Does your dog treat your hands like chew toys? Perhaps they grab your hands while playing, or you have a puppy that gnaws on your fingers. Sometimes older dogs will nibble on your extremities, or an excited pup will nip your hands.
Whether its nipping, nudging, snapping, nibbling, chewing, or biting, dogs certainly get mouthy with our hands. But why do they bite our hands, and what can do about it? Let’s delve in.
Why Does My Dog Bite My Hands And Arms? Different Kinds Of Mouthing And What They Mean
“Mouthing” refers to a range of behaviors involving dogs using their mouth on you. This can be an actual bite, play-biting, nipping, chewing, or even gentle nibbling or tugging. Of course, more than half of serious bites happen to the hands and arms, and this is because this is the part of the body that usually touches a dog first.
We use our hands to pet dogs, feed them, take items from them, push or pull them out of situations, or shield ourselves, so it makes sense that if a dog is mouthy, our hands will take the brunt of it.
But like all dog behavior, context is everything when it comes to understanding why dogs bite our hands. Let’s answer some common questions about dogs biting our hands.
Why Do Puppies Bite Hands?
Puppies learn about the world through their mouths. The dog mouth is an extension of the nose as it contains the Jacobson’s organ, where puppies get loads of additional information about the world.
Naturally, a puppy’s urge to learn about the world with their mouth is made worse when they reach the dreaded teeth phase. From 3 to 6 months, the need to chew on everything to relieve the discomfort of teething will make your hands an easy target. During this time, an anti biting spray for dogs is going to save you a lot of trouble.
Puppies want to interact and play with you but also need to chew. So chewing on you and your hands is a simple solution.
Another reason is that puppies love to play, and play-biting is part of how they interact with each other. Dogs and puppies love to bite your hands when you play with them because the hands are the part of you moving the most, encouraging them to chase and bite.
Remember, dogs are primed to chase and bite anything that moves fast, such as flailing hands.
Why Does My Dog Nibble Or Gnaw On My Hands?
Puppies usually nibble or gnaw on your hands when they are teething. But they may also do this as a sign of affection or excitement. Grabbing or nipping your hands can be a way to get your attention or to invite you to play.
But if your dog gently nibbles on your hands with their front teeth, they may be “cobbing.” You can read this article for more on cobbing dogs.
Why Does My Dog Bite Me When I Play With Him?
If your dog is an adult and bites you when they are playing, there are three main reasons. Firstly, your dog may not have learned proper bite inhibition.
Secondly, you may be playing so rough with your dog that your dog is becoming over-stimulated. Overexcited dogs are more likely to nip or bite, so keeping play relatively calm is essential.
Finally, your dog may not know an alternative and acceptable way of playing with you. So instead of punishing them, you can use our dog training steps below for dogs who bite for attention.
Why Does My Dog Bite My Hands When I Pet Her?
If your dog is biting when you pet them, it could be because they want you to play with them. However, you may have a problem if it is not a play bite. Take your dog to the vet to rule out pain or a medical condition that may cause aggression.
It is critical to read your dog’s body language before you pet them. A stiff body, a tucked tail, lip movement, and growling indicate when a dog is stressed, fearful, or aggressive. Petting a dog in a highly stressed state can lead them to bite your hands.
Why Does My Dog Bite My Hands When I Come Home?
Dogs who bite your hands when you come home are usually highly excited and happy to see you. Unfortunately, they may nip your hands to get your attention, usually with a wagging tail.
Fixing this is very close to the tips outlined below for stopping a dog from biting your hands for attention. However, in this case, you will reward your dog for alternative behavior, such as sitting politely in front of you to greet you and ignoring any excitement and biting.
Why Does My Dog Bite My Hands When I Give A Treat?
If your dog nips your fingers when you try to give a treat, then they haven’t learned how to take food from your hand politely. The cure for this is simple:
Close your hand over the treat and offer it to your dog. Keep your hand closed if they try to snatch the treat out of your hand. You may want to wear a glove for extra protection.
As soon as your dog stops trying to use their mouth to pry the treat loose, you can start opening your hand. If they begin to snatch, shut it again. Stick with the process and only let your dog have the treat when taking it gently and politely.
Other Usual Common Reasons Dogs Bite Hands
- Dogs often bite hands out of redirected aggression. This is when a dog is highly aggravated at something else, such as another dog, and their owner reaches down to touch them. It can also happen when people try to break apart dog fights. Redirected aggression is one of the most common reasons for serious dog bites, most of which happen to the hands.
- Dogs who are resource guarding an item, such as their food, frequently bite hands if someone unwisely reaches down to touch the bowl.
Be aware of any problem behaviors your dog may have. Some issues, such as when dogs dig in beds and couches, are expensive, but behaviors that could lead to biting could have severe consequences.
Should I Let My Dog Chew Or Bite My Hand?
Puppies and dogs should not be allowed to bite your hands or chew on them, even if it is just to play. Your dog should never be comfortable putting their teeth against your skin. This is a simple safety precaution for later in life and an essential part of “bite inhibition.”
