We had a mishap with our former YouTube channel getting deleted–apologies as some of our previous blogs with videos no longer work/are accessible–but we’re working on getting those videos back up on a new channel, and making new videos!
Speaking of new videos, here is a new one featuring one of our recent clients, Gordie, who is leash reactive: he barks, growls and lunges when he notices another dog while on leash. We did extensive Day Training with him to get better loose leash walking skills and address the reactivity by doing more structured setups, followed by real-life walks. This video is from one of the real-life walks, where we are surprised by another dog.
Besides dealing with this “over threshold” moment, there are other tidbits of seeing how we worked with him on reinforcing walking beside me, giving me attention and noting signs of stress.
As always, if you’re facing dog training and behavior issues, we’re here to help, so contact us!
It’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about the differences between aggressive biting and normal puppy mouthing and nipping, as it seems there can be some confusion for people in these realms, as well as how to address and teach puppies proper bite inhibition.
Throughout my career training dogs, I’ve had inquiries come in from new puppy parents concerned about their puppy’s mouthing, even going as far as to say their puppy is being aggressive. It is very unusual for young puppies to display aggressive behaviors; when I hear these complaints, one of my first questions to the person is, “Have you talked about this with your vet?” Aggressive displays at a young age always send off the alarm that there could be an underlying medical reason; however, in most cases, they’re actually experiencing normal puppy mouthing and nipping, and just need a little guidance to understand and deal with it.
Puppies are a lot like human babies—they put EVERYTHING into their mouths! It’s how they investigate the world, relieve boredom and teething pain, and learn how to actually inhibit their bite. Puppies are also very new to the world and do not have self-control so when they are aroused, excited and playful, it is very normal for them to get nippy. They will find your hands, limbs and clothing with those little sharp teeth, too! Sometimes they may even seem to be relentless, which is why some view their puppy as potentially aggressive.
It’s important for puppies to learn bite inhibition—VERY important. If your puppy learns this and is well-socialized, he will be set up for a life of success with little risk of biting others. Patience is key as puppies do teeth and it takes time for them to learn to control their impulses. A common mistake people make is pushing the dog away–using your hands like that is indicating to the dog, from their perspective, that you WANT to play, so do not use that as it will only work against you. Here are some tips for dealing with those adorable “puppy piranhas.”
Have PLENTY of alternatives for your dog to chew. When you get your new puppy, besides having food bowls, beds, crates, leashes and such, make sure you have myriad approved chew items. Dental chews, bully sticks and other all-natural animal-based chews (we tend to stay away from rawhide), Kongs and other treat-dispensing/fillable items, and a variety of tug toys of appropriate sizes can be your life saver! Remember to always supervise first, and never leave items alone with your puppy that could be a choking hazard (such as rope toys). Frozen Kongs can be a very wonderful alternative as the cold can help soothe the mouths of those puppies who are teething. You cannot have too many of these, and use them often to prevent and redirect your puppy’s teeth from inappropriate to appropriate outlets.
Teach your puppy to be gentle. You will not be able to prevent each time your dog puts his mouth on you, and it’s not a bad thing to have soft mouthing occur, as this helps teach proper bite inhibition. However, if you’re getting teeth—remove your hand or whatever those teeth are on, and redirect to an appropriate chew toy! If I’m handling a puppy and they are mouthing at me gently, that’s fine, but once I feel those teeth, I end that situation. If I’m consistent, the puppy will learn that a soft mouth is okay, but a hard mouth is not! I don’t squeal or make any noise, but I make sure I have a treat, toy or chew at hand to substitute for my hand or whatever the puppy may be mouthing, especially if the puppy is very excited, as it can be hard for them to turn their excitement off. Then I can trade my shirt for an appropriate chew item, for instance. Having an alternative ready is important.
Teach calm behavior. In addition to having clear signals about what is appropriate and not, teaching your dog to be calm when your hand approaches or around other triggers that may excite and cause him to nip at you or your clothing is important. For instance, if my pants are very loose and my puppy wants to chase and nip at them, I will have lots of treats on me and walk very slowly, rewarding my puppy for not nipping as they walk beside/around me. In this way, they’ll learn that it’s much better to be calmly walking with me while I have those pants on, rather than to nip and possibly tear them. Over time I will increase how quickly I am walking, and therefore increase the excitement level. If the puppy gets too excited, then I need to lower my criteria and be less exciting so I can get the behavior I want and reinforce it, and build from there. I love this video from Emily Larlham that teaches such techniques.
Use crates, Xpens and other management. Crate training and using gates, Xpens, etc., to help manage your puppy and teach them how to find that “off” switch are also important. These should never be used in a punitive way, but if you’re busy and your dog has had adequate activity and you don’t want to deal with the nipping, you can place your dog in one of these areas with a safe chew alternative to prevent them from nipping at you, and to help them calm on their own. I view this as very similar to human children–going to your room for a break to unwind!
