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Dog Behaviour Problems: People & other animals

Being too boisterous, Play-biting, Play-fighting:

Question: Do you have any advice on curbing a 3-month old bulldog's desire to snap and attack clothes and ankles? We give him chews and toys as a distraction but he still does it.

Answer: At 3 months, this is likely to be just excited play when he is presented with something exciting to chase and grab as people move around him.

To begin with, make sure he is getting plenty of exciting play sessions throughout the day by keeping soft toys around the house so that you can play with him frequently.

Keep sessions with these toys short and make them fun and full of excitement and movement. This should provide him with an outlet for his energies and make it less likely that he will try to get a game with people when they walk past.

Leave a short line attached to his collar when you are in the house with him and use this to stop him giving chase or grabbing at clothes and ankles at other times.

When there are lots of people around or excited children, make use of a stair gate or a puppy playpen to restrict his activities and teach him to remain quiet and calm when faced with exciting opportunities.

Also see Gwen Bailey's articles on Ingredients for the Perfect Puppy and Chewing & How to Survive It

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: We have recently bought two male puppies, aged 11 months. They spend a lot of time fighting with each other and, although they wag their tails, they sometimes sound as if they are hurting each other. Is this natural? We have tried to stop it by separating them but they cry when they are apart.

Answer: This is natural, but not desirable. It is likely that they are reaching a natural stage in their development of trying to decide who is boss. If one of them is naturally a stronger leader, he will take charge. However, if they are both evenly matched in terms of mental and physical strength, you could have real problems later. I would suggest you take control of all games between them for the time being and teach them to play with you with toys instead.

As they are 11 months old, this will be very difficult at first, but it will be worth it. Separate them using a stairgate when you have to leave them and interrupt them whenever they begin to play. Shut one in another room (the one who you think will be the underdog) and play with the other, then reverse the process. This will prevent their games getting out of hand and resulting in a fight.

Also, it will give you a better bond with them and this will give you more control over them which will be very useful if they do begin fighting in earnest later. Try to ensure that you reinforce the dog that is likely to become leader by doing pleasant things with him first. If you treat them as equals, you may, unwittingly, reinforce the underdog and demote the top dog and cause more difficulty between them.

You may like to read What is my Dog Thinking? which has more information on understanding hierarchy and energy levels

Question: I hope that you can help us, as are family are running out of ideas. We have recently adopted a nine-month-old male Staffordshire bull terrier from a local animal shelter. We have three children of 16years old, 9years old and 8years old, and so spent considerable time trying to find a dog with a temperament that would suit our family. Stig who was brought in to the shelter because the owners were moving seemed to fit the bill according to the staff that cared for him. My partner and I have both had dogs in the past, but not together as a family.

Stig is settling in wonderfully and has been an endless source of entertainment for the family during the three weeks that he has lived with us. He is surprisingly good with other dogs when we are out walking and shows little interest in them. He is house trained, and we have not heard a whimper from him at night when we leave him downstairs.

The problem is that he loves to play ‘too much’, and always manages to very cleverly turn every game into a ‘tug o war’ whether it is a tennis ball, his Kong on a rope, or my sons coat sleeve. We start off playing the games with the intention of teaching Stig different games as recommended in various books we have read, such as fetch, hide and seek, and find the toy, but it is impossible to prize open his jaws when he is excitedly holding on to an object. We have tried telling him off when he goes to far, but it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference, we would be extremely grateful if you could offer us any advice on how we can best manage this problem so that we can ensure that Stig is well trained in the early stages of living in our family.

Answer: It sounds as though Stig has a lovely character and means no harm when he indulges in his favourite game at your expense. Terriers favour tugging and shaking games as they were originally bred to catch and kill small animals by holding on to them with their strong, powerful jaws.

Although terriers were specifically bred to carry out this function, their decendents are more likely to express this behaviour through game play and, indeed, will need an outlet for their energy and desire to do this. So it is important that Stig gets a chance to play regularly, but equally important that you are in control of his games.

All games played between dogs and humans need rules and sensible boundaries to avoid over excitement and unwanted behaviour being learned as a consequence.

