How to Train Your Small Dog to Not Bite

How to Train Your Small Dog to Not Bite
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon3-6 Weeks
Behavior training category iconBehavior

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Threshold Method

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Inhibition Method

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Socialization Method

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

6

Always supervise

Never leave your dog unsupervised with other animals or children. This can result in a potential fight or injury.

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.

By TJ Trevino

Published: 01/05/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Jack

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Yorkie Poo Pomeranian

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13 Months

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Jack is/has become a biter..when he has a hold of something in his mouth that is not ok (piece of plastic, styrofoam, grabbed a piece of food with a bone in it) and you try to remove…doesn’t matter how you try, he will bite and has drawn blood most times. I have tried many different ways and most always results in a bite. I have offered treats as a substitute and worked for a short time. I purchased a vibrating collar and I nor my husband were consistent with it. Jack is now a daddy’s dog and my husband does next to nothing in regards to discipline. I need HELP! Any suggestions you can offer or suggestions of something to do here in Sterling Heights, Michigan? Melanie

July 4, 2022

Jack's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Melanie, I would google "your city and dog training aggression" and call around to those businesses that show up and ask about their experience with aggression. With a trainer's help, I would work on desensitizing pup to wearing a basket muzzle, teaching Leave It, Drop It, Place, and maybe teaching fetch to make releasing toys a fun game with pup. With the muzzle in place for safety, I would work on gently building pup's overall respect for the humans at home. Finally, I would keep a drag leash on pup and work on associating your presence with good things when pup has something, starting with a toy that's their own - passing by and giving treats at a distance pup will stay relaxed at, and gradually decreasing the distance, and very slowly working up to practicing drop it and trading for other highly valued items. Right now it sounds like pup doesn't respect you both in general, but also doesn't trust you around things they want because they expect an automatic punishment or removal, so you want to build pup's overall respect but it needs to be done daily and not right in the moment when pup has stolen something. Keep things picked up or pup wearing the muzzle to prevent the thefts when you can't train right then, while also proactively training with rewards when you have set up a scenario where pup has something and you are desensitizing them to you being around them. This needs to be eased into and not just going straight to trying to take the object in this case. Muzzle training: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw Listening and respect - with previously introduced muzzle on for safety. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

July 5, 2022

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Garth

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Part Yorkie/ Min Pin

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4 Years

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Wants to get aggressive with people coming to house or on walk. Has nipped at people

May 29, 2022

Garth's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Karen, I don't recommend training this on your own. I would hire a professional trainer who is part of a training team, where there are multiple people there who can practice coming to your home as a "guest" to work on pup's reactions in their territory. Certain safety measures will need to be taken, like a basket muzzle introduced ahead of time using treats to help pup gradually like it and ease into wearing it, and a back tie leash connected to something secure and clipped to pup with something secure pup can't slip out of or break (the weakest point in your setup is what you need to inspect most to ensure that). This process generally involves teaching obedience like Place, Quiet, Leave It, and Say Hi. Pup is then gradually desensitized to someone arriving on property then leaving, arriving then leaving, arriving then leaving, rewarding all good responses from pup. When pup is calm about that, then the person comes to the door, is greeted, then leaves immediately, rewarding good responses (with pup secured safely). As pup progresses, the person progressively visits more, interacting with you, coming into your home, and doing things guests would normally do. Pup is rewarded for calm responses as this is repeated. Once pup is good with the initial person, a new person starts the process over again, until enough people have come and gone that pup is okay with strangers visiting in general. Some times the use of a remote training collar to interrupt pup is also needed, in addition to the obedience training and rewards for calmness to counter condition pup, but I would only use one on pup's working level with the help of a trainer very experienced with that tool, aggression and the how to properly correct as well as counter condition. Simply correcting without proper training and counter conditioning can make things worse on its own. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

May 30, 2022


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