Your pooch tugging on your arm might seem harmless at first, but it can quickly develop into a bad habit.
Once the biting gets stronger, it’ll be harder to get rid of that behavior.
It’s even harder for those who have reinforced that behavior in the past, even if it was negative attention.
Issues often arise when puppies are allowed to bite limbs or clothing, grow up to be stronger, and are not as sensitive to our reactions anymore.
A variety of underlying reasons can cause puppies to bite, nip, or chew.
Dogs who bite their owner’s arm often lack bite inhibition and try to soothe teething, start a play session, seek attention, let off steam when overexcited or frustrated, or because they have been reinforced in the past.
Some dogs suffering from medical issues may experience pain and bite your arm if touched or moved.
This is especially true if warnings such as growling, snarling, and other body language signals have been ignored.
Biting the arm ranges from light playful biting or love bites from pups, all the way to serious signs of aggression.
Let’s dive into all 9 reasons why your dog may be going for your arm and what you can do about each issue.
A puppy may bite your arm because they’re still learning about bite inhibition and biting soothes them during their teething phase.
It’s not wise to punish puppy biting as it’ll create a negative association with you and can actually worsen the problem.
The behavior should eventually subside if you teach bite inhibition.
Solution: Redirect with chew toys until the puppy biting phase is over.
2. Lack of Bite Inhibition
If you have a recent rescue or your dog has just never learned bite inhibition, it’s crucial to teach them that biting your arm is not okay by redirecting and reinforcing appropriate play.
Dogs from all walks of life can lack bite inhibition.
It’s most commonly seen in rescues, especially if they come from abusive households or from the streets.
But the behavior can also be seen in seemingly well-bred puppies if they have just never been taught what’s okay and what’s not okay.
Solution: Start teaching bite inhibition.
3. Mouthy Playstyle
Some dogs and certain breeds have a tendency for a mouthy playstyle and they may bite your arm gently during play sessions.
If your dog is tugging on your arm during play, it’s up to you to decide how much is okay.
Always keep in mind that a mouthy playstyle with you may also translate to rough play with other dogs or humans.
If your dog displays an adaptive playstyle and assumes a healthy role when playing with others, it might not be necessary to intervene.
However, if your dog breaks the skin – even if done accidentally – it might be time to start training.
The same applies if your dog’s mouthing is accompanied by behaviors such as snapping at you.
Solution: Include breaks during play and if you’re okay with mouthy play, include an “Out” command and teach your pup what biting intensity is appropriate.
Dogs who are nibbling may display affection and biting the arm can be considered grooming behavior.
Love bites can hurt though.
If your dog accidentally nips you too hard, you shouldn’t encourage that.
Does your dog bite your arm – even when seemingly done out of affection – and it leaves a puncture wound, swells, or bleeds?
That’s when the play session has probably gone too far.
Affectionate bites should be limited to light nibbling and never cause wounds.
Some dogs who seem to love-bite may actually be stressed.
Solution: Very light mouthing may be okay if you don’t notice any other signs pointing toward behavioral issues.
Dogs who are not properly exercised may seek attention by grabbing your arm and holding onto it.
If you’ve rewarded the behavior in the past, your dog will be more inclined to do it again.
That attention you have given your dog may not be positive, but it usually evoked any type of response in the past.
Solution: Stop reinforcing your dog when they bite your arm and provide sufficient attention and exercise.
6. Learned Behavior
Biting the arm due to learned behavior usually happens if your dog has a command to hold onto objects or anything else or has just been rewarded in the past during play or when attention-seeking.
Similar to attention-seeking, your dog may have just learned a great trick and that stuck with him.
Every time your dog does the cute little trick where he holds your arm and you reward it?
You’re actually conditioning your dog to do it again, despite not necessarily intending to do so.
Solution: Stop reinforcing biting and redirect your dog with other commands or toys.
Overexcitement may be redirected toward the owner and end up in the dog biting your arm which can end dangerously if arousal levels aren’t managed.
Some dogs are just easily excitable and/or have a hard time calming down once they hyped themselves up.
Impulse control is essential for all dogs and if your dog is redirecting their excitement toward your arm, that’s an issue.
Since your dog is out of control at that moment, it’s essential to start to manage that behavior by using a muzzle and limiting exposure (or increasing distance).
Consult a professional behaviorist if you have concerns about training.
Any future bites could be directed at other dogs or people.
Solution: Exercise your dog physically as well as mentally and start teaching impulse control.
Biting is usually the last resort for stressed dogs but every individual has a different threshold for that.
It’s best not to test the limits.
Instead, gradually expose your dog to these situations and try to counter-condition a positive response by using positive reinforcement (toys, treats, praise).
Solution: Eliminate sources of stress and gradually desensitize your dog to everyday situations without reinforcing negative behavior.
9. Medical Issues
If your dog is biting your arm because you touched or moved your dog, it may be a sign of an underlying medical issue.
Do not keep touching the spot that causes your dog to lash out.
Also, if your dog’s biting comes out of nowhere, it’s best to take a step back and consult with your vet and/or behaviorist.
If children are involved, make sure that they don’t provoke another response from the dog as the bites may increase in intensity if warnings are ignored.
Solution: Consult your vet if you notice any physical issues, pain, or potential psychological issues such as obsessive biting or aggression.
A couple of final words.
As with many doggy behaviors, the reason why your dog does something is not always self-explanatory or obvious.
That’s because it’s essential to monitor the circumstances in which your dog exhibits that behavior.
Does some external trigger cause your dog to bite your arm (i.e. excitement, stress, or medical issues)?
Or does your dog bite your arm because he has been rewarded for it (i.e. affection, attention, learned behavior)?
Never physically punish or yell at your dog and instead try to rely on redirecting your dog, positively reinforcing good behavior, and including time-outs.
Usually, biting is relatively easy to fix unless there’s an underlying medical or serious behavioral issue, in which case it’s best to consult a professional.Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.