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By John Soares and originally published in DVG America Magazine’s Oct/Nov/Dec 2016 issue. John is a certified professional dog trainer and the best trainer for correcting dog biting problems and helping handlers understand the differences between gripping and biting at his NJ based dog training centers located in North and South Jersey.

Dog Gripping vs. Biting – Your Questions Answered

Are you facing dog gripping or biting problems? People often ponder gripping and dog biting problems when thinking about basic obedience or behavior modification for their sport or family dogs. Taking into account every unique difference, nuance, and example of what has proven to be an esoteric topic for handlers would require a comprehensive conversation or a dog training seminar dedicated to the subject. For that reason, it makes sense that we at least start to review the cusp of these critical behavioral differences in a manner to get a broader audience thinking more insightfully about gripping and biting in their own observations.

It is often difficult for people to see the difference between gripping and biting behavior.  In Schutzhund training, being able to identify these two mental states has great value in assessing what work a dog is best suited for. An important point to keep in mind is that all animals can bite, but only the dog can grip.

Dog Gripping Defined

Gripping has been made possible by domestication.  A cardinal obligation of a breeder is to preserve gripping behavior. The purpose of gripping is to serve man, since gripping serves the dog no survival purpose.  Great examples in how a trainer manipulates gripping behavior is found in hunting dogs, scent detection dogs and herding dogs performing tasks such as detection work, search and rescue, herding, retrieving downed fowl, game hunting and protection sports. While these tasks encompass gripping behavior, none of these activities serve a dog’s purpose for survival.  We, as trainers, are simply utilizing a K9’s drive to perform tasks for man willingly. Without genetic potential, these tasks cannot be trained. You cannot train a dog to grip, since gripping is instinctive. Ultimately gripping, not biting behavior, is of greatest value.

K9 Gripping is Measurable and Controllable

In this state of mind, you can provide the dog with valuable information. Gripping, contrary to popular opinion, is a very social, happy action for the dog.  In protection sports involving German Shepherds (GSD), Belgian Malinois, Doberman Pinschers, and other popular types of protection dogs, gripping is what facilitates obedience and control. In gripping, the underlying drive is prey.

Biting as a Survival-based Tool

Biting‘s purpose is survival! Biting has no social tendencies, other than serving as a survival-based behavior.  When this survival-based action is effectuated, its purpose is to injure, kill, protect resources, territory, etc.  Used as a last resort behavior, biting is stressful for the dog. Keep in mind that our domesticated dogs are caught living in 2 different worlds: one of man by way of domestication and the other being its wild counterpart, which is where from dogs trace their roots and evolved. Biting‘s underlying drive is aggression/defense.

And so, the one case that biting is a happy, satisfying state would be carnivores hunting prey in the wild. When hunting, the behavior is focused on eating rather than killing.  In training patrol dogs, we look for dogs that possess the dire need of gripping, but also display an intense willingness to fight and engage in a biting state willingly!  Collectively, dogs which willingly exhibit dire need, intense willingness  to engage are in what is often referred to as fight drive.  This drive is brought about through the process of domestication.  In the wild, your survival would not be great if you went around engaging in fighting enthusiastically, since these actions usually occur over scarce resources.  So, while working your dog, step back and ask yourself “Is my dog gripping or biting?” Carefully answer this question and don’t automatically assume that they are biting when they just may be engaging in the most fun filled activity of gripping to serve man.

I hope this high level comparison helps you to pinpoint the differences in gripping and biting. If you have any questions as you ponder these behaviors in handling your dog, feel free to contact JSK9 for programs and seminars to address what every serious dog handler should know about gripping and biting.

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