How to Train Your Small Dog to Not Bite

Medium
3-6 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

Growing up, it’s likely that you’ve been told what to do to avoid being bitten by a dog. Let the dog smell you and get familiar, offer it a snack, give it some space, and never use any kind of physical force against it. It makes sense. Treating dogs with respect and patience is a key to creating a good relationship with them. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.

Smaller dogs are well known for being feisty and sometimes even aggressive. There are plenty of videos on the internet of growling Chihuahuas baring teeth or snapping at their owner’s fingers. While some people may find the behavior cute or funny, even smaller dogs are very capable of showing aggression for any number of reasons and a bite, though not as severe as one from a larger dog, can still cause injury or infection. However, if your small dog is already prone to biting, don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to get him out of the habit.

Defining Tasks

Getting any dog to stop biting can be a daunting task, but small dogs especially may have it so ingrained in their behavior that it can present another level of challenge. On the bright side, the chances of needing to use a muzzle to prevent severe bites are much lower with smaller breeds. Even then, there are opportunities to work through a biting habit with almost any dog, small dogs included. While it may take a few weeks for the adjustment to take place and will require an outstanding amount of consistency and patience, it’s worth the effort.

Small dogs have been known to bite out of fear, territorial aggression, playfulness, injury and illness, or because of past neglect or abuse. It’s important to discern exactly what is causing your dog to snap, as this can greatly increase your chances of selecting the right type of training to make it stop entirely.

Getting Started

Before anything else, have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian to eliminate potential injury or illness that can be causing him to bite. Teething may also be a reason for biting in a younger dog.

Treats are useful as positive reinforcement and a reward for good behavior. Make sure you have some on hand during your training sessions to offer to your dog to let him know that good behavior gets rewarded. Feel free to use a favorite toy if this motivates your dog better than treats do.

The Threshold Method

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Step
1
Learn your dog’s boundaries
Every dog has a threshold that, when passed, will cause them to react. Determining what causes your small dog to bite is important when figuring out how far you can go with your training.
Step
2
Start at the bottom
If your dog is biting when you touch his face, then you’ll want to start at a bit of a distance away from him, not touching him at all. This should essentially be level zero where your dog will not react to you.
Step
3
Gradually work your way up
Using treats or a toy as a reward, spend some time getting gradually closer to your dog’s threshold. Reward any time he allows the progression without reacting.
Step
4
Be patient
A biting habit will almost always take a good amount of time to adjust. Never try to push your dog faster than he’s willing to go.
Step
5
Growling is a warning
Growling is often seen as negative, but growling can be used as a bite indicator. If your dog is growling, you will want to stop and move back to where he is comfortable. Never discourage growling as this can result in a dog that will bite without any warning at all.
Step
6
Move back a step if necessary
Sometimes your dog will regress and start reacting even after he’s shown that he can behave well at a certain level. In this case, move back to where he was previously successful and try again.
Step
7
Practice often
Even after successfully getting your dog to be comfortable at his usual threshold, you’ll want to continue to work with him on his comfort level. Repetition will help him remember that he can handle situations without resorting to biting.
Recommend training method?

The Inhibition Method

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Step
1
Do not allow play biting
Sometimes, we allow our dogs to mouth at our fingers during play. To eliminate the potential for this to turn into a more serious biting habit, disallowing play biting is important. Stop encouraging your dog to bite you in play if she does it frequently.
Step
2
Get everyone on board
Make sure that everyone you share your home with is on board with this method as consistency is key. If people in your home are doing things differently, your dog is likely to get confused.
Step
3
Make a sharp sound when your dog bites
If your dog makes an attempt to bite you or dog bite at you, even if it’s a play bite, you’ll want to mimic the sound of a yelp as best as you can by either using a high pitched “Ouch!” or something similar. Dogs learn from puppyhood when a bite is too hard as their littermates often give yelps when bitten. By mimicking this behavior, you can interrupt her bite.
Step
4
Separate and ignore
Any time your dog bites, make your yelp sound and set her down if she’s being carried. Stand up and turn away. Have everyone in the room pay no attention to her. Do this for at least a few minutes.
Step
5
Refocus but do not touch
After a few minutes have passed, you can turn back to your dog. Don’t offer her physical affection just yet, but you may talk to her and ask her to perform an obedience command. Asking your dog to 'sit' before doing anything else can be one way to get her mind off of biting.
Step
6
Reward for good behavior
If you can request an obedience command or trick to be done, reward for the command being followed. This can be with a treat that can be then followed up with physical touch once again.
Step
7
Repeat during any bite incident
This process must be done every time your dog bites, no matter the severity. Eventually she will understand that playtime ends when she bites.
Recommend training method?