Out-of-control game playing is a common problem that many terrier-owning families (especially owners of the bull breeds) experience at some point in their relationship together. It is caused by a simple difference between what you want and what your dog wants. For example, when you begin playing different games with Stig, he will be waiting for an opportunity to play his favourite game. This will usually be when Stig is asked to give up the object that you are playing with.

Regardless as to what you may be saying to Stig at this time, if you compete for possession of the object by trying to pull it out of his mouth, Stig will only understand that the game has changed from fetch to tug, causing him to hold on tighter.

The answer to this problem lies in avoiding your natural reaction to use force to make Stig release the toy by using counter pressure (pulling the toy away from him). He has powerful jaws and you will never win by human strength alone. Instead, teach Stig to obey a ‘leave’ command.

Begin by practising with an object less valuable to him, such as an old sock. Have a tug game with the sock, then hold onto one end of it whilst Stig is holding onto the other end, apply no pressure and allow your arm to go limp.

By doing this you will not be encouraging Stig to tug and, if he has no opponent, he should soon give up. Be patient and wait, and, sooner or later, Stig will abandon the sock in boredom.

Have a portion of high value food close at hand to reward him when he does. When this training is well practised, add in the ‘leave’ command just as you see his jaws beginning to open. He will soon learn that when you say ‘leave’ and stop pulling, the game is over and he might as well release the toy so that something more exciting can happen.

Once the ‘leave’ command is working on a ‘low-value’ item, introduce more exciting objects. In addition, begin including good behaviour training into the games that you play, such asking him to ‘sit’ or ‘lie down’ before each toy is thrown. This will help to break up escalation of over-excitement and will also avoid Stig adopting a sturdy stance in preparation for an opportunity to tug and shake the toy.

Attach a long line to Stigs collar to avoid having to chase Stig once he has retrieved the toy you have thrown.

All of these extra control strategies this will help to enforce the boundaries of the game and prevent him from getting too excited. If Stig gets very excited during fetch games, and you find that your ‘leave’ command isn’t working, introduce a second toy. When you do this, disregard the toy that Stig is holding in his mouth and animate the toy you are holding, wriggling it excitedly.

If you practice all this regularly, you will find that play sessions become a lot more controlled and more rewarding for you. This will result in you playing more often and Stig will find that he no longer needs to get overexcited and play games he shouldn’t as he is getting plenty of games that you both enjoy.

You may like to read What is my Dog Thinking? which has more information on understanding energy levels, playing, giving in and challenges.

Question: Whenever we come in from work - despite the fact that she is not left alone during the day - Millie has started to bite either mine or my husband’s elbows and back.

She appears to be playing, as her tail is wagging and she barks excitedly, but this is becoming annoying and painful! She doesn't respond to a firm 'no' though she does at other times, and when put onto the floor she persists in jumping up again. This lasts from 5 minutes to half an hour and then she flops and wants a fuss. In all other aspects of her training she is fantastic, so where am I going wrong?

Answer: It sounds like she is just playing, but in an inappropriate way for a pet dog. Young puppies often try to get us to play as they used to do with their littermates by nipping and barking excitedly.

Even though you get cross with her and try to stop her, you are still reacting, and, for her, this is more rewarding than being ignored. You need to develop planned play sessions set aside specifically to use some of that puppy exuberance.

Don’t play as soon as you get in, but try to make the next session quite soon after returning home. Greet her warmly for a few seconds, holding her collar if necessary to ensure good behaviour, then ignore her completely, turning your back and walking away if she tries to instigate a play fight.

Only play when she is calm and quiet and you are ready.

Teach her to play with toys during these sessions rather than biting on you. If she tries to nip you, keep still and try not to respond, but keep the toy wriggling and respond like crazy when she grabs the toy instead. Keep sessions fun and stop before either of you has had enough.

Initiate games yourself and play often, and she will soon be waiting patiently for the next session rather than trying to start her own by showing unwanted behaviour.

Question: Wilson is a border collie/alsation cross that we acquired from the local RSPCA rescue centre last September. He has been the perfect dog except for one thing. If we take him to a playing field or park and he sees another dog when he is off the lead, he'll run as fast as he can up to the dog and almost brush past, barking aggressively for a few moments. When he has managed to stop, he will run back up to the dog, barking and acting aggressively, then suddenly stop and ignore the dog.

