I don’t write about dog behavior for a living – I work with dogs for a living and in the last few years I have worked with thousands of dogs and puppies. I see things a bit different than the traditional training world and often get called in to help when puppies – yes puppies – get too much for their new owners to handle.
Here is a typical email from a client looking for help and how I was able to help them without a visit:
We recently adopted a puppy and have been taking her to puppy class and our trainer says that she is one of the most dominant-minded puppies she has ever seen. She refuses to respond to correction and she is only 10 weeks old. Part german shepherd, part husky, and part mutt. So she is going to be a big dog. I’m a little scared that if we don’t get her behavior under control now we may have a nightmare on our hands soon.
She gets really hyper and starts biting us or our clothing and won’t stop. The only way to stop it is to walk away to somewhere she can’t reach you (if she’s tied up) or go into another room if she’s not. She’s broken the skin several times. Often we can’t ignore her because we are outside and if you ignore her she just bites your leg or pants and doesn’t let go. I really don’t think it’s aggression, just a really high energy escalation of playing. Just wondered if you have any advice you could email to us.
We’ve tried the “ouch” and pulling your hand away method and stopping play, we’ve tried re-directing her onto an object she is allowed to bite….which occasionally works but most of the time she fixates on a particular object to bite (your hand or pants) and can’t be deterred. Also there is not ALWAYS an object in our hand for re-direction. We’ve tried giving her a gentle “cesar Milan neck bite” with our hand and saying “no”, but I think she thinks this is part of the game and comes on stronger.
We have tried to make her lie down and submit which only angers her more. She obviously hates being told what to do. I’m sure we are doing something wrong, just not sure what the right thing to do is in her case. Puppies I’ve had in the past have never been so persistent with their biting/jumping as she is.
When she interacts with other dogs at doggy day care, she even refuses to submit to dogs and puppies that are 3-4 times her size and older than her and will try to show herself dominant over them. The tips our puppy trainer here gave us haven’t really worked,She also likes to bark at us to tell us she is not happy with something and we need to fix it. It feels like she is trying to demand things from us with her bark. I know these are normal puppy behaviors, but her lack of response to correction is what concerns us. We don’t seem to be making any headway and some of the behaviors are getting worse.
Any advice you can give would be appreciated.
My answer to them was:
Corrections are only effective if they work. When you apply a correction but don’t get the dog to relax and stop the behavior you have actually taught them how to be more dominant and controlling over you. If you stick with it until the dog relaxes you will eventually teach any dog – no matter how dominant – you will always get you way (even if it takes an hour). Every time you correct and fail you teach them how easy it is to get their way – after all, you can’t stop me. He is obviously dominant but you are fighting this instead of rolling with it. You are operating out of the fear of how he will become and trust me – you will create what you fear.
The best way to deal with a dog like this is with structure. If he were my dog he would sleep in a crate – wake up and go for a short walk – back in the crate or small, confined area – feed him – back in crate for a little while – take him out and short walk followed by short play and clicker training session – back in crate for a little while and so on and so on. Every time he gets his way or you get frustrated with him he has learned a lesson in how to control you. He needs clicker training but it won’t change his mindset – it will only help you communicate the element of physical control. He isn’t doing these things for you – he is doing them for the treat but some control is better than none.
Dominance controls movement and structure is a powerful way to convey “you must follow me.” After all, how much control can he have if he is being told where to go and what to do all day long. The trick is never getting frustrated for any reason so he never gets a sense of your inability to lead him. You have also tried so many things that there is no consistency for the dog to follow. These behaviors will linger for a while and will be made much worse by all the different things you are trying.
I received an update a couple of days ago:
Thanks for your advice awhile ago on our puppy. She is so majorly improved it’s amazing. Nipping has been completely eliminated at only 4 months old and chewing furniture seems to be over already too! I think she really respects us now which she didn’t before. She’s still not great on leash but she is just a puppy.
Be a leader – even to a puppy.