Teaching settle behavior. Doing mat work is invaluable, and I teach this to a lot of clients very often. The mat itself is a cue to relax, and if you do this effectively, can be a tool you can take with you anywhere to help foster calm and focus. A simple door mat suffices; a non-slip backing and flat top will be best, and it doesn’t have to be extremely large (even if you own a Great Dane). It’s not meant to be a bed, but when the mat is there, the dog should be reinforced for first stepping on it and focusing on it, not you, then for sitting, lying down, and then being even more relaxed, like rocking onto the hip, having a calm tail, softer eyes, resting the chin. If you time treats to mark these behaviors, your dog will get it, and learn a good default settle on the mat. There are many protocols out there for teaching going to the mat, etc., but one of my very favorites is that of Nan Arthur, who wrote a great book called Chill Out Fido; I also love this video from Emily Larlham on capturing calmness in dogs.
Aggressive biting is very different from normal puppy mouthing and nipping. Most aggression I have seen, and most bite cases I have worked on, stem from fear or the inability to control impulses coupled with never having learned appropriate bite inhibition. Fearful dogs usually show other signs of discomfort before they escalate to a bite and it’s important to learn how to read body language; this is a great guide on learning more about signs to understand.
If you truly believe your dog is being aggressive, or shows signs of fear, anxiety and overarousal/inability to control their impulses, you should consult a professional well-versed in using desensitization and counterconditioning protocols and teaching calm using positive, rewards-based methods. You should NEVER punish the dog, restrain him forcefully or roll him, or grab the muzzle or scruff. These are confrontational methods that will confuse and possibly upset the dog and make things worse. The earlier you intervene, the greater your chances of long-term success. There is no substitute for getting help from a caring, knowledgeable trainer/dog behavior consultant!
Let us know how we can help,
Owner, Delightful Doggies
Spring has sprung, and the chances of being rushed by a too-friendly or possibly aggressive off-leash dog are higher; I cannot tell you how many times I am asked by clients and others how to cope when being rushed by such dogs, especially when a lot of my clients have dogs that need space and don’t want to meet all other dogs. Here are some strategies I’ve compiled.
Toss a big handful of treats away from you and your dog. If the dog is friendly, the best way to cope is by tossing a huge handful of treats as far away from you as possible, and then move quickly away in an opposite direction. In this way, you’re very peacefully diffusing the situation and giving the other dog something way better to do, especially if those treats are scrumptious! This is the kindest way to deal with the situation, which is why it’s at the top of our list.
Assume the “authority” stance. Stand in between your dog and the approaching dog, nice and tall, and put out your palm like a cross guard while standing nice and tall. Say NO, STOP or STAY in a firm, low voice. For some dogs, this is enough to stop them in their tracks.
Pick up your dog if needed, or let go of his leash. For those with small dogs who can be picked up, we recommend doing so, to keep them safe. However, this means you will be likely to be bitten yourself, and you should be careful to pick up your dog quickly and turn away so the approaching dog won’t be able to jump and bite at your dog. You could also try to move him into a car, truck bed or behind another barrier like a fence, if you can. If your dog is too large to be picked up, you might want to let go of the leash to let him get away, if necessary.
Use a pop-up umbrella. This is one of my favorite strategies, especially if you’re worried the dog will not be persuaded by your treats to move away, or stop for you. It’s a great, easy barrier to carry as you can find many small umbrellas that are easy to carry along, and with the push of a button, will pop up and can be used to not only startle the oncoming dog, but be a barrier between you and your dog, and the accosting dog. It’s important to get your own dog used to this, though, before using it in real life. By bringing out the umbrella and letting your own dog sniff at it, while you give treats, and then eventually pop it up and use it as you would in real life. Pairing it with really high-value food treats before a situation arises will make your dog view it as a good thing instead of also getting startled in the moment(s) you may end up having to use it!
Carry Bang Snaps. Bang snaps are a novelty noisemaker firework; they come in small boxes and snap as you toss them down on the ground. These can definitely help startle and keep another dog away but again, you’ll want to use it around your own dog, pairing with very high-value treats in a gradual way so they’ll get used to the noise before you would ever have to use it in a real-life scenario.
Some sprays can work too. There are a few commercial deterrent sprays that could be helpful as well, but you’d also want to get your dog used to these options as well before you use them against dogs who are rushing you:
Pet Corrector. This product emits a hiss sound that is very loud and most animals find unpleasant. It’s marketed a lot for barking (which we do not advocate; we DO NOT advocate using punishment to correct problem behaviors).
SprayShield. This deterrent is a citronella-based spray; most dogs find this smell unpleasant, but it not harmful for anyone in its path in terms of physical pain.
Halt! This spray is the last on our list because it does have capsicum, a natural pepper extract. I do not advocate this except as a LAST RESORT ONLY for when you are not walking your own dog, and worry about the possibility of an aggressive dog approaching you. Pepper sprays and mace really aren’t the best options as they can also shift with wind to possibly hurt YOU as well!
Carry a cane. Again, this is not at the top of our list because we do not advocate for harming dogs, but if you do worry about the potential of being hurt by an off-leash aggressive dog, carrying something like a cane to use if absolutely necessary can be another tactic; if nothing else, it can help those who have been traumatized by a dog attack to feel a little more comfort having such a “weapon.” There are also other self-defense sticks out on the market, but you should check your local laws to ensure you aren’t breaking any by having these on your person.
If you have recurring issues with off-leash dogs, CALL ANIMAL CONTROL. Yes, it sucks to be the “bad guy,” but leash laws exist for a reason, and violators should be reported for everyone’s safety!
Thank you for reading, and have a safe spring!
Owner, Delightful Doggies