Getting a new dog can be a wonderful experience, with many memories to look forward to. However, sometimes newer dogs can become anxious and nip someone out of fear. What should you do if your dog bites someone for the first time?
If your dog nips someone for the first time, remain calm and isolate your dog. Ensure the victim has suitable medical attention. To replace the nipping, create new behaviors by substituting objects and using timeouts or deterrents to curb biting. A dog behaviorist can also help retrain your dog.
Dogs nip humans as a reaction to their environment. And let’s face it, nips are basically a cute name for bites, which are considered aggressive behavior.
Fortunately, you can teach your dog to react positively instead of nipping or biting. This article covers ten steps to appropriately respond when your dog nips someone and how to replace that undesirable and potentially dangerous behavior in the future.
1. Remain Calm Following the Incident
The first step after any biting incident with your dog is to remain calm. Dogs are naturally empathic around their owners and pick up on any emotions they express physically or mentally.
Dog trainers teach that when dogs express aggressive behavior, they’re usually scared and trying to protect themselves or their owner. They react the most natural way they know how and will look to their owner for guidance.
Reacting to your dog’s reaction will further escalate their anxiety and fear. Even if you reprimand your pet, they will likely see it directed to the victim, who they see as an aggressor.
Remaining calm lets your dog know there are no dangers present and that the victim is not a threat.
2. Isolate Your Dog
To further de-escalate the situation, isolate your dog in a room. If you’re on a walk, secure the dog by shortening the leash and holding them where they can’t see the victim. If a friend or family member is available, you can also pass the dog to them as long as it’s safe to do so.
This isolation will remove the stimulus for the dog and allow them to calm down.
3. Assess the Injury
Once the dog is isolated, immediately check in with the victim and assess their injury. Ensure they have adequate medical treatment and are in good health.
While this event is traumatic for everyone, use it as a learning experience to determine the source of your dog’s aggressive behavior and their specific triggers.
Things can happen quickly in this kind of incident, and you might have missed the full details, so ask the victim how it happened from their perspective.
If you weren’t with your dog when they bit someone for the first time, ask the victim how the bite happened, who was involved, and how they responded, such as if they ran away or stood their ground.
Knowing the cause will allow you to replace the behavior with constructive responses and prevent the aggression from occurring again.
4. Create New Behaviors With Your Dog
The best way to prevent dog nipping is to replace the behavior with more constructive ones.
Dogs are naturally mouthy, which means placing their teeth on your skin without biting. It’s part of their playful nature and how they show their affection. However, this can quickly escalate to biting if they become anxious or they don’t understand biting is unacceptable. After all, nipping was a fun part of sibling play as a puppy, although some dog mothers put an end to nipping before their pups leave them.
Let your pooch know biting isn’t acceptable. If possible, replace the behavior with a constructive one. Teaching your dog to bite objects rather than humans is the first step to limiting this behavior.
5. Substitute a Chew Toy When Your Dog Begins To Mouth
You can replace the mouthing behavior by substituting a chew toy when they nip too hard along with a little home dog training to reinforce good behavior.
All puppies will mouth, but as they grow older, they should learn bite inhibition to prevent hurting others during play. Many puppies who aren’t socialized or raised alone don’t learn this inhibition from other dogs.
To replace the behavior, immediately give your dog a chew toy when they begin to nip too hard. You can do a high-pitched yelp (what other dogs do) to signal your dog that playtime is over.
Make sure to complement the substitution with a treat every time your dog completes the right action. The treats will help positively reinforce the correct behavior.
These actions teach bite inhibition to your dog while giving them a constructive response (chewing specific objects) when they need to mouth.
6. Use Timeouts When Your Dog Begins To Mouth
In some cases, replacing a behavior is not enough to curb it. If your dog is still biting hard during mouthing, you can employ negative reinforcement to help limit the behavior.
When using negative reinforcement, it’s crucial not to get angry with your dog, which they view as an escalation. Many dogs see escalation as a positive reinforcement, regardless of the means.
Generally, removing the cause of the reaction is the most appropriate way to remove destructive behaviors.
Try timeouts to see if they work. No words are needed. As soon as biting begins, look away from your dog and leave the room for 10-20 seconds.
This action signals to your dog that playtime is over when they bite. Repeating this action every time your dog does the wrong thing will, ideally, provide the necessary behavior removal.
7. Use a Deterrent if Your Dog Continues To Mouth
Sometimes, removing the cause isn’t enough. Older dogs who lack bite inhibition are especially resistant to behavior changes.
To address this problem, you want a deterrent that gives a mildly uncomfortable response every time your dog engages in wrong behavior. Your dog will associate the behavior with the uncomfortable stimulus and eventually curb it.
The most effective deterrent is eCollars, which work swiftly and effectively to limit nipping and other unsuitable behaviors. However, only use eCollars if positive reinforcement training has had no effect on your dog’s aggressive behavior. It’s also imperative that eCollars be used appropriately and correctly.
8. Take Time To Socialize Your Dog
While we teach a lot to our dogs, one of the biggest influences on your dog’s behavior is their socialization with other dogs or humans.
For dogs that grow up isolated or in single-person homes, socialization can significantly impact their overall behavior and temperament.
Dogs that spend time with other dogs will learn bite inhibition, how to play appropriately, and how to remain calm around other dogs. Humans frequently interacting with your dog will also teach them not to fear new visitors and how to be comfortable around unfamiliar noises or smells.
One of the best places for socialization is a dog park, but be sure to keep your dog on a tight leash if it has a history of biting.
9. Visit a Dog Behaviorist
Consider working with a dog behaviorist to help you better understand your pooch’s issues that lead them to bite, while also training your dog.
Dog behaviorists are specialists in teaching constructive actions to dogs in an efficient manner. They are the best option if you’re short on time or want behavior change as quickly as possible.
Currently, dog behaviorists aren’t regulated in the United States. When selecting the right behaviorist, I recommend checking that they’re certified with the following associations:
- Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT)
- International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP)
These organizations are internationally recognized and have high standards for their certified dog behaviorists.
10. Work with a Dog Trainer for Aggressive Dogs
Consider hiring a dog trainer that specilizes in aggressive dog training. It can be hard to accept you have an aggressive dog, but if your dog has biten, it will be labeled as such. I learned this the hard way when my good natured but energetic Labrador repeatedly nipped my arms after becoming anxious and over excited.
Be aware that many dog trainers will only privately train dogs with a history of biting for the safely of their other students so dog training could be expensive if you have a biter.
When your dog bites someone for the first time, there are several steps you can take to de-escalate the situation so it’s unlikely to happen again.
First, remain calm and isolate your dog so the situation doesn’t escalate further. Check in with the victim and ensure they have adequate medical treatment.
You can curb the dog biting behavior by replacing it with constructive actions and positive reinforcement. Additionally, you can use timeouts or hire a professional dog trainer to help you.