Neck biting, like chewing, nipping, pouncing, growling, snapping and other aggressive behaviors, can mean serious business between two dogs, or it may just be your dog's way of having a good time. Since dog play can look a lot like aggression, knowing how to recognize a few tell-"tail" signs can help to keep you calm and your dog out of trouble.
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From the time they are puppies, dogs enjoy socializing with members of their own species. By engaging in boisterous mock battles with each other, they learn how to recognize boundaries, improve their strength, become more agile and mature socially by developing bite inhibition and the ability to reign in aggressive tendencies. They run, chase, nip, chew, paw, tackle, body slam, bring down or even neck-bite an opponent during play. In general, as long as both dogs appear to be having a good time -- as evidenced by an open, relaxed "smile" or pant, a posture that leans into the action, occasional bows to the opposing dog and a frolicking or bouncy gate, there is little need to break up a play fight or worry too much about biting.
If your dog's fur is standing on end, or if he wrinkles his nose, bares his teeth or emits a low growl that builds in intensity as another dog comes near, these may be signs that he is about to exhibit actual aggression, as opposed to playful aggression. Other signals of overt aggression could include: placing a paw or chin on the neck or back of another dog and holding it there, repeatedly mounting another dog from behind, pressing another dog bodily to the ground or roughly biting his throat or neck. Generally speaking, any yelping, aversion tactics such as lying down, looking away or running to hide behind a human's legs could mean that your dog has crossed a boundary and is no longer merely playing at aggression.
Types of Aggression
If your dog is exhibiting aggressive neck-biting behavior outside of play, you'll need to find a cure for the situation, which could eventually lead to an attack or a dog fight. Knowing what is causing your dog to be aggressive will help you choose the proper preventative action. Most dog aggression is motivated by either fear, territorial or possession assertion, overprotectiveness or redirected or misplaced feelings. Each form of aggression has its own genesis and should be treated by an expert in the field of dog behavior.
What to Do
Contact your veterinarian if your dog is exhibiting unusually aggressive behaviors, such as dog neck-biting. Physical ailments could be causing pain or sensitivity in your dog, who may be acting oddly out of discomfort. If your pet passes the physical exam, ask your veterinarian for a referral to an animal behaviorist and make an appointment. Until your pet's treatment is complete, do your best to head off potentially dangerous situations by avoiding crowded dog parks or other places where your dog has exhibited aggressive neck-biting. Consider using a bite muzzle when your dog is around other dogs. Never punish your pet for aggressive behavior -- this can agitate the underlying cause of your dog's aggression and may even escalate the aggression.
By Tammy Quinn McKillip
About the Author
Tammy Quinn McKillip has written extensively in print and online publications about pets, parenting, theater, design, health and environmentalism since 1999. She is the editor of the Macaroni Kid National Family Safety newsletter and publisher and editor of "Macaroni Kid," a local family-friendly weekly events newsletter. She is pursuing her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at City College of New York.