Dog Psychology 101: Why Do ‘Good Boys’ Bite?

We’ve probably all have heard horror stories about family dogs inexplicably biting their loved ones or dogs with no known history of aggression turning into vicious beasts literally in the blink of an eye for some mysterious reason. Good boys and girls do bite, but it is never “out of the blue.”

Why Dogs Bite

Most dogs bite to create a safe distance between themselves and a person or other animal they consider a threat or an extreme stressor. Dogs usually bite either because they are startled by a person’s behavior or they are under a lot of stress. Anxious dogs are also more likely to bite because they perceive more people and animals as an immediate danger than their non-anxious counterparts.

Dogs also bite to protect their praised possessions such as food, puppies, toys, and even humans. Some dogs, especially aging dogs, may bite because they are in pain or feeling unwell due to chronic illness. And some dogs just want to be left alone but some people are not aware that dogs do care about personal space too.

Why Do Good Boys (and Girls) Bite?

Dog behavior experts have discovered that each dog has a so-called “bite threshold” beyond which they may snap. As threats and stressors accumulate, that threshold is reached and the dog bites. Some dogs have a very low bite threshold, and they may attack just because a stranger tried to pet them or loomed over them, while other dogs have a higher bite threshold, which means that they can put up with a lot more before finally snapping.

Most dogs, however, will let you know that they are stressed and about to attack by growling, licking their lips, showing their teeth, or snapping.

Also, most dogs bite as a last resort, when they have been already pushed to the edge. However, when under a lot of stress, nice dogs are more likely to bite “out of the blue” than their naturally aggressive peers because most nice dogs do not fully master other ways to tell a human to back off when they’ve had enough.

The most common reasons even good dogs bite are:

  • Fear
  • Stress
  • Illness & pain

A nice but anxious dog not accustomed with strangers or small children may bite to protect itself or its puppies when you get too close to them. An anxious dog may also bite if you startle it even if it has no history of aggressive behavior. Anxious dogs may also bite if they believe that you are trying to take away their food, toys, or puppies.

Some anxious dogs are also fear biters, but most of them will issue stress signals to let you know that you’ve gone too far or they will just shut down.

Nice dogs under a lot of stress may also bite. The most common stressors for dogs include: loud noises (such as fireworks or highly energetic kids), unfamiliar people, pets, and places, being left alone for a long period of time, abrupt disruptions in their routine (like when you are getting a new job and have to be away longer that Fido is used to), injuries, big changes (such as getting married or moving into a new home), the death of a loved one, etc.

Not all dogs perceive these situations the same. What may be stressful for one dog might be change of pace for another dog. Each dog is unique, so it is best to know its triggers and properly read its body language to not push it over the edge.

Good dogs in pain may also bite. For instance, a dog with a painful limb or an older dog with a sore hip due to arthritis may bite if you slam into its painful body part. Illness is also a reason a dog may bite. For instance, deaf dogs or dogs with declining eyesight that can be easily startled will bite even if they have always been the ‘good boys’ in your pack.

To Wrap It Up

Good dogs bite when under a lot of stress or fearing for their lives. They may also bite if they are ill or in pain. Further, a good dog whose anxiety shoots up through the roof when around strangers and other pets is likely going to bite if its bite threshold is reached. That is why, it is a good idea to first socialize your dog when it is a pup to save yourself and the mutt a lot of trouble in the long run as dog owners are liable if their dog injures another person and a dog risks losing a lot more than its home if it mauls someone.

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