As dogs don’t have hands and the ability to speak, they use their mouths to carry objects and interact with the world around them. Sometimes these interactions can appear intimidating or scary -- dogs who play rough often frighten inexperienced dog owners. Most of the time, however, dogs chewing on one another is just a regular part of socialization. It's important to understand the differences between "good" and "bad" bites, and the repercussions related to those bites that cross the line.
When two dogs get along and feel comfortable with a little bit of rough play, it’s not uncommon to see one dog or the other biting or chewing along the way. Dogs often grab the scruff of one another’s necks and drag each other to the ground, or thrash their heads around with their mouths open looking for purchase. This type of biting is OK because the dog is inhibiting his bite strength and not attempting to injure the other dog. If one dog gets too rough, the other usually breaks the play via a yelp or disengaging.
If your dog has a problem with bite inhibition, his bites may be considered “bad bites” by other dogs because they are painful. Additionally, any time a dog purposefully bites another dog forcefully and with intensity, it’s a clear example of a bad bite. Note that bad bites usually occur at the end of a long series of behavioral clues that the dog is not entirely comfortable with his situation. Bad bites can also occur if play gets too rough, but well-mannered dogs tend to sort this out on their own without negative effects. Dogs learn bite inhibition from their litters and puppies raised away from their littermates often have difficulty with this basic skill. Aggressive attacks fall into the "bad bite" category and can be devastating.
Repercussions for the Biter
Dogs who attack or perform bad bites face a number of serious consequences. Local authorities will capture and euthanize animals with a history of attacks. Mail services will be suspended for homes with dangerous dogs. Victim of dog bites are entitled to financial restitution in the form of medical bill reimbursement and other damages. In addition to the financial consequences, most states consider a dog's owner criminally liable for the dog's actions, which could land you in a courtroom with steep fines or prison time in your future. For example, two dog owners in San Francisco were tried and convicted of murder after their large dogs killed a woman who lived in their apartment building in 2001.
Repercussions for the Victim
Dog bites are no laughing matter. While a bite from a small breed may not cause much damage beyond punctured skin, larger dogs have the bite force to inflict serious harm upon other dogs and humans. A powerful bite can tear skin, crush bones and damage tendons, in addition to killing the victim depending on the location of the bite and its ferocity. Victims of attacks may need reconstructive surgery and extended physical therapy, not to mention treatment for the trauma of the attack. Dog victims may experience long-term behavioral problems, such as dog-on-dog aggression and fear, though these can often be trained out. If your dog displays aggressive tendencies, it is critical to work with an animal behavior expert to solve the problem before it becomes a legal matter.
By Todd Bowerman
Cesar’s Way: Good and Bad Play Behavior
The Bark: Is Your Dog’s Rough Play Appropriate
The Humane Society of the United States: Puppy Nipping and Rough Play
NOLO: Dog Bites and Other Injuries
Dog Bite Law: The Diane Whipple Case
Based primarily in Austin, Texas, Todd Bowerman has been working as a writer since 2004. He has provided numerous independent clients with ghostwriting and SEO copywriting services. Bowerman currently serves as editor-in-chief of Button Masher Online. He studied English at DePaul University.