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.
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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.
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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.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Chance
American Bulldog
15 Months
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Question
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Chance
American Bulldog
15 Months

he bites or snaps when people make eye contact with him. Or if at times when people approach someone who is sitting near him on furniture.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
707 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jayne, If you or family members are the ones he snaps at (not just strangers) I highly suggest hiring professional help to do the following, to make sure it is done with the proper precautions to avoid you being bitten. It sounds like he needs a lot of structure and boundaries in general to build respect. Have him work for everything he gets for a while by having him perform a command first. For example, have him sit before you feed him, lay down before you pet him, look at you before you take him outside, ect.. If he nudges you, climbs into your lap uninvited, begs, or does anything else pushy, make him leave the room. Teach him a Place command and work on him staying on place for up to an hour, even when you walk into the other room for a minute. Practice crate manners. Work on teaching a structured Heel. Forget about getting places during a walk for a while right now, instead go somewhere open, like your front yard, a park, or culdesac and practice a heel where his nose does not go past your leg. You need to hire a trainer to help you with the aggression and you need someone who uses a lot of boundaries, positive reinforcement and fair discipline tactfully. Look for someone who is very experienced with aggression and different types of aggression - many trainers are only experienced with fear based aggression and you likely have some dominance- based or possessive aggression going on too, and they are treated a bit differently than fear. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Crate manners: https://thegooddog.net/training-videos/free-how-to-training-videos/learn-to-train-the-good-dog-way-the-crate/ Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo People Aggression protocol video- notice the back tie for safety (your guest should never be put at risk. Only train with the correct safety protocols to keep everyone involved safe. https://youtu.be/mgmRRYK1Z6A Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bam bam
chihuahua mix
3 Years
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Question
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Bam bam
chihuahua mix
3 Years

Bam bam will bite anyone that comes in our home that isn't family he barks and bites them when they move but he calms down a little when they sit down but when they go to leave he attacks them very aggressively. Please help we are having a couple move in with us and I'm not sure what to do

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
132 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. Please let me know if you have any additional questions. Thank you for writing in!

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Question
Michi
Chihuahua
6 Years
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Question
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Michi
Chihuahua
6 Years

My dogs is super aggressive, I can’t get him to go outside at all without him going nuts, growling & repeatedly snapping at us. When we do get him outside he seems fine but, getting him back in he will usually come in... but immediately run to his dog bed & growl & charge, snap at us the from home bed area.... feeding him someone has to hold him while we place bowls for water & food or he snaps at us as we try to place bowls down & when we eventually take bowl up... same with treats, he will take treat to his bed & then growl, charge, & snap at us repeatedly.... seems he is super territorial & aggressive with it. He pees on everything so we started putting those male dog pads on him in house... 1 has to butter him up while outside, get him to come to them & sit on their lap... pick him up, bring inside, & then on counter firmly, not tightly... back of neck hold/support him so he can’t snap at us & other has to put the pad on him... when we then try to put him down, we have to do so super quickly & retract fast, as he immediately turns to snap at us... what the heck do we do, can we do anything... or is it a lost cause/hopes? We have other dogs in house, he doesn’t bother them, not sure how much more patience I can have with him before I’ll have to just let go. I’m a disabled veteran & it’s getting to be overwhelming...

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
707 Dog owners recommended

Hello Anthony. I would start by introducing a soft silicone basket muzzle, and a drag leash while you are home to supervise and make sure it doesn't get caught on anything. A basket muzzle will allow pup to still open their mouth, take treats through the holes and drink water once pup gets used to it with practice, while keeping you safe and showing pup that biting doesn't get their way. The drag leash will allow you to calmly pick up the end of the leash and direct pup where you need to take them. When you let pup outside to go potty, I would clip a lightweight 30 foot leash to pup, tell pup to Go Potty, allow them to wander off on leash to go, then praise pup and offer a treat after they go, then another one if they come inside willingly. If they don't come inside willingly, I would calmly reel pup in with the leash while pup is muzzled. Once inside, with pup muzzled and a drag leash, I recommend practicing the working method, obedience method, and consistency methods from the article linked below. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdxxOQ_Le6xh2_2gDXX2Ukw I do recommend hiring a professional trainer who specializes in aggression to help you in person with this. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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