The Socialization Method

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Step
1
Determine your dog’s social level
Some dogs may be fully socialized while others may cower in fear or snap aggressively around strangers. Figure out if it’s people, other dogs, kids, or something else that may be triggering a bite response from your dog. Do not push him to bite intentionally during this step and watch for signs of discomfort in various situations. Remove him quickly from the situation if he becomes aggressive.
Step
2
Check vaccines
Double check your dog’s shot records and ensure that they are up to date. Any attempt at socialization must be followed up by appropriate reassurance that he has been vaccinated to prevent giving or receiving illness from other dogs.
Step
3
Explore at a distance
Begin by exposing your small dog to a variety of environments and places. Keep your distance from others at the beginning to help him adjust. Try the park, a pet store, or car rides.
Step
4
Develop good associations
Strange places, people, or animals can be scary. Offer treats to associate these potentially scary places with good things. Do not offer treats if your dog is reacting aggressively. Remove him from the situation and try again in a less intimidating location.
Step
5
Continue with gradual exposure
Socialization, especially for an older dog, will take some time and patience. Gradually work your way from familiar and less stressful locations up to strange places with higher potential for stress. Take your time and always reward him for good behavior to encourage good habits.
Step
6
Always supervise
Never leave your dog unsupervised with other animals or children. This can result in a potential fight or injury.
Step
7
Consult a trainer
If your dog exhibits serious aggressive or fear-reactive tendencies that could lead to a serious bite, consider consulting a trainer or behaviorist to address these issues.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Snoopy
Maltese
4 Years
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Question
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Snoopy
Maltese
4 Years

My dog out of sudden bites a 2 yr old kid when she scream. previously when the kid a yr old, he was alright with her.. can tolerate all the kid's mischievous behaviour. Not to sure why he will react in this way now. We all now afraid letting getting too close with the kid..

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello, First, I would start by desensitizing pup to wearing a basket muzzle using food rewards. To introduce the muzzle, first place it on the ground and sprinkle her meal kibble around it. Do this until she is comfortable eating around it. Next, when she is comfortable with it being on the floor with food, hold it up and reward her with a piece of kibble every time she touches or sniffs it in your hand. Feed her her whole meal this way. Practice this until she is comfortable touching it. Next, hold a treat inside of it through the muzzle's holes, so that she has to poke his face into it to get the kibble. As she gets comfortable doing that, gradually hold the treat further down into the muzzle, so that she has to poke his face all the way into the muzzle to get the treat. Practice until she is comfortable having her face in it. Next, feed several treats in a row through the muzzle's holes while she holds his face in the muzzle for longer. Practice this until she can hold his face in it for at least ten seconds while being fed treats. Next, when she can hold her face in the muzzle for ten seconds while remaining calm, while her face is in the muzzle move the muzzle's buckles together briefly, then feed her a treat through the muzzle. Practice this until she is not bothered by the buckles moving back and forth. Next, while she is wearing the muzzle buckle it and unbuckle it briefly, then feed a treat. As she gets comfortable with this step, gradually keep the muzzle buckled for longer and longer while feeding treats through the muzzle occasionally. Next, gradually increase how long she wears the muzzle for and decrease how often you give her a treat, until she can calmly wear the muzzle for at least an hour without receiving treats more than two treats during that hour. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s Pup either might be reacting to a dislike for the noise and need to be desensitized to the noise, or pup might think its his job to discipline your daughter like she would another dog, now that she is a bit older and pup views her as more of an equal (dog's give other young puppies a grace period where they are more tolerant, but when pup's get older older dogs are more strict with them). If that's the case, then pup needs to learn respect for your daughter as an extension of her respect for you. I would hire a professional trainer to work with you in person for this training. Look for someone who specializes in behavior issues like aggression, and comes well recommended for that specific work by their previous clients. If the issue is fear of the noise, then pup needs to be desensitized (while on a back tie leash and/or wearing a basket muzzle for your daughter's safety anytime she is around). If the issue is a lack of respect and pup trying to control your daughter's behavior, I would teach commands like Out, Leave It, Place, and practice methods like the Working method, and teach pup to move away from your daughter any time your daughter is making her uncomfortable, rather than attack your daughter. Working method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Some examples - in these cases movement is being practiced around the dog, you would also want noise included. I only recommend doing this with safety measures and under the guidance of a trainer experienced with aggression and counter conditioning. Teaching dog to move away from kids when uncomfortable: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYs76puesAE The dog is attached to the pole with a secure leash while on Place - notice the tape on the ground the kid knows not to cross - to keep the kid out of the dog's reach in case the dog lunges: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gblDgIkyAKU Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Ace
Mix miniature poodle, shitzu
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
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Ace
Mix miniature poodle, shitzu
1 Year

He barks at everyone who comes to the door and he barks continuously at certain people, not all. He’s not a biter but I’m afraid he will bite someone because he seems to not like some people.