Sometimes he will end up playfully chasing the dog and they may play together as if they have been friends for years. He tries to respond to our commands, but eventually the draw of the other dog becomes so strong that no amount of calling will prevent him from approaching the dog.

I must point out that he has never attacked another dog, and will even run away if the other dog acts aggressively towards him. He has been neutered and is perfect with people and dogs that he knows. Any help you can give us would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: This type of behaviour is often the result of learning to play roughly with another dog or puppy when young. Later, when they are old enough to go out, they try to play these inappropriate games with other dogs which causes some dogs to attack them. Then, although they would like to play with other dogs, they are not sure of their reception and develop a strategy to try to work out if the other dog is friendly while, at the same time, protecting themselves in case they are not.

You will not cure your dog of this as he has already learned that some dogs are not friendly. The only way to tackle it is to teach him to play with toys and then make games with toys so exciting that he would rather play with you than run up to other dogs. This is not always easy to do, but gives a good result if you are able to do it. To do this effectively, you would probably need to stop him playing with other dogs for six months so that he learns that all his games now come from you.

The other alternative is to put him on a lead when you see other dogs unless you know the other dog is friendly and can take his ‘over the top’ approach. If all dogs he meets are nice to him, he may begin to give up his unusual approach gradually, but it would take quite a while.

You may like to read What is my Dog Thinking? which has more information on understanding meeting other dogs

Question: I have four Yorkshire terriers. A 5 year old bitch with two 6 month old pups and a 4 year old bitch who I have just had mated. Mum and pups get along fine, but my 4 year old won't stop attacking them all and the fights do get nasty.

I have now got a small muzzle for her that I put on at the first sign of any aggression. Apart from the muzzle and sedation tablets, are there any other methods of preventing these attacks? Please help - I can no longer trust the 4 year old.

Answer: If this has only just started, it may be something to do with the change in hormonal status of the 4 year old, or perhaps there is competition for space now that the pups are becoming mature as well. If she is pregnant, it is important that she has a stress-free pregnancy as, otherwise, she is likely to produce nervous, reactive, difficult offspring.

Review her living conditions and, if necessary, you may need to separate her from the others until after the pregnancy.

You don’t say whether the puppies were males or females. If they are female, you may have too many females coming into season at the same time for a harmonious household. You may need to consider spaying some or all of them or, at least, putting them on medication to surpress seasons until they have established a workable hierarchy between them.

If you need further advice for this difficult problem, please contact the The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors

Question: 2 weeks ago I adopted a 9 month old dog from a rescue centre. Although he is obedient in every other way, every time we go out he bites at the lead, jumpint up & will not let go even chewing at the hand that is holding the lead.

I have tried with a collar and a harness, I have also tried using distractions such as squeaky toys etc. If I shorten the lead to collar length to try and gain control, he rolls on his back growling and chewing my hand. I have even tried putting unpleasant tasting substances such as pepper on the lead, but nothing stops him. Please can you help?

Answer: Dogs like to play their favourite game when they get excited and your dog may be trying to play a misguided game of tug-of-war while he has you captive! However, it sounds a little more intense than ordinary game playing and I suspect he may also be doing this to try an cope with anxiety about going for a walk.

To stop him, take along a long soft roll of sheep-skin or fur fabric. Use this to put in his mouth whenever he attempts to chew your hand and as a substitute for tugging on the lead.

For this to work, you will need to get him obsessed with playing with it in the house first.

Hold the lead so that it forms a straight vertical line upwards from his collar. Keep it slack when he is walking normally but tighten it quickly when he makes a grab for it so that he cannot get a hold.

A chain link lead may make this easier. Praise him when he starts to walk normally and offer him the toy to hold instead.

Practice this in the garden at first until you develop the necessary skill. Allow plenty of time for a walk so that you can stop and stand still until you have got everything together and he is standing nicely beside you.

Stop every time he shows bad behaviour and move forward only when he is behaving well.

