What is Arousal Biting?

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

Arousal biting occurs often in teething puppies and adolescent dogs but it can occur in dogs of any age. During arousal biting, a dog that has become aroused whether excited, frustrated, anxious, etc. begins to bite at objects or people in its environment. This behavior is not aggressive, but nonetheless it can hurt! Mouthing satisfies an intrinsic need in the dog when bored, aroused, or emotionally stressed, which leads to a cycle of self-reinforcement which makes this behavior resistant to external control. The behavior is often presented in environments where the dog is highly stimulated, such as when the owners arrive home, when playing with the dog, when away from the home, etc.

Similar to many other behavioral conditions, this behavior can be worsened by the use of punishment or aversive stimulation. Instead, employing a professional with a deep knowledge of learning theory and behavioral science can help to modify the behavior effectively. Appropriate and effective treatment focuses on appropriate outlets for the behavior, replacement of undesirable behavior with desirable behavior that leads to favorable outcomes for the dog, exercises that increase coping skills for arousal, and exercises that increase impulse control in context-specific scenarios.

Suppression Vs. Outlet

Often when behavior is stressful or harmful, we act defensively to make it go away as quickly as possible. Our efforts are often based on the principles of punishment, trying to get the dog to stop the biting behavior because it hurts! Unfortunately, this rarely works as planned, and often makes the behavior more intense over time. By blocking the outlet of the behavior in the moment and asking for something extremely challenging in the context, such as a down or sit, we can amplify arousal and frustration leading to an increase in the intensity of the behavior.

Instead, when your pet beg