The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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Whether your dog is the leg biter or on the receiving end of the paw nipping, you probably want to know if this is acceptable behavior, and if not, how to put a stop to it.
However, before we get to that, we’ll have to find out why some dogs like to nip other dogs’ legs.
Typically, dogs bite other dogs’ legs while playing; this should not be a significant concern when the dogs are familiar with each other. However, leg nipping can also be associated with dominant behavior or acts of aggression – hostile demeanors in dogs should be discouraged.
Leg biting is usually not a form of aggression or dominance and is just rough play in the canine world. This behavior seems innocent enough until we factor in all the reasons why dogs should be discouraged from biting legs in general.
Why Do Dogs Bite Other Dogs’ Legs?
Dogs are known for many bizarre behaviors like butt-sniffing, tail chasing, digging holes, spinning in circles, and biting other dogs’ legs. You might think that your dog is just silly – or naughty – but there are reasons they do the things they do.
To prevent or discourage unwanted behavior, we’ll need to understand why this is happening in the first place, and only then can we form a plan of action to address the problem. Leg nipping can be a form of playing, dominance, or aggression.
1 – Playing
Dogs like to nip when they play with other dogs; this is referred to as play-biting. The behavior is most common in puppies and young dogs but not unusual for mature dogs.
While playing, puppies latch on to just about anything they can reach. Just as with human babies, everything they encounter seems to end up in their mouths.
Puppies mostly bite and chew to relieve the pressure of teething, and sometimes this happens to be another dogs’ leg or paw. It might be time to buy some durable puppy chews.
Young dogs (between one and two years old) are more likely to partake in roughhousing. This form of play includes chasing, jumping, body bumping, lunging, and play-biting at the legs and paws.
The bite is somewhere between gentle mouthing and a hard nip. There is pressure, but there is no force or malicious intent; the bite should not earn a yelp for the other dog, playing might be a little rough, but it should never really hurt or cause damage.
2 – Dominant Behavior
Some dogs portray dominant behavior to assert themselves at the top of the hierarchy; this is a little more serious than playing but not altogether dangerous.
Leg biting can be a means of communication between dogs, where the alpha gives a warning nip to keep the other dogs in line.
Dominant behavior is easy to spot; the alpha will always have the best position in the pack, whether related to food, sleeping spots, or attention. Remember that dogs are social creatures, and as with any social structure, there is a pecking order.
If your household has two or more dogs, there isn’t much you can do if one of the dogs assumes the alpha position. According to Cesar – a well-known dog behaviorist – you should respect the dog hierarchy, which should be enough to keep the peace.
Cesar mentions that when the social structure becomes unbalanced, it creates a breeding ground for aggression, quickly turning from a warning nip to a leg to a full-blown fight. (Keep in mind that both sexes – male and female dogs – can be dominant.)
So, while dominance should not be a significant problem, you should still be careful to avoid situations where dominance turns into dominance aggression. If the tensions are running high, it might be time to call for some help.
3 – Aggression
Some owners might find that dominance and aggression are very similar; however, dominance is rarely the motivator for true aggression. The pack leader will sometimes feel it is necessary to warn the other dogs, but this should not necessarily lead to fights.
On the other hand, people also mistake aggression for dominance, thinking that their dogs are only trying to establish their alpha status when, in fact, the dog is aggressive. There are plenty of motivators for aggression in dogs, such as fear, territory conflicts, and possessiveness.
Once again, aggressive behavior is easy to pick up on; this is where chasing turns to trapping, and nipping turns into painful biting. If a dog cries out in fear or pain, the other dog is not playing or giving a warning; this is dangerous and should not be allowed.
According to the findings published in Science Direct, there appear to be other factors that influence aggression levels in dogs. Below you’ll find the top results that contribute or, in some cases, lessen the intense outbursts.
- Same-sex housemate aggression is more prevalent among females, which results in the most severe of injuries.
- Housemate aggression is less common in sporting breeds such as Pointers, Retrievers, Spaniels, and Setters.
- Non-household aggression (that is to say, unfamiliar dogs) links to territorial clashes or dominance aggression.
The Difference Between Fighting and Playing
If you have trouble telling rough play apart from fighting, consult the chart below to know when to let dogs be dogs and when to step in. Be very careful when approaching dogs that are spoiling for a fight; it is a dangerous situation.
|Body language||Hostile dogs will have their tail tucked, lips curled, teeth exposed, ears pulled back, keep their bodies stiff, with raised hackles.||Friendly pups have open mouth smiles, bright eyes, and wagging tails, or butt wiggles. There would be no fear from either dog.|
|Communication||Be careful with deep and guttural growling; the sound is much more hostile than the play-growl. It would be more of a snarl and quick forward motion with exposed teeth.||Dogs that are playing would have loud excited barks and play-growling. There would be a lot of butt-sniffing or laying on their back to expose their bellies.|
|Interactions||Hostile dogs will chase (or herd) and corner other dogs. One dog will try and get away out of fear. The aggressive dog will have quick movements of striking or snapping. The nips or bites from an aggressive dog will most likely hurt.||Play bowing (downward dog), jumping, and rolling around. Running loops around each other and taking turns to chase and catch. When they go back for seconds, they are having fun.|
Should Dogs Be Allowed to Bite Other Dogs’ Legs When Playing?
