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Why do dogs play bite each other’s faces?

Dogs play biting each other’s faces is a common behavior seen between canine companions and littermates. This seemingly aggressive display is actually a normal form of social play for dogs. Face biting allows dogs to practice fighting and biting skills without causing real harm. It’s a way for them to bond and establish social rankings. While it may look concerning to us humans, face biting is completely natural dog behavior when done in the right context and prevents escalation to actual aggressive biting.

Play vs Aggression

It’s important to distinguish normal face biting during play from actual aggressive or dominant biting. Aggressive biting stems from fear, possessiveness, punishment, dominance, or learned behavior. It serves to intimidate or harm. Play biting is how dogs learn limits and practice inhibitory control. It teaches them how to interact with others using their mouths gently.

Dogs can tell the difference between play and aggression based on each other’s body language. Play bites are often invited with a “play bow” where a dog crouches down with their front legs extended and hind end in the air. Both participants will take turns biting and being bitten. The bites are gentle without applying much pressure. Aggressive bites are unilateral, hard, and meant to dominate. The bitten dog does not reciprocate.

Context is key. Two dogs who regularly play and socialize together are likely engaging in mutual, beneficial play if face biting occurs. Dogs who don’t know each other well or are bullying/fearful are more likely being truly aggressive. Take cues from the dogs themselves to determine if face biting is play or aggression. Redirect with toys if concerned.

Why Dogs Play Bite Faces

Dogs instinctively mouth each other’s faces during play for several reasons rooted in their ancestral history:

Exploratory Biting

Puppies bite everything as they explore the world with their mouths. This translates to play biting faces as juvenile dogs interact and investigate their environment. It continues into adulthood as a social behavior. Face biting allows dogs to learn about each other’s mouth sensitivity and facial cues.

Fighting Practice

Before domestication, wolves commonly engaged in aggressive, competitive fights in the wild to establish pack hierarchy. Wolves would bite each other’s faces, ears, and muzzles when fighting. Non-painful play biting allows modern dogs to safely practice these fighting skills and strategies.


Biting communicates intent during play. Gentle face bites signal “I want to play with you”. Biting then reciprocated signals mutual agreement. Through this exchange dogs say “this is just play, not real fighting”. It satisfies their inherent need for interactive social play.


Dogs that live together regard each other as family. Play involving gentle face biting helps strengthen social bonds between companion dogs. It reinforces friendship, trust, and sibling-type intimacy. This closeness likely provides emotional fulfillment.


Dominance is conveyed in dogs through height, forced grooming, and more. Face biting can also establish rank, with dominant dogs initiating it more often. But it remains playful, friendly, and important for social structure. Taking turns being “dominator” and “subordinate” maintains egalitarian relationships.

Is Face Biting Normal?

Face biting when playing is completely normal dog behavior, especially in puppies and young dogs. Puppies may mouth each other’s faces regularly when playing. This usually decreases with maturity as they learn to inhibit their bite strength. But even adult dogs will face bite during play at times.

It’s only a concern if the biting is frequent, forceful, and one-sided. Then bullying or aggression may be involved. As long as both dogs seem happy, take turns, and do not apply much pressure, face biting during play is healthy canine interaction. Let them mouth each other without interference.

Signs face biting is normal play:

  • Invited with a play bow
  • Biting is reciprocated by both dogs
  • Bites do not inflict pain or damage
  • Dogs alternate roles, taking turns biting/being bitten
  • Playful body language – relaxed, smiling, wagging tails
  • Biting ends if one dog disengages or yelps

When to Redirect

While mutual face biting is usually fine between familiar dogs, redirect them if:

  • One dog seems distressed or tries to disengage
  • Biting escalates in intensity
  • One dog is always the biter and one is always bitten
  • You notice injuries, yelps, or fearful body language
  • A new dog is overwhelming another with unwanted biting

Break up harmful face biting by calmly distracting them with toys. Praise gentle play. Don’t punish normal dog interactions, just redirect excessively rough play. With time, dogs learn bite inhibition.

Risks of Face Biting

While playful face biting is generally safe between companion dogs with good bite inhibition, take note of these potential risks:


Excessive, forceful biting or biting sensitive areas like eyes can cause injuries, even unintentionally. Puppies are especially prone to biting too hard. Play bites should never break skin or cause pain.


Highly aroused play can quickly lead to real fighting if dogs get carried away. Signs of overarousal include hard panting, excessive barking, hackles up, tense muscles, and fixed stares. Stop play immediately if you notice these signs before a fight breaks out.


Dogs who feel intimidated or fearful can bite defensively. Biting their face may trigger this reaction. Ensure all dogs engaging in face biting seem comfortable and happy. Never allow ganging up or bullying.

Possession Aggression

Some dogs resource guard their people or toys. Face biting between dogs when possessions are nearby can trigger guarding behavior and fights. Have dogs trade off toys first and supervise interactions.

While normal in moderation, frequent or intense face biting can lead to unnecessary risky scenarios. Monitor roughhousing and focus play on appropriate toys whenever possible.

How to Minimize Risks

You can reduce chances of fights or injuries when dogs play bite faces by:

  • Having rules and structure for play
  • Providing plenty of toys
  • Rotating dogs taking breaks
  • Supervising all interactions
  • Redirecting overly rambunctious play
  • Ensuring equal willing participation from all dogs
  • Separating dogs at the first sign of overarousal or discomfort
  • Not allowing face biting with dogs who are possessive or new to each other

Proper socialization and conditioning toys as play objects from puppyhood also promotes gentle play manners. Puppies should learn how to regulate bite pressure when young.

Stopping Excessive Face Biting

While some face mouthing during play is normal, you may want to minimize rough play. Use these tips to stop dogs constantly biting faces:

  • Provide plenty of interactive toy options (tug toys, chews, puzzle toys) and engage dogs with these instead of each other
  • Train an “enough” command and redirect their play onto a toy when given
  • Praise and reward gentle play
  • If one dog is constantly biting too much, leash that dog for play time to better control behaviors
  • Always interrupt aggressive face biting with a firm “no”
  • Separate any dog who ignores cues to stop unwanted biting
  • Allow short, supervised play sessions, separating before escalation

For puppies especially, provide appropriate outlets for play biting impulses. With redirection and short play sessions, face biting should lessen as pups get older. Consistency is key, as is close supervision of play at all times.

When to Seek Help

Occasional playful mouthing is normal, but seek professional help if:

  • Face biting results in injuries
  • One or more dogs seem distressed by the biting and try to avoid interactions
  • Biting seems possessive, punitive, or clearly aggressive vs playful
  • Dogs will not redirect onto toys
  • The frequency or intensity of biting increases over time rather than decreasing
  • Other concerning behaviors accompany face biting like guarding or fighting

A certified trainer or veterinary behaviorist can assess if the biting stems from lack of training, anxiety, or aggression issues. Implementing targeted training programs will help resolve the underlying problem.


While it may seem concerning out of context, dogs play biting each other’s faces is completely normal and serves an important social purpose. It allows dogs to play, bond, communicate, and establish hierarchy through a natural, ancestral behavior that’s softened during domestication.

Face biting during play is fine between friendly dogs who take turns and do not apply force. Risks like injuries or possession related fights can be avoided through supervision, redirection, and proper socialization from an early age. As long as the dogs appear happy and willing, you can rest assured their playful facial mouthing is simply an essential part of being a dog.