Behavior Tip of the Month
A client called me about his biting dog. The neutered male Lab was fine with him but had bitten his wife two times. Now he was snarling and even seemed to stalk her. Needless to say, she was terrified.
From the description, you would think this was a vicious dog. When I went to see them and took a behavioral history and assessed the dog, I found he really wasn't vicious.
He wasn't reacting as a non-biting dog would , but his behavior followed a pattern. I could see that if they changed their behavior toward him, he could be controlled----not cured but controlled. I found that the Lab was seeing the wife as a lower member of his pack. He would jump on her and she would pet him. When she sat on the couch, he would put his paws on top of her, and she would pet him. She interpreted is behavior as love. In reality, he was trying to physically dominate her. She rewarded his bossiness by petting and praising him. He continually exhibited these behaviors.
The husband's interactions with the dog didn't help the situation either. He wrestled and played tug of war with the Lab. These games tend to teach some dominant dogs that humans are chewtoys. Thus, the dog had become very mouthy with everyone but the husband.
Also, the couple exacerbated the problem in another way. They insisted that the dog do long downstays while they ate meals and watched TV. Since he wasn't getting enough exercise, it was hard for him to quell his energy. When he wouldn't lay down or stay down, they yelled at him, spanked him, and the put him in his crate as a punishment. This was when the wife received the bites and things were escalating.
Aggression breeds aggression. When an aggressive dog won't obey, it's better to ignore him. Don't confront him verbally or physically. You'll lose and the aggression will get worse.
I showed them alternative ways of handling the dogs behavior to avoid his jumping and disobeying. They needed to make his down stays pleasurable so he would want to do them. They also needed to inrease his exercise and use non-confrontational techniques when he wouldn't obey. Ignoring is a powerful punishment especially to a needy dog. They also let the Lab on the furniture and on the bed. This makes some dogs feel superior.
I also stressed a " no free lunch program". This is good for all dogs with behavior problems. This means that the dog must do a simple sit for every good thing that he gets--- meals, treats, going outside, being petted, being played with etc. All good things in the dog's life are earned by the dog being obedient.
I recommended some other changes as well. It has been a month now and the Lab hasn't bitten or stalked. However, biting dogs are not cured, even though many of them can be controlled.
If you have a biting dog, think about getting help. First have your veterinarian check him out. It could be caused by a medical condition.
If it isn't, get behavioral help. Aggression gets worse not better.
Woofs and Wags,
Best Friend Behavior Counseling and Training
San Diego, Ca.
"Positively teaching pets and their people since 1977"
Do you have a question for Carole? You can reach her at this email address - firstname.lastname@example.org Perhaps she will use it in an upcoming article on this Web site.
The information contained on this site is in no way intended to replace that of proper veterinary advice, diagnosis or treatment.
It is meant to provide resource, so that we can better understand canine health related issues.