Understanding our dog: his need to bite, between pleasure and necessity – Apart from the episodes related to aggression or defense, the dog has the ethological need to use the teeth and to grasp them on something.
Let’s find out why and how to satisfy this real need in the best way for him and also for us, with significant advantages.
1. Let him bite, it affects his well-being
The dog’s need to bite arises from the fact of belonging to the group of predators, the animal species that, in nature, must hunt to survive.
This means identifying a prey, approaching it, chasing it and attacking it to kill it, with the teeth, and then feed on it, always using the mouth.
And that of our dog is well equipped for this purpose: it has forty-two teeth, sharp, robust and of significant size.
Teeth suitable for grasping, tearing, cutting and shredding, even bones. Teeth capable of expressing strong pressure thanks to the temporal muscles and the masseter muscles, capable of exerting a surprising force, even in small dogs.
It could not be otherwise, if we think that the wolf has developed hunting and killing skills that have allowed him to survive for millennia, despite the infinite difficulties, and that he has transmitted all or part of these skills to his only domestic “son”, the dog.
No surprise, therefore, if our friend, while not having to hunt to survive, instinctively tends to bite and chew different types of objects of various kinds, including furniture or clothes.
It is up to us to teach him what can be “attacked” without problems and what, instead, should not be used to keep trained … the hunting arsenal.
We understood that biting belongs to the instinctive behavior of the dog even by descent, but beyond that, because our friend usually sink his teeth repeatedly on something even inanimate, such as a piece of wood for example, seems to give such satisfaction?
After all, the dog almost never manages to prey on something alive and many do not even have a real desire, apparently contenting themselves with the simple lasting and “violent” contact between their teeth and something quite solid.
The answer is that it is a matter of psycho-physical well-being, therefore of utmost importance.
This is why it is essential, for most dogs, to have the ability to bite often and with the strength they deem appropriate to use, which varies from individual to individual for reasons related to breed or type, temperament, age and age. lived experience.
2. Bites and brains. Satisfaction and relaxation are the benefits for the dog
For our friend, biting means being a dog and giving vent to all the strength he can express.
In doing so, the pleasure is double: at the time of the biting action and even afterwards, why bite for a while, especially playing with us, promotes a condition of relaxation made of deep breaths and, in some cases, of a restful sleep.
These consequences are due to the fact that, by biting, the dog activates some pleasure and contentment neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin and dopamine, as well as causing greater production of oxytocin, the so-called “Love hormone”, also a harbinger of a sense of deep satisfaction and gratification.
Yet, through bite games, the rise in some stress hormones, such as cortisol, is reduced, allowing the dog to face the different stimuli of everyday life with greater serenity.
These considerations are valid for all dogs, even if in some breeds and typologies the need to bite becomes even vital.
In particular, in dogs known as “grasping” and in shepherd dogs predisposed to work, the urge to bite is one of the needs that must be met in order to have the basics of a life worth living.
3. Address the bite. The advantages of playing together
Given the importance of biting for the dog, it is clear that we must offer him this opportunity with more or less high frequency based on his personal “satisfaction index”, keeping in mind that studies on the subject place this activity at the highest levels of appreciation for most dogs.
And if he already likes to bite so much, doing it playing with us will be even more rewarding, while the advantage on our front will be to be able to control the bite of our friend, a very precious possibility.
In a pet shop we will find sturdy fabric braids, padded jute sleeves (the “salamotti”) and even balls connected to a braided rope. They are the so-called “tiramolla“and they are all fine, provided they are of a size suitable for the mouth and strength of the dog.
The important thing is to “manage” this game by introducing specific rules.
We move the “prey” on the ground, making it crawl in front of the dog’s muzzle, which will easily grab it from the free side, starting the contention that, in nature, it would initiate with its like for a real prey or a piece of wood. We begin the “challenge” by moving the spring rod to the right and left.
After a few moments we stop and remain motionless, preferably by raising the trunk and bringing the object closer to the leg.
If the dog leaves, let’s praise him and give him a bite, which we can also use to entice him to open his mouth. The first step is done, now let’s see how to proceed.
4. We manage behavior. You need the stop signal
By repeating the game several times, the dog soon learns that, when we immobilize, it is better to leave to receive the bite.
At that point we introduce an interruption signal when we stop (the most classic is “leaves“), so that our friend associates the sound with the gesture of opening the mouth, which will be followed by the mouthful or … the resumption of the game, in itself a very valid reinforcement.
After a while, the interruption signal will be enough to let him take his hold and we will be able to transfer him, slowly, to different situations, thus taking control over time of the grip of our dog and, evolving the thing, also of many others his actions.
Furthermore, playing with the spring tiller often becomes the most effective way to gratify a dog’s behavior. In fact, both in basic education courses and in dog-sports activities, the puller is used as a reinforcement as an alternative or in addition to food.
The game thus becomes a powerful primary reinforcement, that is, a stimulus suitable for providing pleasure without the need for prior associations with other stimuli. A real trump card, for those who will be able to use it to the fullest!
5. Self-control. The game increases it a lot
Another huge advantage that comes from the game in question is that the dog exponentially increases its self-control.
To understand this, let’s try to make a parallel with a sport in which we use our “natural weapons”, ie boxing.
By training with another boxer, we learn to control more and more accurately not only the direction of the blows but also the power, up to manage it with considerable accuracy, also because we know that it is a sports training and we certainly do not want to knock our partner , if we are people with brains.
Something similar happens for the balanced dog: knowing that he is in a playful contest, a sort of “training”, he will pay more and more attention to where he places his teeth on the puller, so as not to hit our hands often placed at the two ends while the his mouth grasps the center of the object, and also to the force to be employed in the different moments.
Proof? It is very rare for a dog accustomed to playing in this way to hurt us by mistake, even if he is very excited by the contest. His self-control still remains, just like for a good boxer.