Why might an otherwise good dog bite their owner?
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Why might an otherwise good dog bite their owner?

There are few things more shocking or frightening than being bitten by a dog, and this is even more true if the dog is your own and their behaviour is very out of character. If your dog does bite you or snap at you, after you have dealt with any potential injury and ascertained that you are ok, it is important to get to the root of the problem, and establish why your dog bit in order to come up with a solution and prevent further problems later on.

Read on to find out more about the potential reasons behind why a dog might bite their master, plus what you can do about it.

Resource guarding

Resource guarding is the name given to the canine behaviour that manifests when your dog is very possessive about their things, such as their bed, toys and food. It can manifest in ways such as refusing to give something up to you when you ask for it, or literally growling and placing a physical barrier between you and the item in question. If you persist with trying to remove the resource in question from your dog, the end result of this taken to its ultimate conclusion might be that your dog snaps or bites.

If your dog begins to display possessive instincts over his things, it is important to nip this in the bud and check the behaviour early on, before it becomes a potential problem. Teach your dog commands to leave things, and not to eat until they are told to, and keep unused toys and possessions out of the way at times when you are not actively using them.

Protective instincts

Dogs often become highly protective of the various members of their family, and will likely be aware of the family pecking order in terms of the adults at the top and the children, and then the dogs, at the bottom.

If you are telling one of your children off or trying to curb their unruly behaviour, or if you are having an argument with your partner and your voice is raised, these types of situations can prove very confusing and even traumatic for your dog, who might not understand what is going on. This confusion can lead to distress, and bring out your dog’s protective instincts over either their favourite person, or the smaller or weaker members, or the party that appears to be on the receiving or losing end of the telling off.

This in turn can result in a confused dog trying to protect the party that they see as the victim, potentially by putting themselves between the two of you and barking or moving around to try to ward you off. At the extreme end of the scale, your dog might then potentially bite defensively, as in their opinion, they are protecting one of the parties.

Try to keep raised voices and particularly arguments out of your dog’s way, and after a row or if you need to chastise your kids, spend some time reassuring your dog and letting them know that everyone is still friends really.

Grumpy old timers

As dogs enter maturity and eventually old age, they are likely to be plagued with some of the everyday afflictions that come with aging, such as achy joints, loss of hearing and vision, and potentially some serious age-related health problems too.

A dog that is in pain or uncomfortable will likely have a shorter temper than a dog that is fine, which can lead to snapping. If you find that your older dog becomes snappy or defensive when you touch them in a certain place or try to get them to do something that they don’t like, get them checked out by your vet in case there is an underlying health issue.

Injury or illness

Again, snappy, grumpy or growly behaviour can accompany sickness or injury regardless of the age of your dog, and you may not always be aware that there is a problem based on your dog’s physical appearance. If your good, well trained dog of any age suddenly becomes temperamental for no apparent reason, get them checked out by your vet first before you start looking for a behavioural cause.

Fear responses

Some dogs are bold, outgoing and relaxed in all situations, while others simply have a tendency to be a little nervy or highly-strung. If your dog falls into the latter category, anything that enhances their fear levels might contribute to defensive aggression, such as a lot of noise and activities, fireworks, overzealous visitors and various other things too. Try to keep your dog away from the source of any stress, and give them a safe crate to curl up in and stay calm.

Poor bite inhibition in play

Bite inhibition is the learned skill that dogs develop to teach them that it is not good to bite others, because they too do not like to be bitten! It also teaches dogs what they can do with their teeth without causing pain or injury. When your dog is involved in very rowdy play and is very excitable, they may begin to forget themselves and lose some of their bite inhibition, particularly if you are tussling over a toy.

Check your dog when they start going too far and calm things down, to avoid the game getting to the stage where someone is potentially going to get hurt.

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