How to Train a Dog Not to Bite Strangers
by Hannah Scholtes
Experiencing problems with your dog lashing out or biting new people that come into your home? As scary as this seems for whomever experiences your dog's bad habits, this is not uncommon among most dogs. In most cases, your canine companion is most likely reacting out of fear or territorial dominance. Of course we don’t want our furry friends to act this way, but most of the time the biting is instinctual. In order to train dogs not to bite, owners must understand several things about their dog and their aggression.
Determining the Cause
To know how to train your dog not to bite and begin bite training, you need to first understand what the root cause of the behavior is. It is important to rule out any outside factors, such as medical conditions or illnesses. If your dog was not a biter before but suddenly becomes aggressive when touched, it may be possible that there is an underlying injury or sensitivity that is causing the aggressive behavior. Lashing out due to pain is not uncommon, so make sure to take your dog to the vet for a checkup to rule out any possible medical issues that could be causing the aggressive activity.
If your dog’s body language is characterized by a submissive stance, tucking the tail, crouching, and lashing out to bite from an angle, then your dog is acting out due to fear. A dog that bites out of territorial aggression will most often hold a dominant stance, bark, and make eye contact.
For both cases of biting, this usually stems from a lack of socialization as a puppy. Puppies need to be exposed to a lot of different people at a young age to establish trust in humans. This is especially important for breeds that are bred to be protective by nature. Giving puppies copious interactions with humans is the best preventative measure for biting out of fear and/or aggression. Lack of socialization can also occur in dogs who have been in shelters for long periods of time with limited human interaction, as well as in dogs who have been mistreated by previous owners.
There are three different methods that you can practice in order to begin training a dog not to nip at strangers. Acclimate your dog to new people in your home. If your dog is older and is exhibiting aggression, it is best to consult a professional dog trainer, as this will ensure that the behavior is managed in the timeliest manner possible.
1. Establishing Leadership
Making sure that your dog knows that you are in charge is the first step to take. This way, your dog views you as the dominant “pack leader”, in which case you are in charge of situations where strangers are present at your home. This is best to practice in outdoor settings, especially when walking your dog. To establish authority, teach your dog to “heel” and follow you on a leash.
Once this is mastered, arrange to have a friend that your dog isn’t familiar with to approach you on a walk. Stay calm and exert positive energy as you practice the “heel” technique, rewarding your dog for good behavior. If you are worried that your dog may get too aggressive, using a muzzle or head halter can be used to ensure the safety of your friend. When your dog reacts aggressively toward your friend, pull the leash quickly to the side or in an upward motion. Tap them on the side with your leg as you are redirecting their movement, ensuring that they are aware that you are making the decisions about the stranger. Have your friend proceed by and continue on your way, using the “heel” command as you do so.
Practice this over a few weeks until your dog understands that you are in control. Make sure to exhibit positive reinforcement; negative punishment will not reinforce good behavior.
Ask a friend who is not familiar with your dog to come to your home, as your dog will feel less anxious in this environment. Put a leash on your dog in order to ensure that you can help prevent any biting. Use a head halter if necessary. Have your friend approach slowly, and instruct them to stop and wait when your dog starts to get aggressive or show signs of fear.
Once your dog has relaxed a little, reward their calm behavior with affection and treats. Repeat this again, instructing your assistant to move closer each time, but at a side angle so that your dog does not think it is a threatening stance. Once your dog has calmed down again, allow you friend to toss treats in order to inform your dog that the stranger does not mean any harm. Repeat this over a few days/weeks with different friends until your dog does not show aggressive or fearful behavior.
3. Alternate Behavior
Teaching your dog to “lie down” and “stay’ is ideal for preventing biting, as it reduces the chances of your dog confronting the stranger without your permission. Start by teaching your dog these commands inside your home. Use treats as a reward to establish positive reinforcement.
Once your dog has mastered the technique indoors, repeat the process outside. Use the “lie down” and “stay” commands when something distracting occurs, such as seeing another animal. When your dog listens, reward them with a treat.
Once this becomes a reliable command, incorporate a friend with whom your dog is not familiar into the mix. Make sure your dog is on a leash to ensure safety. Instruct your friend to slowly approach your dog when they are already in the “lie down” and “stay” position. If the position is broken, tug on the leash and repeat the command until your dog obeys and calms down. Reward them with a treat for calm behavior. Then repeat the process again, practicing several times a week until your dog is fully acclimated.
As a note, it is always important to inform strangers, especially ones who are entering your home or yard, about your dog’s cues and preferences prior to introducing them to each other. During first introductions, have the stranger refrain from putting out their hand to let the dog sniff. They may be inclined to bite it. Let the dog come to them to do the sniffing. Dogs are protective by nature, so make sure to have patience when training your dog not to bite, and reward your pet for growth and success.
Learning how your dog behaves around strangers and family directly translates to how to train your dog to stop biting people!