Dogs should have a strong instinct to avoid biting us, and we can encourage this at a young age by adequately training our dogs to play with us and ask for attention in acceptable ways that never involve any kind of biting. We can also help our dogs learn bite inhibition by properly socializing them as puppies with other dogs.
The Breeds Are Most Likely To Bite Your Hands
Bite inhibition is the term we use for a dog’s innate reluctance to bite people or other animals. Puppies usually learn bite inhibition from their mother and their other puppies.
Their mother, or another older dog, usually “corrects” an overeager puppy that bites too hard with a snap or a nip. Playing too rough with other puppies can also teach young dogs to control the urge to bite hard.
But most dogs have bite inhibition hardwired into their genetics. The amount of bite inhibition differs from breed to breed. Strong guard dogs like the Rottweiler and the Tosa Inu often have lower bite inhibition. If they sense a threat, they are more comfortable biting than the average Golden Retriever.
Some breeds, such as the American Pit Bull Terrier, often have a pretty high bite inhibition for people and will not easily attack a person, contrary to all the bad press. But because of their fighting background, they can sometimes be more inclined to bite other dogs.
Herding dogs, such as Collies, Australian Shepherds, and Heelers, use nipping to herd livestock. They may nip your heels or hands to get you to move or get attention.
Working breeds such as the Siberian Husky, German Shepherd, and Belgian Malinois’ can also be very energetic, and biting your hands or clothes to play is a common and painful phase for these dogs as puppies. We suggest wearing gloves while you teach them how to ask nicely for attention, which we will discuss below.
Finally, never underestimate the little dog. Terriers like the Jack Russell and Scottish Terrier love to rip and chew and have a high prey drive. You can expect your hands to be the unfortunate casualties of needle-like teeth from these little firecrackers.
How Do I Stop My Dog Biting My Hands?
There are mountains of advice on the internet about how to stop dog biting. But context is everything if you have an issue with a dog biting your hands. How your dog bites your hands determines how you should handle the problem. So let’s look at some of the most common scenarios.
Dealing With A Dog Biting For Attention
If your dog bites your hands to get attention or to try to get you to play, there are two very simple principles to remember. Firstly, you need to decide on an appropriate alternative behavior you can teach your dog to use to get your attention or invite you to play. And secondly, you are going to encourage something called behavior extinction to stop the biting.
This is a scientific method tested by behaviorists Mindy Waite and Tiffany Kodack. You can do this yourself or enlist the help of a qualified dog trainer. But the steps are pretty simple, and they only take consistency.
- If your dog is biting your hand to get your attention, or to encourage you to play, never reward them with more attention. This means no yelping or shouts or reaction of any kind. Instead, you need to turn your back on your dog and calmly count to 20. By removing the attention, you remove the dog’s incentive to keep biting.
- It’s not enough to just ignore your dog for biting your hands. They will simply try other behaviors to get your attention, such as barking or jumping on you. So you need to start teaching them an acceptable way to ask to play. This could be bringing you a ball to throw or a tug toy.
- Introduce obedience commands such as sit and stay. Decide on your acceptable alternative behavior and reward your dog periodically for sitting and staying by tossing a ball or playing tug for a minute or two.
- Ensure you reward any polite behavior or acceptable attempt to get your attention. This means paying attention to when your dog sits calmly by your side.
- Periodically throughout the day, engage positively with a game of tug or fetch. It only needs to last a minute or two. Mix the game with obedience commands so that your dog learns the best way to get your attention is to bring you a ball or a tug toy and that biting your hands means you turn away from them.
Dealing with Vizlsa “Sharkies”
Hunting dogs such as the English Cocker Spaniel can be very mouthy when they are puppies because of their high prey drive. However, one hunting breed, the Vizsla, is known for bouts of frenzied biting when they are tired or excited.
Called the “sharkies,” these episodes are much more intense than for most breeds and can be very painful and stressful for owners. To deal with the sharkies, one needs to stick to the above principles of giving no attention or reaction to the biting and providing an alternative behavior they can use to engage you.
During this period, you may want to carry around chew toys to redirect your puppy and wear thick, old clothing around the house because there may be some rips and tears.
How To Stop My Dog From Biting When Excited
If your dog bites your hand when they are excited, you will follow the same steps as the ones for biting for attention. Except, in this case, you will completely ignore your dog when they are excited.
Do not make a sound, make eye contact, or interact until they are calmer. This means being patient. For instance, if your dog is excited about going for a walk, do not step out of the house until they are calm. Consistently reward calm behavior, and use structured exercise to bring their energy levels down.
Dogs usually bite your hands to get your attention and as part of play. Puppies can chew on your hands while teething, and sometimes dogs can nip out of excitement. Usually, it’s nothing to worry about, but it one does need to shape appropriate behavior to teach dogs not to be mouthy.
Finally, be aware of any behavior problems your dog may have that could be causing them to bite your hands. Nearly half of dog bites happen because a dog is possessive. A dog that guards food, toys, their bed, or their favorite person is one of the primary reasons people get bitten.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.