Bite control is best learnt young, as the first rule a pup should learn. It means no mouthing, no chewing, no playbiting, and no nipping. It is usually easy to teach a pup bite inhibition, and much more difficult with an older dog. There are various ways to teach a pup not to bite, like distracting him with an object that he’s allowed to chew, or walking away and ignoring the pup. Often owners find this a little slow, and an effective way to stop playbiting is to blow a gentle raspberry at the pup's face, just when he's starting to gnaw you. Do this when the pup is fairly relaxed, so more responsive, eg when he is on your lap, and follow it with a long, calming stroke when the pup has stopped gnawing you. The usual response is for pup to try again, and if you repeat the raspberry, the pup should then stop and lick you. It's better for adults to do this, and only when pup is relaxed, as kids can get carried away, and pups might get more excitable.

Handling pups and adult dogs can calm them or overexcite them. Remember, long, slow strokes are usually more soothing than rapid motions. Caresses behind the ears are a good place to start, before working downwards. Dogs are usually calmer and more relaxed about being handled after a walk. Your dog's body language will tell you whether or not you’re doing it right. It's important not to roughhouse your pup or dog to the point where he gets overexcited and mouthy or bitey, or let anyone else do it. That’s just training him to bite when he’s rolled over, and you'll have trouble examining him when he’s an adult, as will a vet. You need to be able to examine dogs for burrs, matted fur and small injuries, so practise doing this gently with soothing words and occasional scratches where he likes to be scratched, to keep it pleasurable.


Rolling dogs gently on their backs (without forcing them) and gently stroking them can teach them that touch is relaxing, and helps to build trust. Take your cue from the dog's body language, and use touch while the dog is in a relaxed mood. You can also teach a 'roll over' command, which is handy if you want to look at a dog's tum.

Teaching bite control is much more difficult with adult dogs. You may be faced with this problem if, for example, you adopt a dog that has had little contact with humans, or whose humans have encouraged the dog to playbite. It’s safer to get help unless you have a lot of experience in solving the problem, especially if the biting goes beyond little nips, or soft playbites. Some dogs not only have never been taught bite control, they have also learnt, or rather been trained, to bite their way out of trouble, or to get what they want. If you have little experience or any doubts, get an assessment and a training plan from a professional with a track record of success in tackling the problem.

Generally, with a dog that bites to protect itself, take it slowly to build up trust, only handling the dog when he is relaxed after walks, keeping a watchful eye on his body language. The more you can handle the dog when he's relaxed, the less likely he is to tense up and want to defend himself.

Dogs may try to bite anyone approaches their dinner, to defend 'stolen' objects, or even to defend a space that you want to use. Dogs can learn, or be trained, that they can get their own way by threatening people. It's not good for either of you to put yourself in a situation where the dog may bite you. Grabbing dogs roughly by the collar can trigger bites, there are safer ways to deal with a dog threatening you.

Dogs need to feel safe when they eat. Having to compete with other dogs for food can lead to dogs defending food bowls against humans, so supervise meal times, if you have more than one dog. You can teach 'drop' to teach your dog to give up objects. Barriers can prevent dogs occupying couches. Teaching a solid 'off' command is much safer than grabbing a dog's collar to yank it off a couch. Sometimes a dog will stop growling to 'defend' a high place or a bag of food, and go into 'obedient mode' if you give a calm and confident command. A house line (long lead) also gives you control at a distance. You can use it in the house and garden to reinforce commands that aren't obeyed such as 'off' (the furniture), together with rewards for when the dog does obey you.

Growling is a threat, and can be upsetting, but it does give you a warning signal that a dog may bite. Whether the dog is hiding under the table and growling because he’s spooked, or on the couch, you can try ignoring him and doing something really interesting on your own, like eating some meat, or playing with a squeaky toy. Continue to ignore him for a little while when he comes to see what you are doing, then give him a command, which you can reward him for obeying. Then you’re back in control and can tackle the problem, If he’s spooked, work out what has spooked him and how to get him used to it. If he thinks the couch is his, teach him 'on' and 'off' commands until he obeys 'off' automatically - a low table in the garden can be handy for teaching this command.

There’s a lot you can do with an adult dog that sometimes threatens you, but to repeat, unless you’re very experienced in solving this type of problem, it's better to seek the opinion of someone with a lot of experience, who can check out the dog. And if a previously peaceful adult dog suddenly starts biting, this probably isn’t a training issue, but a medical problem, so a vet check is essential.