If you find that he settles down but goes back to the behaviour when something unsettles him, you will need to work on gradually desensitising him to things that make him afraid until he feels more confident outside.

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding playing, giving in and challenges.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: We have two Lurcher puppies aged 12 weeks; they are sisters. Are we likely to have any problems with them fighting each other and, if so, how can we stop it from happening?

Answer: Lurchers seem to be a bit less interested in hierarchy disputes that dogs of many other breeds, so you would be unlucky if this were to happen. You may get some bickering as they grow up and go through their first season, but, hopefully, this should wear off as they get older, especially if you have them both spayed.

Usually with two puppies, one is mentally stronger than the other. Problems only really arise if they are very similar in mental strength or if the owners unwittingly interfere with the natural order and try to treat both equally.

If you watch them carefully, you will see which of them will be in charge – watch for who goes through doorways first, who causes the other to move out of the way, who ends up with all the toys and chews. This will probably switch from one to the other as they grow, but, eventually, one of them will ‘take charge’ at around 6 months of age.

It is important that the humans in the household help to establish the ‘natural leader’ by putting this dog first in everything, giving attention to her first, feeding her first, playing with her before the other. In this way, you will help to stabilise the natural pack structure and help to prevent any problems that may otherwise arise as a result.

You may like to read What is my Dog Thinking? which has more information on understanding hierarchy

Question: We have two golden retrievers; a 5 year old male, Sam and a 3 month old female, Lucy. The puppy, Lucy, is constantly hanging onto Sam's tail and biting really hard, causing Sam to move into a different room from her.

He doesn't growl or react in any way as he is too timid. Despite us telling Lucy off, removing her and giving her toys to play with, she keeps going back to his tail. Any help would be gratefully received before Sam is totally bald - he has already lost a lot of fur from his tail.

Answer: Its not a good idea to allow this to continue, not only for Sam’s sake, but because you don’t want her to learn that this is the way you treat adult dogs. Sooner or later, she will meet an adult dog in later life who will put a stop to this with a display of force that could leave her very frightened or injured.

To stop it, it is necessary to be vigilant and get to her before she begins to play this game, or if not, to stop it immediately it has begun. If you can’t stop her by calling her away, tie a 6 ft piece of washing line to her collar and use it to enforce your command to leave. When she does so, praise her or play with her. Ensure she had toys and chews to occupy her when you are not paying attention to her so that she is not tempted to go back to Sam’s tail.

Be very consistent and persistent, and eventually, she will learn not to do this. If she doesn’t play with Sam again, it doesn’t matter – it is much more important that she learns to play with you. When you leave them alone, separate them by putting a stair gate between them, or by closing the door between them so that they are in separate rooms.

Question: Ellie is 18 months old and a rejected guide dog, adopted by us 6 months ago. For the first few months Ellie behaved impeccably - I think she so wanted to be part of our family. However over time, Ellie's puppyish behaviour which was perhaps suppressed by intensive guide dog training, is suddenly all coming out!

Whilst she has a lovely nature and we love her to bits, she is over boisterous with other dogs and people,jumping up and attention seeking. Walking her is a nightmare. If we are not paying her attention at home for example, she will jump up onto us. 65lbs of labrador hurtling at you is no joke!

I have started 'clicker' training with a local club, but whilst Ellie is very clever she gets so excited at the club I have trouble controlling her. It was suggested I put her onto Serene-Um, but for a dog her size it's incredibly expensive and seems to have little effect. Help! What can I do?

Answer: Guide dogs are bred to have the strength, stamina and mental energy to work all day. I suspect that much of her boisterous behaviour is due to a lack of exercise, both mental and physical, and possibly to lack of training/handling skills on your part.

Pet dogs are usually expected to lay down and not do very much for most of the time and dogs with lots of energy can find this type of existence difficult to cope with. Try to find more time for play sessions that exercise both her mind and body. Play little and often, especially when she is laying down being good so that this good behaviour is encouraged.

Perhaps join an agility club or train her for obedience or working trial competitions. This will not only help to use up all that energy, but will also help you learn how to control her better.