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
239 Dog owners recommended

Hello there. It sounds like you have your hands full. I am going to provide you with information on how to correct this behavior. You won’t be able to solve your dog’s overprotective behavior in one day. In the meantime, you don’t want to put your life on hold. You can still invite guests into your home as long as you prioritize managing your dog’s behavior. You’ll need a short-term strategy to start showing your overprotective dog what behavior is unacceptable while also keeping your guests safe. There are a few ways to do this. Leash: Keeping your dog on a leash while friends are visiting gives you control over your dog’s actions. Leash him up before the doorbell rings and keep him close as you greet your guests. During the visit, you can let the leash drag and only use it if you have to. Muzzle: If you feel his behavior warrants the use of a muzzle for the time being while you work on solving this problem, then it may be a wise choice. Separate Room: Your dog won’t get better without practice, but sometimes you have to weigh the risks versus rewards. If your overprotective dog is in the beginning stages of training, keeping him separated from guests might be best. You don’t want to put a friend’s safety at risk or needlessly stress out your dog. As long as you keep working toward stopping the behavior, separating an overprotective dog from company is a temporary management solution. Start Obedience Training Obedience training is a must for every dog, and it’s especially important for overprotective dogs. Working with your dog on things like “sit-stay,” “down-stay,” and “heel,” will help build his impulse control. He’ll start seeing you as a capable leader and will turn to you for guidance. A mistake many pup parents make is stopping obedience training once their dog masters the basics skills. Being well-trained is about more than knowing how to sit when a person holds a treat in front of their face. It’s a lifetime lesson, and even senior dogs need regular training. Commit to training your dog several times a day for short periods of time. Make Your Dog Work for Affection You can’t help but smother your dog with love every time he’s within petting distance, but that isn’t always what’s best for him. He will start to feel entitled to your attention, and that’s part of the problem. To remedy this, initiate a “work for it” program that allows you to show your dog affection as long as he earns your attention in appropriate ways. Make him sit, stay calm, and do whatever else you ask before doling out whatever it is he wants. If he’s excited for dinner, make him sit and leave it before digging in. If he wants in your lap, ask him to do a trick first. Never give your dog attention if he rudely nudges your hand or barks in your face. He needs to know polite behavior, and polite behavior only, is how he gets what he wants. You ignore everything else. Involve Other People in the Dog’s Life Most overprotective dogs choose to guard only the person they feel closest to. It’s usually the same person who fills their food bowls, takes them on walks, and handles training. They become obsessively attached, and a strong bond gradually mutates into overprotective behavior. Putting some space between you and your dog will help him learn to trust other people. Enlist the entire family’s help and take a step back in your role as primary caregiver. Have someone else feed the dog a few times a week, and encourage other people to engage her in playtime. This will help him be more comfortable with different people. Socialize Socialization is best done during the puppy stages, but even adult and senior dogs benefit from new experiences. Exposing your overprotective dog to new places, experiences, and people, will help him learn that not everyone is out to hurt you. Make sure each new experience is positive, and encourage your dog without forcing him to interact. If your dog is afraid, you don’t want to make things worse. Take socialization at the pace he’s comfortable with. If he seems overwhelmed, back up and try something a little smaller. These are some general ideas and they can be modified to fit your dynamic. These behaviors do take time, I am talking months, to correct. And sometimes the behaviors get worse before they get better. So just push through that time if that starts to happen.

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Lola
West Highland White Terrier
3 Years
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Question
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Lola
West Highland White Terrier
3 Years

This is my first day home since being at school, and I've just met our family dog Lola. They have been having issues with her constantly biting when provoked and unprovoked. When I tell her to come, she charges me and bites me even if I turn around and ignore her. There are two young boys ages eleven and thirteen in the home as well. She is constantly trying to bite them, but it doesn't seem like it's out of aggression or anger. I'm not too sure what breed she is or how old she is, but I took a rough guess.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello AN, Without seeing pup's body language around people it's hard to give you an exact answer. Pup may be fearful and biting out of a defensiveness, in which case I would recommend adding more structure, like calm, consistent rules, obedience commands, and jobs to do, as well as desensitizing her to people and the things that make her nervous by rewarding her whenever she stays calm around a person or experience she would normally react toward. Practicing lure reward obedience training with family members she is nervous about as she is ready, could also help build trust. Pup might also need to be desensitized to touch if that seems to be a trigger. This can be done with pup's meal kibble, feeding one piece of kibble each time you gently touch her somewhere, starting with more comfortable areas and very slowly progressing to areas she doesn't like, as she relaxes. This should be done daily as often as you can. Pup may have learned to use aggression to get her way, which is something I would address using a basket muzzle - so everyone is safe and so that pup is incapable of using her mouth to control other's actions anymore, then you can calmly enforce rules and commands given using a drag leash that can be picked up to calmly lead her as needed. This should also be done in combination with pup doing a command first to earn things she wants, practicing teaching obedience commands that help with respect and management, like Leave It, Quiet, Down, Sit, Place, Come, Off, Out, Heel, and Drop It. I would also need to observe pup to see if there is something less obvious like pup resource guarding a certain area, piece of furniture, object, food, person, or other pet. Finally, if things seem really unusual, it might be worth your vet evaluating her for a medical issue that could be causing aggression, like a source of pain, neurological issue, chemical imbalance, vision or hearing loss, or mental decline. I am not a vet. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Susie
Aussie doodle
10 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Susie
Aussie doodle
10 Weeks

