It is not always easy, but nine out of ten, it is possible to train a dog not to bite. Especially if it is a young dog that bites as part of play with you and other people that he knows. The best way is to say ‘No’ or ‘Ouch!’ firmly and loudly right at him, and stop playing with him whenever he does it.
This is the same way that mother dogs teach their puppies not to bite too hard. First, they bark and growl at the puppy. Then they turn away and ignore the puppy for a while. If he continues to bite, the mother will grip the scruff of his neck and shake him until he submits. Going limp is a sign of submission.
Your puppy may have been taken from his mother before he learnt this, so you may have to play the part of the mother. Don’t hit him but if he persistently bites you despite being ignored, take hold of the scruff of the neck and shake. But don’t lift him when you do this – it is not necessary and could be dangerous.
If your dog is a puppy, he is probably teething. Like a child, he needs toys to chew on, so you should make sure there are plenty of these that he knows are his. However, do not give him a toy immediately when he bites you, or he may see it as a reward. That would encourage him to bite you every time he wants a toy to chew on!
Then at other times, when you see him chewing on his toy, praise him and give him attention. This will reinforce the good behavior. This can be the hardest thing to do. While it seems natural to us to correct bad behavior, we usually ignore good behavior. But if you fuss when he bites you, and ignore him when he chews his toy, what do you think he will prefer to do? Yes, bite you, of course!
If an older dog bites, the problem can be more serious, especially if it is a large breed. Bites that break the skin can become infected, and if your dog is allowed to continue biting there is a risk that someone may be seriously injured.
Biting is natural to dogs and they do have to be trained out of it. It will be harder now that he has the habit, but even more important to train him successfully. You will need to be very consistent in your training over several weeks or even months.
You may have adopted a rescue dog whose history you do not know, or an older dog that you were told was well behaved but now is not. Try the same methods, but don’t try to shake a big dog. Keep in mind that this may be a temporary behavioral problem related to the stress of the dog’s new life in your home. Your training will be most effective if accompanied by a lot of love. Let him keep any toys that he brought with him. These might help him to settle, as well as being something that he can safely bite.
If the dog is aggressive in other ways, e.g. growling when people approach his food bowl or acting aggressively toward other pets or children in a way that is clearly not play, then he is trying to be dominant in the household. Often, the dog will allow one adult to be ‘leader of the pack’ but he wants to be second. This can be a dangerous situation and you may need to work with a professional dog trainer on this.
If you have small children it is better not to take on dogs that have been bred for guard dogs or sheep dogs, who tend to bite more seriously than others. These include Doberman, Chow Chow, Collie and Rottweiler. There are other breeds that don’t get along well with kids for other reasons, including Pekinese, Chihuahua, Toy Poodle, Cocker Spaniel and Dachshund.
If you have one of these dogs and then you have a baby, you may have to consider finding a new home for your pet. In this situation it may not be safe to rely on being able to train a dog not to bite.