If you have a puppy or adult dog, you will likely have noticed that they often bite your hands (especially puppies!).
Why is this? Why do dogs bite your hands?
Let’s find out and then look at what to do about it if it’s a problem.
Why Do Dogs Bite Hands?
Dogs bite hands so much because hands are one of the primary ways we engage with our dogs.
Therefore, your hands are very often easily accessible to the dog. Also, dogs love to bite, chew, and mouth objects.
It’s normal and natural behavior for them.
We hold train, pet, and groom our dogs with our hands. Our hands are usually the first thing we offer them when we see them.
So, it is only natural that dogs would be really interested in them.
Also, they are often easy to reach and fun to chew because they are relatively soft and have fingers to bite and nibble.
This easy accessibility, combined with a dog’s natural instinct to bite, chew and mouth different objects, means that dog owners’ hands are often the target of their pet’s biting.
NOTE – Click here to read a post answering the question: how do dogs know to be gentle with eggs?
Biting and Mouthing is (Usually) Normal Healthy Behavior
In particular for puppies but also adult dogs, chewing or biting random objects is perfectly normal and healthy canine behavior.
They do this for several reasons:
- To strengthen teeth and jaw muscles (this applies most to puppies).
- To understand the world. Dogs discover and learn using their mouths the same way humans do with their hands.
- As a form of play, again, this one is especially true in puppies.
- To help deal with stress and anxiety (more on this further down).
Note – You might also enjoy reading this post looking at why dogs chew on underwear.
Distinguishing Between Mouthing and Aggressive Biting
To figure out if your dog is mouthing or if they are being more aggressive, it will help to determine the underlying reason why your dog is biting your hands.
If they seem relaxed but still interested in your hands, acting similarly to if they were chewing a bone, then they are just mouthing.
Mouthing is a way for your dog to explore and understand the world around them.
It is not just natural but a very healthy activity for them to engage in.
However, if they are growling or biting you more intensely (even being playfully aggressive), then this is a different type of behavior and should be dealt with differently.
NOTE – You may also appreciate this article looking at why dogs destroy their beds.
Distinguishing Between Healthy Mouthing and Stress-Related Chewing
Pay close attention to your dog’s emotional state when nibbling your hands.
Do they seem anxious, uptight, or more intense than usual?
Or are they more relaxed and seem like they are happily enjoying themselves?
If it’s the first, you should look at dealing with the underlying reasons they are stressed, and if you do that, the biting should naturally reduce.
This video has some excellent tips to help you to deal with your dog’s anxiety and stress levels:
Note – Before we go on, you might enjoy this post which answers the question – why do dogs destroy their beds?
Should You be Worried If Your Dog Bites Your Hands?
Your dog non-aggressively biting and chewing your hands is a natural behavior pattern and should only raise your concern if it hurts or, even worse, breaks the skin.
Generally speaking, letting a dog lick and bite your skin – unless the skin is broken or damaged (such as a scab or a rash) – is not risky.
However, if your dog breaks the skin when biting you or if you already have a cut on your hands, this risk is much higher.
Dog’s mouths can contain some nasty bacteria and tiny bugs such as:
- Gut parasites or eggs.
- Fecal matter (yuk).
- Traces of urine (yuk again).
- Microorganisms and bacteria that can spread serious diseases.
Please note that this list is not complete!
There may be many other nasty surprises lurking in your dog’s saliva.
So you might want to be careful letting your dog bit or chew your hands if you have damaged skin.
There is a small but real risk of getting parasites or becoming sick if you do so.
You have been warned!
NOTE – You might also like to read this post looking at why dogs like bones so much.
How to Train Your Dog to be Gentle if the Biting Hurts Your Hands
There is a concept called bite inhibition which can be a great thing to teach your dog. It means teaching your dog to be gentler with their mouth and biting.
For example, you could use it to teach a dog to take a treat more gently or, in this case, to train them not to be too rough when they bite your hands.
Luckily this is a straightforward thing to train as it occurs naturally when puppies play with each other.
If one puppy bites another puppy too hard, the puppy bitten cries out with a yelp of pain.
The puppy doing the biting will learn from this and will be more gentle next time.
So to train your dog’s bite inhibition, all you need to do is cry out in pain if your dog bites you too hard. It will be even more effective if you can pull your hand and body away from the dog.
Repeat this process each time they bite too hard until the behavior stops – which should be pretty quickly as this specific type of training usually works after only a few goes.
You might also find some useful tips in this article or this video, showing the training in action.
Just click on the video and it will start to play:
NOTE – Click here if you want to read this post asking: do dogs know when they hurt you?
How to Deal with Aggressive Hand Biting
If you feel that your dog is biting your hands aggressively, you need to eliminate this as quickly as possible.
If you are concerned that the dog is dangerous enough to hurt you, we suggest consulting an experienced dog trainer as soon as possible.
If you aren’t scared of being badly bitten, you can try this two-step process.
Firstly, when they exhibit aggressive biting, pull your hand away from them and say “NO” in a clear and loud voice.
Then use something positive to distract them from your hands, such as throwing a ball or giving them a chew to enjoy.
If the aggressive hand biting is a minor issue, this method should clear it up fairly quickly, but if it doesn’t stop, you should speak to a local dog trainer or vet and get to the bottom of it.
Final Notes On Why Dogs Bite Your Hands
So we have established that to varying degrees, dogs and puppies naturally bite, nip, and chew pretty much whatever they can fit in their mouths.
Also, dogs tend to bite hands so much because we use our hands so much when interacting with them, so they are often within reach of the dog’s mouth.
Finally, we looked at how to train your dog to bite more gently using bite inhibition training.
One last quick tip before you go.
An effective way to reduce dog hand biting is to give your pooch something else to chew on!
It could be a bone, a chew, or a rubber toy. Try to find something they really like and when you want to give your hands a rest, give it a go.
Tim is a proud, vetted, and experienced dog foster carer for a charity helping dog owners escape domestic abuse.
He has years of experience training and caring for dogs, both his own and other people’s.
He is an expert in canine behavior and is highly skilled in dealing with all dogs but specializes in the difficult ones that other people may struggle with.
When he isn’t fostering dogs, he is making friends with other people’s pups!