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Biting and Aggression Problems

Below are examples of issues the author of "Training the Hard to Train Dog" helps people resolve.

Question: Help, my puppy nips me--hard. What can I do?

Why Some Puppies Nip too Hard

A young dog uses his mouth to explore the world as well as to eat. Once teeth come in, that youngster needs to learn how to use those devices with finesse. Ideally, a puppy learns his limitations from his littermates. If a littermate bits too hard, the littermate yips and often quits playing with the offender. Over time, puppies learn from their littermates not to bit hard, even when playing. Puppies who stay in their litter until eight weeks old typically learn bite inhibitions. There are, of course, some puppies who need longer to master this lesson. Unfortunately if people acquire puppies at six weeks old, which is too young of an age, the puppies don’t have adequate time to learn bite inhibition.

What You Can Do

People looking to continue their puppy’s education need to do so as the littermate would have done. If a puppy bits too hard, make a high pitched yip and quit playing with the puppy. Stand up and walk away. Of course, some puppies will follow you, but don’t give the puppy any attention. If the puppy insists on continuing the play with nippy little teeth, then put the puppy in a crate for about 15 minutes until the puppy settles down. After the "time out" give the puppy another chance at playing nicely. Just as with a puppy in a litter, this training will probably take some repetitions over a few weeks to get the message through to the puppy, but be consistent. Try the yipping trick coupled with ending the playing, and if that doesn’t work, progress to the crate. Don’t ever use the crate first.

Never Dos:

Never spank or smack the pup for biting. That is not the way to correctly stop this behavior. If you don’t see the pup beginning to improve after a few time of doing this kind of training, then you need to step up the level of insistence, a technique I call "upping-the-steaks." There is more information in the book "Training the Hard to Train Dog" to help with pups who don’t seem to want to give up the nipping habit. However, keep in mind that if your pup is the type to blow off your ideas and pursue his or her ideas instead, then you need to begin leadership training as soon as possible. You can learn more about leadership training from the writeup on that topic on this website.

Question: My dog is no longer a puppy, but he still nips at me sometimes, especially if I try and move him from the couch. How do I get him to stop?

Some of the Reasons Dogs Bite

Puppies will nip when they haven’t been taught bit inhibition, but dogs that bite at later ages do so for a different reason. Biting for many dogs is a way of communicating. A dog may bite to defend himself, or to get you to stop something he doesn’t want you to do. Dogs may also bite to defend property. You may see this problem in some breeds of dogs more than others. Some breeds of dogs, such as some of the retriever breeds, have an inbred bit inhibition. While other breeds, seem to have a nipping gene and are quick to do that kind of behavior. Terriers and Dachshunds are two breeds that often have this issue as adults unless you specifically use training to address the problem. Unfortunately, letting a dog do this kind of behavior leads to more and more behavior problems down the road.

Tackling Biting Problems

The best way to stop this problem is through leadership training. By teaching the dog to relinquish things on command, the dog learns not to bite or nip over a possession. If the dog is biting and nipping about you wanting the dog to move from the couch, you first need to do some of the basic leadership training talked about in the book "Training the Hard to Train Dog," because that not only teaches the dog to respect you, it sets up an expectation in the dog that you get to make the rules. Once you do your preliminary training, you can use the techniques in the book to help resolve your biting issues. Beginning on page 93 you learn how to use a drag leash. This keeps you from getting nipped when you want the dog to move off of the couch. The book then goes on to teach you how to train the dog to move or get off a couch on command, without getting bit. The book tell you how to teach a dog to drop something on command. For dogs who seem to act before they think, teaching the dog the "leave it" command is a good start, then taking the dog through the same drills used for Chamois which is explained in the "Case Studies" in the last chapter will help to solve most problems. If you find this doesn’t help, then you probably need to seek professional assistance.

Never Dos:

Dogs with unresolved bitting and nipping problems can end up in charge of your household. For that reason, you need to address and resolve the problem as soon as possible. But don’t try to dominate or use an alpha roll to solve your problem. Alpha rolls is a way dogs communicate to other dogs. However, there is a lot of finesse to doing this right, and with the exception of the Dog Whisper, Cesar Milan, I’ve seen many people try and use this technique, but few do it right. Some dogs will bite people trying to do this. Use training instead.

