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Why Do Dogs Grab Your Arm?

Dogs grab your arm is most cases for attention, perhaps the dogs wants to play or simply desires interaction. However, there may be cases where dogs may grab peoples' arms in an aggressive manner. These cases require the intervention of a behavior specialist for safety and correct implementation of behavior modification.

If your dog grabs your arm, you may be wondering what's going on in Rover's mind when he does this. Of course, the behavior is not be pleasant if your dog is holding on to your arm with an alligator bite. Puppies are notorious for nipping arms with their needle-sharp teeth. Fortunately, most "crocopups" outgrow this nipping stage.

Much more tolerable are those cases of puppies or dogs who place their owner's arm in their mouth, but do so without biting or applying pressure. Regardless of whether your dog has a gentle touch or a vice-like bite, you may be wondering, what's going on in Rover's head. Knowing the context in which this behavior happens, may turn helpful.

Pay Attention to Me!

Deprived from the dexterity unique to our hands, puppies and dogs have a tendency to use their mouths in the same manner as we would use our hands. So just like a person touching someone's arm, dogs may grab their owner's arms with their mouth as a way to solicit attention.

Your dog may want to engage you in petting him or he may simply desire any form of attention from you, and yes, even if it's attention of the negative type. So if, upon your dog grabbing your arm in his mouth, you look at your dog, talk to your dog (or even scold your dog) or push him away, in your dog's eyes this all qualifies as attention. 

Many dog behaviors (including the undesirable ones) establish as a result of reinforcement. Behaviors that are reinforced, tend to to strengthen and repeat  while behaviors that are not reinforced, tend to weaken and extinguish. Those are the "laws of reinforcement."

With this in mind, consider that, to many dogs, attention (even of the negative type) is highly reinforcing, especially if such dogs have been left alone for a good part of the day and strongly crave engagement with their owners. 

Here's a fact: dogs have many needs. Other than food, water and a comfy place to sleep, dogs need to be provided with ample opportunities for exercise, play, training, mental stimulation and socialization. 

Dogs also crave affection and engagement from their owners. When these needs are not met, dogs may rehearse problem behaviors that grant them some sort of engagement -and this includes barking, jumping and biting the owner's arms!

Puppy play in the litter involved lots of mouth play!

Puppy play in the litter involved lots of mouth play!

Play With Me!

Many dogs who grab arms with their mouths are puppies. Puppies are very mouthy beings and their sharp teeth can easily cause lots of scrapes. Puppies explore the world through their mouths and use their mouths for play. 

After leaving their littermates and mom around the age of 8 to 12 weeks, puppies have been playing and interacting with their brothers and sisters through mouth play. It therefore, comes only natural to them to want to interact with their owners the same exact way. 

Play is important to puppies just as it is for kids, so stopping a puppy from wanting to play is wrong. Puppies should be provided with ample of opportunities to play.

However, puppies should be taught some very valuable lessons: that humans have much more sensitive skin than dogs, and that there are alternate forms of play that don't require constantly biting their owner's arms, hands, fingers, legs and feet. 

When provided with lots of guidance and feedback, puppies can learn to stop biting body parts, but it's not something that will happen overnight. As puppies mature though, they eventually become less likely to engage in obnoxious behaviors and will learn to seek out other forms of play. So just as they stop chasing their tails, puppies eventually stop using human arms as pin cushions. 

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Come With Me!

An endearing trait often described by many dog owners are dogs who very gently grab people's' hands or arms to conduct them someplace special.

"Quincy tends to gently mouth a person's wrist or hand and takes him or her to the yard. He only does this with very few people he really likes," said Martha, the owner of a large, but very kind German shepherd I once trained. 

Some dog owners describe it as a person holding another person's' hand. Just like a child would grasp another child's hand saying: "Come with me!" these dogs are sort of "holding hands" with their favorite humans. 


Stop Doing That!

Sometimes, dogs may grab people's arms in a persistent, even aggressive manner. This can be due to frustration, overstimulation, fear-based defensive aggression, redirected aggression or resource guarding. 

Often, dogs bite because they want distance or they want their owners to stop doing something in particular that the dog perceives as unpleasant or frightening (e.g. having their paws touched).

Regardless of the underlying cause, if your dog shows aggression when grabbing your arm or if your dog bites hard causing you injuries, you should seek the intervention of a dog behavior professional using humane, force-free behavior modification methods. 

This is important as dogs who tend to bite are likely to repeat the behavior and things can escalate quickly if not addressed in a timely manner.

Did you know? It's a popular misconception that dogs trained in the sport of Schutzhund to bite the padded arm of the "agitator" are aggressive. Carissa Kuehn claims: "This misconception is similar to saying training a child to do karate makes him more likely to hit people. In actuality, the reverse is true. Training a child in martial arts helps them develop confidence, respect, and self-control."

 Now That You Know...

As seen, dogs grab arms for several possible reasons. If you are struggling to figure out why your dog is doing this, your best bet is to consult with a dog behavior professional who can assess the behavior and provide the most appropriate strategy to modify the behavior. Also, consult with a professional if you believe your dog is grabbing your arms aggressively.

Following are several options for tackling the issue of dogs who grab arms. 

  • Prevent rehearsal of the problem behavior as much as possible. The more your dog rehearses a problem behavior, the more it puts roots and establishes. If you know when your dog engage in the arm-grabbing behavior, pre-empt it from happening by keeping your dog behind a baby gate and providing him/her with outlets such as chew toys. 
  • If your dog is performing the behavior for attention, your best bet is to avoid fueling the behavior with any form of attention. The moment you notice your dog's intent to perform the behavior, simply turn your back and even leave.
  • While leaving can momentarily help stop your dog's behavior in its tracks, it's fundamental that you take a note of the behavior and determine the underlying cause so to tackle it accordingly. 
  • Ensure your dog is receiving sufficient exercise, mental stimulation, play and interaction with you. Herding dog breeds may be a handful and may benefit from doggy sports such as Flyball or Treibball.
  • Prevent the arm-grabbing episodes from occurring in the first place by establishing new habits. When you notice the behavior occurring the most, prevent it from happening in the first place by providing your dog with an interactive, food-dispensing toy or taking your dog on a walk or playing a game with him. 
  • For mouthy puppies, redirect biting your arm to playing with a tug toy or a flirt pole. Make your arms boring and make the toys far more entertaining. 
  • Train your puppy or dog better ways to interact with you. For instance, if your puppy or dog bites your arm to get you to pet him, teach him to politely sit instead.



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