The GDBA have an aftercare service for the dogs they have placed so it would be worth going back to them for some one-to-one help too.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: My 3 yr old border collie dog acts ridiculous when he is out for a walk with me when he passes a house where there are other dogs he starts bouncing up and down and his fur stands up he charges towards the gate nearly pulling me over barking and snarling at them but if he is on a field and meets another dog he only plays with them do you think he does this because he finds his leader restricts him also when the postman comes he goes wild and i have to shut him in the kitchen do you think if we had him neutered it would help?

Answer: The behaviour patterns you describe are usually caused by fear and neutering does not help to make dogs less frightened. Border collies are sensitive dogs and rapidly learn to associate certain places and events with frights or threats.

When walking past a house where other dogs live, he will be expecting a threat display from them and, to protect himself, gives one of his own.

It is best to cross the road to avoid him feeling threatened and hence behaving badly. If this is not possible, putting yourself between him and the fence and getting more control by using a canine headcollar will help.

The postman will also be seen as a threat because he comes everyday, rattles the letterbox and runs away!

Keep him on a lead during times when you know the postman is coming and offer an exciting game with a toy in the back garden instead.

Question: I have a 9 week old mongrel puppy (cross between a Jack Russell & Dachshund). What I could really do with is advice on how to handle my puppy when she gets a bit carried away and bites and nips my hands, or anything else for that matter.

I scold her and try and distract her with a chew toy, but sometimes, she just keeps coming back biting and nipping. I have taken her by the scruff of the neck and shaken her a bit, like her mother would do and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I am so worried she'll be vicious.

How can I tell what's just puppy behaviour and what are signs that she could be aggressive?

Answer: It is normal for puppies to mouth and nip us in an effort to try to get us to play, just as they would have done with their littermates. It is up to us to teach them that we prefer them to play with toys rather than our hands or other bits of us that we wish they wouldn’t nip!

To do this, keep a toy close by whenever you are with her (a nice soft toy she can grab hold of) and offer short, exciting games with it regularly (keep it moving and keep games fun). If she forgets and tries to bite you, keep your hand still so it becomes very boring and wiggle the toy with the other hand.

Praise her for doing the right thing and ignore her when she gets it wrong. If she bites you hard by accident, yelp like a bitten puppy and walk away! Getting cross, scolding or shaking her will not help. This usually just makes puppies anxious and excited enough to bite harder, and can have worse consequences later.

Don’t worry about her being vicious – just enjoy her puppyhood and teach her how to play properly.

You may like to read The Perfect Puppy which has more information on understanding this behaviour & for more help with your puppy.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: We have recently discovered that I am expecting a baby and have since noticed a difference in our basset hound's behaviour. George now chews everything in sight and has started getting boisterous towards me. Is there anything I can do to stop this behaviour?

Answer: This could be due to a change in the way you smell (pregnant mothers produce different hormones which alter their scent) or could be due to changes in the way you have been acting towards him since you heard the news.

Has he come from a family that gave him up when they had a baby? If so, he could be anticipating a repeat performance and be becoming very insecure as a result. It is more likely, however, that your attitude towards him has changed slightly and your focus has moved away from him towards your forthcoming event.

Dogs are very sensitive to changes in their owner’s attitude and perhaps he is picking this up and becoming insecure because of it. Either way, he needs lots of reassurance that he is still part of the family.

Don’t do this when he is demanding attention, but wait until he is being good. Then give him at least 10 minutes of undivided love, attention and play.

If you do this often throughout the day, you should see results quite quickly. (If you cannot do this, it is important that you decide now whether or not you want to keep him so that you can find a good home for him while you still have lots of time.)

Try to get him into routines that you will find easy to cope when the baby comes, reducing the amount of attention you give him gradually until it matches that which you will be able to give him when the baby arrives. When that time comes, remember to try to find enough time and attention for him despite all the exhaustion and activity that will be normal to that time.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: I have a 3.5 month GSD puppy who is good natured and obedient. But now and again, he will suddenly ‘attack’ me, biting my hands and ankles. I find this most distressing and I would like to know why. I do not wish to use any ‘force’ to stop him doing it, so what can I do? His eyes look quite wild when he does this. Is this natural behaviour or a very dominant puppy? He is also very destructive with his toys, growling and getting very excited. Please can you help.