Question: My dog is shy and afraid of everyone. If a stranger tries to pet her, she’ll bite. Is there anything I can do to solve this problem?

Some Dogs are Fear Biters

Any dog who feels threatened may bit to defend himself. But some dogs seem to bit any one the dog doesn’t know or bite in a variety of situations that worry or upset the dog. Fear bitters seem to have the attitude, "bite first and ask questions later." Fear biting is considered a form of aggression. These dogs need a lot of work to help resolve this issue. To simply punish the dog for biting in this situation will create a more fearful dog which can drive more fear biting.

Fear Biters Need a Lot of Training

To begin to cure this issue, you need to do extensive solicitation because it is often people the dog doesn’t know that frighten the dog to the point of biting. Good socializing techniques are found in the chapter called Desensitizing Nervous Nellies in the book "Training the Hard to Train Dog." Desensitizing your dog to situations that make the dog nervous can also help with dogs that bite. To learn more about how to desensitize dogs who are fearful, you will find good information beginning on page 107 in the section called: Snappy and the Bike. This section talks about how to desensitize a dog who is too reactive to a bike, but the same technique can be used in other situations. On page 167 you will find guidelines for desensitizing a dog in the correct order. This is important because doing your desensitization in the wrong order can actually increase anxiety in a dog.

Never Dos

Never punish a dog who bites, correct the issue through training.

Question: My dogs have gotten along for a long time. Then a few months ago, a squabble or two broke out. Now, the one dog has bitten the other dog and the other dog needed stitches. How can I restore peace in the household?

A Problem that Went Unnoticed

I tell people the same thing when people describe this issue to me, "This problem has been growing over time without your notice." Typically what has happened is one dog in the household is doing small things to pick up what I call "leadership points." The dog takes charge of areas the human is suppose to control and after time, the dog feel empowered enough, (because he has enough leadership points) to take charge. Once in charge, the problematic dog may attack another dog in the household. The owner sees this issue as something that suddenly cropped up, however the dog see it as a steady process where in the end, the dog took charge.

Taking Back Control

Typically the way to regain control of dogs who have gotten out of control is the same way you lost it, a little at a time. I show a step-by-step guide on how to take back control with a dog who, over time, had gotten out of control. That information is contained in the last chapter in my book which is titled Case Studies. The problematic dog, Chamois, was a dog who was acquired as a puppy. This lab/Golden Retriever mix easily learned how to sit and stay on command. But, there were small issues where the owners lost leadership points. For example, Chamois always wanted to dominate the play. This went uncorrected. Then Chamois would demand attention on her terms and get away with it. That led to her beginning to pick an choose what commands she’d comply to. When Chamois was five years old, she felt empowered enough to decide what dogs could and could not be in the household. That lead Chamois to attack another dog in the family. The second time that happened, the dog ended up in the vet hospital. Rehoming the other dog did keep that dog safe from Chamois, but it didn’t solve Chamois’ problems. The book "Training the Hard to Train Dog" gives step-by-step techniques that shows how Chamois’ problematic behavior was reformed. The training draws on other techniques discussed earlier in the book.

Never Dos:

Don’t try to stop aggression in a dog by using aggression such as spanking or beating the problematic dog. This can cause your dog to attack or bite you in defense, and even if the dog doesn’t bite you, this kind of action more times than not doesn’t stop the unwanted behaviors.

A Note About Problematic Aggressive Behaviors:

If you ever feel frightened or unsure about dealing with your dog’s aggression, do not hesitate to call in professional help. Make sure the person you employ comes highly recommended by others who have had good experience with the specialized trainer or behaviorist you want to employ.

Dominant or Assertive parts one and two (Nominated for DWAA award)
Shy or Abused (Nominated for DWAA award)
Prey Drive That Caused Biting Needs Special Training
Teaching Your Dog Who Is Boss

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