The “Help! My dog is biting and snapping at people!” Problem


Springer Spaniel in a bad moodDog biting is one of the most common behavior topics that come up when you have a general conversation about dogs and dog behavior. Which, given some of the real data behind dog bites, is a little strange.

However, anything that presents a danger to humans will usually be a high priority to deal with. That is completely understandable. We are hardwired to seek safety. However, there are also some completely understandable reasons as to why dogs do sometimes bite.

Here are a few of them:

Your Dog Is Overwhelmed or Tired

We hear about too many cases where dogs have “lashed out” and bitten people. In most of these cases, the people involved usually claim that the dog “became violent out of nowhere” or that there were not any previous signs of “aggression”. In reality, this is almost never the case. Dogs, just like people, get fearful, anxious, and tired.

Many of the stories we hear usually involve an adult or a child, that the dog is not familiar with, getting too close for comfort. The individual either hugs the dog, grabs them, or physically engages with them in some other way that is beyond the dog’s level of comfort. So, the dog reacts. This is understandable and preventable. Dr. Patricia McConnell recounts a story, much like these, from early in her career where a stranger grabbed her dog’s face to kiss it and was nipped on his nose.

Dogs are cute, so people have a tendency to forget they are also living creatures with complex emotions. As humans, we wouldn’t generally react in a positive way if a stranger used close physical contact, like grabbing our face, without our permission. If more people exercised this type of restraint with dogs, less accidental bites would occur. It’s almost tragic how unaware the general dog-owning public can be in regards to reading the negative emotional signals of dogs. In 2012, Michelle Wan, a certified applied animal behaviorist, conducted a study that found even people with extensive experience working with dogs had a difficult time distinguishing between a happy and fearful dog, based solely on observing behavior.

Your Dog has gone from Playing to Predation

Dog Vs. Dog “Play”

Dogs attacking other dogs is a pretty common issue we hear about as well. Again, this can happen for a number of understandable reasons, and many of them are preventable with the proper knowledge and training.

Some dogs aren’t properly trained on “play styles” that are safe for other dogs, and some dogs were never properly socialized in the first place. This lack of training can result in poor social skills as your puppy matures. When dogs are socializing, a commonly skewed line is dog playing vs. dog fighting. This is especially common in “wrestling” or “chase” play styles. Dogs can easily shift from play mode into predation, if both dogs are not aware of certain boundaries and play guidelines. Knowing the difference yourself, and making sure your dog knows the difference, can make things less stressful and more safe.

Making sure that your dog is properly socialized as a puppy can be a very helpful preventative measure. However, if your dog is no longer in the puppy stage and still needs some socializing training, we can help you with that. Again, dogs have complex emotions, but they also have very powerful instincts. This is why ongoing training throughout the lifespan of your dog is so important.

Dog Vs. Human “Play”

In the video below, Dr. Ian Dunbar explains why it is vital for people to make sure their dogs are properly trained and educated when engaging in play with people.

Establishing this type of training regimen with your puppy or dog is important at any age:

…Then Again, Your Dog Might Be In Pain.

dog growling and in painOne of the most commonly overlooked reasons for sudden behavioral problems is undiagnosed pain. This is not always because an owner is just unobservant. Sometimes, dogs do not readily display signs of discomfort or chronic pain. And, if you are mostly engaging with the dog when you are walking them, playing with them, or feeding them, it is likely they will push through their pain in order to enjoy that time with you. So, it is important to note when dogs who do not have a history of reactivity, or other behavioral issues, start to engage differently with you and others.

This can be in the form of your dog starting to growl more often when you go to touch them, starting to snap at people, or show behavior that they do not otherwise display on a regular basis. Unlike humans, dogs can’t communicate clearly that they are in pain. They do so in more subtle ways, so catching the signs that something is wrong is not always easy with an untrained eye. Something as small as a slight tilt in how a dog is holding their head can be an indicator of a much more serious problem.

If you notice sudden changes in behavior in your dog, please contact us or a veterinarian to make sure your puppy is properly checked out. It is better to at least get a full examination by a professional, so that any potentially serious health problems can be treated before they get too bad.

Getting Help Is Easy

If you find that any of the above behavior issues describe observations you have made about your own dog, do not hesitate to contact us. You can also schedule a session with one of our certified trainers, or sign up for a training workshop if you would like to take baby steps towards a training regimen for you and your dog.



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“Springer spaniel in a bad mood” by Tony Harrison

“Etkö jo usko?” by smerikal


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