Even if there is a difference between playing and fighting, it would be a good idea to discourage your dog from play biting, especially if they visit the dog park often. The problem with play biting is that you can never be sure what reaction it could pull from another dog.
The risk of injury that accompanies the innocent nip is not worth it. Even in rough play with no aggression involved, dogs can accidentally inflict damage. It remains the safest option to train your dog not to bite other dogs’ legs.
If there is a newcomer at the local dog park, you’ll have no idea how the new friend might react when your dog nips at their legs. You could get lucky, and both dogs are happy with the situation, or things could turn ugly fast.
How To Break Up Fighting Dogs
It is any pet owner’s worst nightmare; you might want to push this upsetting image to the far recesses of your brain and never think about it again. It is a very normal reaction, but part of being a responsible pet owner is knowing how to keep your dog safe should this happen.
The list below will give you an idea of how to handle the situation. Remember that dogs fights can get very intense, and you should always know where the closest emergy vet is located.
- Keep calm
- Ask for assistance to distract the dogs
- Never put yourself between the dogs
- If distraction is not working, or you are alone, get behind the aggressive dog and pull their hind legs back
- Be careful not to jerk too hard, as this can cause injury to the dog
- Keep the dogs separated
If you need some visual aid to prepare yourself, here is a great video that explains what to do in the event of dogs fighting.
The ideal situation would be to prevent this from happening altogether. If you know your dog is aggressive, not very social, or appears fearful when you visit the dog park, it would be best to avoid the situation and find other means of stimulation for your pet. Here are some examples:
- On-leash walking, running, or hiking
- Hide and seek games
- Agility training at home
- Swimming or splashing in kiddies’ pools
- Interactive toys
If you happen to have an aggressive dog, don’t give up on them. With some training and rules, you should be able to turn the situation around. Hostile dogs’ behavior can be modified with the help of a trained professional.
How To Approach the Owner of The Nipping Dog?
In the event that your dog is on the receiving end of the leg biting and doesn’t seem to care for it at all, you can always approach the owner of the nipping dog and try to resolve the issue amicably.
Don’t go in guns blazing; this would most likely backfire in your face. The majority of dog owners are very protective of their pets and might not like it when you start hurling accusations around.
Be direct yet open to a discussion. You can suggest that the owner seek advice from a dog trainer or behaviorist. If the other dog is not hostile, you can try a one-on-one playdate where the owner can correct the unwanted behavior with reward-based training.
There would also be instances where the other owner will not want to resolve the issue; you can report it if there is some sort of authority at the park. If not, there isn’t much else you can do but avoid the owner and dog if you can.
How To Stop Dogs from Biting Each Other’s Legs (The Three Steps)
The possible dangers of play biting beg the question of how to put a stop to play nipping. Luckily, there are steps you can employ to thwart the mouthing. It would be best to start with puppy classes, progress to socialization, and end with obedience training.
Puppy classes and early socialization would be impossible if you decided to adopt a mature dog. But do not fret; obedience training will be an effective method to get the biting under control. Your steps would just look a little different.
You’ll have to get the obedience under control before you attempt socialization. Keep in mind that not all rescues or mature dogs will have problems getting along with other dogs, but it would still be good practice to give them some ground rules first.
The three steps to preventing leg biting are:
- Puppy classes will provide your dog with the basics of following commands and learning how to interact with other dogs in a confident yet positive manner.
- Early socialization is extremely important; the rules they learn in puppy classes should be practiced in real experiences to gauge their need for further training.
- Obedience training becomes handy as your pup gets older; the reward-based training should be slowly phased out as your dog learns to obey your commands.
When a situation requires you to step in, the three phases above should have given you the needed control to manage your dog with voice commands. So when they engage in unwanted behavior like biting legs, you can stop it by uttering a single vocal directive.
To have the best possible experience of owning a dog, ensure that your pet receives proper training and give them a set of rules that would make life easier for both pet and owner.
If the dogs are only playing or displaying some healthy dominance (and not being dominant aggressive), you might never experience any problems with it. However, if the nipping is malicious, you should avoid the situation at all costs to prevent possible injury.