Why Do Dogs Bite When They Play?

Why Do Dogs Bite When They Play?

When you come across the word “bite,” there’s a negative meaning immediately attached to it. It gets a bad rep and spreads fear, especially when it comes to dog bites. But not all bites are bad.

A great example is when your dog bites and nips during playtime.

If there’s no immediate danger, why do dogs engage in this behavior in a playful bout with their owners or other dogs?

It’s a curious question, and Joyride Harness is getting to the bones behind Why Dogs Bite When They Play.

Why Dogs Bite

Before we can get into the reasoning behind dog biting during playtime, dog owners and caregivers need to understand all bite motives. Those reasons include:

  • Being afraid
  • Being startled
  • Being protective or territorial
  • Being frustrated and agitated
  • Being in pain

And last but not least, they bite and nip during playtime. 

Dogs might bite when they’re afraid.

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), fear is the leading root cause of aggression in dogs. They’re on the defense, and it's fight or flight with the fight taking the lead. 

Dogs might bite when they’re startled.

When dogs are startled by something–awake or asleep–they react because they are confused and disoriented by the encounter. This is why it’s advised to not wake a sleeping dog, especially in the middle of a dream or nightmare.

Dogs might bite when they’re protective.

Dogs and other animals might engage in something called “resource guarding.” That’s when your dog puts a lot of value on their favorite toy, food, or person, and as a result, they might bite to protect.  

Dogs might bite when they’re frustrated.

When dogs feel overwhelmed and stuck in a position they can’t get out of, biting might happen. 

Dogs might bite because they’re in pain.

This ties into the overwhelming feeling dogs experience that leads to biting. When dogs are injured, they’re doing what they can to stay out of the way and heal. When someone approaches, it could be seen as a threat, or they want to protect themselves from being further injured. 

In any case, getting in touch with your trusted local veterinarian is always safe, and best to talk about your dog’s behavior and health if biting occurs.

When Dogs Bite During Playtime

Dogs are natural adventurers and explorers, and that’s through their senses too. When dogs start to bite and nip at you or other dogs excitedly, it’s not a sign of aggression. stated, “When a dog gently bites you while playing, it is called mouthing. If you’ve ever watched dogs play with each other, you’ll probably have seen them leaving their mouths open to bite each other. Mouthing allows dogs to fight without actually doing harm to each other. Even though their mouthing behavior only mimics a bite, it still applies pressure and could hurt, especially to a human.”

Different animals and species have different pain thresholds, which can be applied here.

How do I tell the difference between aggression and playfulness?

We get it! Nobody wants to get bitten, and there are fur babies to keep safe during roughhouse playtime. So how do you spot the difference between aggression and playfulness? explains, “When dogs play, it often takes the form of play fighting, play biting and wrestling. Although it can be fun and harmless, sometimes this can intensify into unsafe and serious scraps if you do not observe your dog closely. If you encounter an aggressive moment between dogs, it’s often not enough to let them work it out on their own. 

“It’s better to keep the pups safe and intervene, rather than letting the dogs continue to engage in a potentially dangerous situation. It’s also important to remember redirected aggression can occur. When a dog displays aggression, although it may be directed at another animal, they can become frustrated and redirect their hostility towards you, another animal, or another person nearby.”

Dog owners are advised to be mindful and keep an eye out for signs of stress with your pup to prevent things from escalating.

For more doggie photos and pup-related fun, follow us on Instagram at @joyrideharness. And for a more detailed blog post about finding the best size dog harness for your pup, check out this blog post!

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