How to potty train

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello, Check out the article I have linked below on outside potty training. The crate training method tends to be the most reliable of the methods found there (although any of them can work if consistently followed). https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-poop-outside Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Leo
Chihuahua Maltese
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Leo
Chihuahua Maltese
1 Year

My dog is one year old and I got him a year ago. I live with my mom and two brothers. My dog has snapping tendencies, whenever he is laying down and he feels someone is getting close to him or would quickly lunge and bite if he thinks my mom is being touched by one of us( something so small as touching her shoulders or hands). Also he would react that way if he is calm and one or my brothers just stare at him trying to initiate something. He is very protective of my mom and would snap at whomever comes her way. Also when I attempt to carry him he would attempt to bite as well.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Gabriella, It sounds like pup is being possessive of your mom, which is a bit different than protective. Possessive is a form of resource guarding, where pup is acting like they own the person they are guarding. It's generally related to a lack of respect. Since this involves both you, your brothers, and your mom, I suggest the entire family work on building pup's respect for you. I also recommend introducing pup to wearing a basket muzzle and temporarily having pup wear a basket muzzle and drag leash while you are both home, so that when pup behaves aggressively, you can calmly pick up the end of the leash and make pup leave the room. This should be done with a calm and confident attitude - when you tell pup to do something, you mean what you say, but you are calm when enforcing it. Nobody should react angrily or by petting and soothing pup - angry can encourage a defensive fear response, and petting and soothing pup when they behave that way rewards the aggressive behavior - simply pick up the end of the leash and lead pup out of the room and keep them from returning until they are willing to do a couple commands like Sit and Down and return with your permission. Don't allow pup to be pushy at other times either. No standing on laps, climbing onto your mom uninvited, nudging or barking for attention or food, ect...Anytime pup wants something, even petting, calmly command pup to do something like Down first before giving it to them - have them work for everything they get right now. Follow the Working and Consistency methods https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Commands that are good for respect building - Out, Leave It and Off are especially important for giving pup directions right now. Place, Down and Heel are especially good for respect building. Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Place command: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Heel- Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Off- section on The Off command: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-train-dog-stay-off-couch/ If pup tends to guard her while on the bed or couch with her, pup also looses bed and couch privileges right now. Pup should sleep in another room or a crate until pup no longer acts possessive at all. To introduce the muzzle, first place it on the ground and sprinkle his meal kibble around it. Do this until he is comfortable eating around it. Next, when he is comfortable with it being on the floor with food, hold it up and reward him with a piece of kibble every time he touches or sniffs it in your hand. Feed him his whole meal this way. Practice this until he is comfortable touching it. Next, hold a treat inside of it through the muzzle's holes, so that he has to poke his face into it to get the treat. As he gets comfortable doing that, gradually hold the treat further down into the muzzle, so that he has to poke his face all the way into the muzzle to get the treat. Practice until he is comfortable having his face in it. Next, feed several treats in a row through the muzzle's holes while he holds his face in the muzzle for longer. Practice this until he can hold his face in it for at least ten seconds while being fed treats. Next, when he can hold his face in the muzzle for ten seconds while remaining calm, while his face is in the muzzle move the muzzle's buckles together briefly, then feed him a treat through the muzzle. Practice this until he is not bothered by the buckles moving back and forth. Next, while he is wearing the muzzle buckle it and unbuckle it briefly, then feed a treat. As he gets comfortable with this step, gradually keep the muzzle buckled for longer and longer while feeding treats through the muzzle occasionally. Next, gradually increase how long he wears the muzzle for and decrease how often you give him a treat, until he can calmly wear the muzzle for at least an hour without receiving treats more than two treats during that hour. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s Once pup is acting less possessive, you can also desensitize pup to being touched. Gently touch pup in an area like their shoulder with one hand while feeding a treat with your other hand while pup is reacting well. Only touch gently for as long as it takes pup to eat the treat. Start with areas pup doesn't mind and gradually work up to the other, more sensitize areas as pup shows they are more relaxed about being touched. If anyone in the family is doing anything to break trust, like antagonizing pup, intentionally scaring them, or using methods that are very harsh or physical, those also need to stopped, and trust rebuilt with that person gradually. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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