Dogs May Bite for a Variety of Reasons — Here’s What to Do About It

Eva Hagan - Author

Mar. 29 2023, Published 4:05 p.m. ET

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As much as I love my dogs, I want other people to love them too. So, this means acknowledging the reality that they are capable of biting if they wanted to, even if they are the sweetest.

At the end of the day, like humans, dogs have instincts to protect themselves when in a stressful situation. However, there is a limit, and if you start to feel like your dog could potentially nip at a passing stranger, here is what to do with a biting dog.

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Why does a dog bite?

A dog could bite for a number of reasons, but according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), most dogs bite in reaction to something.

The most common reasons for a dog to bite include in response to being scared, if they are protecting something they view as valuable (such as food, a toy, or their puppies), if they are in an uncomfortable situation, if they are experiencing pain, and possibly if they are just playing, per American Kennel Club.

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What do you do with a biting dog?

If your dog has bitten before or you are worried it might, there are ways you can manage the situation.

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Socialization, while your dog is a puppy, can help them grow to feel more comfortable in social situations as they get older. Exposing them to different people, settings, and dogs will hopefully broaden their comfort zone from a young age, and lead to less stressful situations in the future, per the AVMA.

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However, if you are past the puppy stage and socializing is a hassle, the next step would be to educate yourself and the people around you about your dog's skittish tendencies. Here are some general guidelines by Outward Hound to follow when approaching a dog, and telling others the best way to engage with yours:

  1. Ask the pet owner if you are allowed to approach their dog.

  2. Remain calm, and avoid eye contact with the dog.

  3. Don’t get too close, keep a distance between you and the dog.

  4. Keep your hands away from the dog and do not reach out.

  5. Let the dog approach you and sniff you.

  6. At this point, if it seems safe to do so (possibly a cue from the owner) you may crouch down to be at eye-level with the dog.

  7. Stop when the dog backs away.

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These steps are incredibly important to tell friends and family, but especially children. Kids will often run up to dogs and startle them without meaning to.

Notice the warning signs.

It’s possible to predict whether or not your dog could bite by studying their behavior. There are several precursors to a bite that indicate a dog is uncomfortable.

The most obvious warning signs could be barking, growling, or snapping and baring their teeth. However, for some dogs, pre-biting behavior is not as obvious.

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Little girl and woman petting dog in back of car
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According to the American Kennel Club, lip-licking is a dog behavior that is often misread. Of course, it is normal for your dog to be licking their lips after a meal or treat, but a nose lick or a tongue flick is also a sign of stress and worry. If your dog is looking at something in the distance, such as a dog or person, and is flicking their tongue, this could be a sign that they are anxious about the situation.

Baring their teeth is another indicator that a dog does not like what is happening. However, don’t confuse this with a smile. When a dog is just showing their front teeth, in a relaxed, submissive way, this is a smile. When a dog’s mouth forms more of a C shape, and they seem tense, this is not a peaceful smile, per the American Kennel Club.

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