body language and make appropriate decisions with regard to that body language. You are taking a risk….especially since this dog does not know its place yet.

      This investment in obedience training will serve your whole family well for the dog’s entire life – and it is worth the investment because you will feel much safer.

      If you ignore this advice, I hate to say this but you are risking your family’s safety. All dogs need to be obedience trained.

      Good luck!

  6. Avatar Bruce says:

    We have a 9 month old St. Bernard that doesn’t like a couple regular visitors (one 11yr old girl and my neighbor). We have a lot of visitors, family that come over and he’s perfectly fine, ignores them and does well in groups but whenever these two come over, he nips at them and you can tell he’s trying to dominate them.

    I don’t know what to do. I’m the alpha male, he is very submissive, obeys my wife and I and is great with the kids, but now when these people come over I have to lock him up for fear that he’s going to snap at them.. is it their smell? is there something I can do? the neighbor is not afraid of him at all and doesn’t mind the dog ‘trying’ to take a piece out of his arm, but the little girl is pretty scared, never been bit hard but enough to scare everyone including me.

    we’re thinking of neutering him soon, hoping maybe that he’ll be less confrontational.. we want our yard to be friendly not cujo-esk.

    Thanks for any advice –

    • Avatar Marko says:

      Neutering may well help this problem and it calms many male dogs down.
      If this were my dog, he would have been neutered at 5-6 months as is normally recommended by vets.
      Your dog has entered puberty and hormonal changes are happening – please neuter this dog immediately.

      Many dogs hate kids because kids have jagged movements which freaks dogs out. It doesn’t sound like this dog has been socialized to kids, meaning the dog was not introduced to kids in puppyhood – so now it may well fear or dislike kids. Dogs should be introduced to all kinds of things (people of different colours, people with hats, glasses, people riding bikes, kids and children under DIRECT supervision, riding in the car etc.) so that they become comfortable with the common things they are likely to encounter during their lifetime.

      I HIGHLY recommend group obedience training (from a referred professional trainer by someone you trust) for this large powerful dog. There, he will learn the basics of following commands and listening to you and other members of your family. You can also ask the trainer about how to socialize your dog with kids. This group-obedience advice is gold, and if you follow it your relationship with your dog will improve big-time, and you’ll have a much happier and less threatening dog.

      Locking this dog up until then, whenever kids are around is 100% warranted until this dog’s behaviour changes.
      Good luck! (For further interaction and other viewpoints, I encourage you to post this on our forum for free of course)

  7. Avatar Sarah says:

    We have a 4 1/2 year old labradoodle who has a biting issue. He has bitten several times (6 serious bites), always children under 10. He has bitten both of my children and my husband. 95% of the time the dog is well behaved, but the biting is unpredictable. We have consulted our vet who referred us to a specialist/behaviorist. We worked with him for several months and it seems Harvey improved, but ultimately relapsed. Every time i read about dog bites, the owner is blamed for the dogs behavior. We have trained our children, we never leave them alone, and we have done everything possible for this dog. We have been dealing with this issue for over 2 years now and I’m thinking of euthanizing him. Leaving him in another home seems irresponsible given his history of biting/aggression. Every time he has bitten, he has done so directly in front of me and it was just too fast for me to stop it. We are at a crossroads with Harvey…my husband wants to keep working on this. I’m terrified one day, he will bite my child in the head/face/neck or do serious damage. He’s 80 lb. He can’t be muzzled constantly…Any advice would be appreciated. I don’t see any alternatives for Harvey. Thank you.

    • Avatar Marko says:

      I recommend posting this on our forum as you’ll get much better interaction and people can prompt you for additional details. Dogs almost never ‘just bite’ out of the blue.
      There is almost always a change in body language that you need to watch out for.
      Also this dog may well think it is the leader of the house, and this dog needs to be demoted in rank. (eat last, no food left out all day – the dog must SEE the human feed it and then the food is removed 15 minutes later, enter the house last,no sleeping on beds, sofas – floor only, dog gets toys ONLY when human gives them.. etc. etc.

      When the dog realizes in its own mind that it is not the leader things should calm down big time.
      Normally – dogs do not bite the leader. Normally dogs that know (in their own mind, not your human mind) that they are not the leader they are happier because they don’t have to worry about leading.

      here are 2 articles that may help – -but again I encourage u to post this on our forum.
      Good luck!

  8. Avatar Ken says:

    We have a 9-10 year old rescued Chocolate Lab that has been with us since 2007. She is a very good dog and docile 99.99% of the time. My wife and I had twin’s 2.5 years ago and have had instances where our normally well behaved dog growls and goes into attack mode. Never biting them, only getting clos as to give a warning shot that she is upset. Today she went after my daughter going for her throat. It happened so quickly that we really don’t know what caused her to snap but I’m very scared that she got so close. Really not sure what to do or how to move forward. We love our dog but I don’t know if I could live with myself if she snaps again and one of my children are seriously injured or maimed. I did call my vet and made an appointment for a couple of days from now. Any other recommendations?

    • Avatar Marko says:

      Yes – for now do not allow child and dog to be alone unsupervised – that’s what i would do.

      Dogs and children do not speak the same language and children can unknowingly provoke the dog from the dog’s point of view. That is what likely caused your dog to snap – miscommunication.
      Children do not understand a dog’s body language. These kids are young and have jagged movements – as they get bigger their behaviors will calm and the dog should be more relaxed around them.

      I’d also hire a trainer that came recommended from someone I trust like a vet. 100% I would.
      Good Luck!

  9. Avatar Teresa says:

    Hi there. I have a 5 month old husky puppy and he has a biting issue. Sometimes when I pet him, he starts to chew at my hands. I immediately tell him NO and stop playing with him. Lately when I stop playing with him he will lunge and nip at my face. This has happened twice. I live in a remote area of Canada, so I cannot just bring my pup to an obedience school or trainer. Any suggestions I can try to do on my own up here?
    Thank You in advance,


  10. Avatar Adelaide Simmons says:

    My dog was a biter until I went to get some dog training and now she lsitens to me when I say No!

  11. Avatar sandra says:

    Hello we just adopted a 1-2 year old American Staffordshire mix from the pound. We’ve had him for exactly 7 days now. He just got neutured and is about 56lbs. So far he has been really great with me and my 2 children who are 3 and 8 but for some reason he nips at my husbands pants or shoes every time he walks past him. Why does he do this and how can I stop him from doing this? Should I be concernd? I dont have any history on the dog since he was picked up by the pound from the streets.

  12. Avatar Hayley says:

    I have a three year old mini daschund. He never bites adults but he’s nipped my 5 year old niece a couple times and has now nipped my roommate’s two year old boy three times. Never breaks the skin but leaves marks and/or bruises. He’s a big suck and gets very jealous. I don’t know if that’s why or not but I can’t allow him to keep doing this. My roommate doesn’t want to bring him over anymore and I’m worried he might nip someone else. Do you have any advise that could help?

    • Avatar Marko says:

      It’s simple actually – you don’t want to put the kids at risk, and you don’t want an accident. Because the dog is NOT SAFE/AGGRESSIVE with kids, and has a proven history of biting children from time to time, when kids are around, the dog should be in another locked/safe room. 100% of the time. Always. The dog will normally give warning signs before biting but if no adult is around…or around in time to calm the behaviour down – kid gets a bite. This time. Next time the dog might draw blood. This isn’t the dog’s fault. This dog hasn’t been socialized around kids, kids freak the dog out a little bit.
      When the kids grow up their movements will freak the dog out less…
      That, or get professional training….
      Good luck!

Leave a Comment

(Additional questions? Ask them for free in our dog - cat - pet forum)