Answer: Don’t worry, it’s normal and natural for young puppies to behave like this occasionally. It’s their way of blowing off steam or getting rid of excess energy. A sudden explosion of energy like this is common in puppies that live in a quiet, gentle household where there is no other dog to play with.

It is also common in puppies that come from working stock or who have a genetic propensity for high energy levels. During times when puppies like this feel a build-up of energy, this tend to direct their excitement at their owner in an effort to get them to respond and ‘fight back’ and spark off an exciting game.

Don’t punish or use ‘force’ to stop him. Instead, preempt these sessions by teaching him how to play properly with toys. If you do this, he will know how to get you to play at these times by grabbing toys and running around, rather than biting at you as he would another puppy.

To do this, buy plenty of interesting toys and play games with him every half an hour for about 5 minutes or more. Make the games as exciting and fun as you can for both of you. Play in the house, but also play more energetic games outside in the garden to use up more energy. Teach him to fetch and return toys to you so that he uses up more energy than you. Put some control into the games by asking him to sometimes sit and wait for a little while before you throw the toy.

When he begins to look wild and has a ‘mad five minutes’, try to interest him in playing with toys in the way you have practised. Let him run around with them and, perhaps, let him into the garden to tear up and down for a while. If he attempts to nip at you, keep very still, stare at him and say ‘no’ firmly and forcefully.

Then distract him with a toy, keep the toy moving and encourage him to play instead. He will quickly get the hang of this and will begin to grab a toy when he feels like a ‘crazy moment’ instead of trying to grab you. Make sure he is properly exercised, both physically and mentally, and you will find that these sessions begin to become less troublesome and less frequent.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: I own three dogs, a 5 year old collie who is top dog, a 2 year old GSD who is second in line and a 3 year old collie who is bottom of the pack. My GSD was attacked by 2 male dogs 6 months ago. She fought back, although they were not injured and I was able to stop the fight easily.

Since then I have put her on a lead when other dogs run towards us. She does not like seeing other dogs (including my other two) running around. If I let her join in she catches each dog and pins them down by the back of their neck. She does not injure them but only wets their hair on their neck.

She loves me to throw a kong for her and she is only allowed to do this outside on a walk. If another dog takes her kong she runs after them, catches them and pins them down until they let go. Then she picks the toy up and runs back to me.

Also, if I stop and talk to friends, I put her kong away and she makes a terrible noise and nips the back of my youngest collie’s neck. If I continue with my walk and get the kong out again, she is fine. I do not know if all these problems are a result of her being attacked or if they would have developed anyway as she got older.

Answer: Since your GSD has grown up with two other dogs, she will know their body language well and will easily be able to read the intentions of other dogs she encounters on a walk. It also sounds as though she has lots of confidence in her dealings with other dogs, being brave enough to tackle them when they take her toy. For this reason and because it does not sound like she is attacking the dogs she chases, I think it is unlikely that the chase problem is due to fear. Being a herding breed, German shepherd dogs usually love to chase, as you know from games she likes to play with her kong, and I think it is more likely that, when she sees other dogs running, she wants to play her favourite game.

During her puppyhood, I expect she played plenty of these games with your other dogs. Your number 3 collie may have been too placid to stop her from grabbing her and pinning her down, especially as she grew bigger. I also suspect that she played this game more than she played retrieve games with you because the other dogs were always available. Consequently, this has become her favourite game. Since it is an unacceptable game as far as other dogs and their owners are concerned, it is important that you put a stop to it, as you have partly by putting her on a lead when other dogs come close.

It is also important to solve the problem before she meets up with a dog that responds to her form of rough play with severe aggression that may, in turn, cause her to become defensively aggressive during her ‘games’. In addition, it sounds as if she is not getting enough outlet for all her physical and mental energy at the moment and this is why, when you stop to talk, she is desperate to continue playing. In her frustration, she redirects her activities onto the only animal present that will put up with it.

I suggest you spend more time playing with her with her toy so that she uses up more energy and so that games with you start to become more important to her than the games she plays with other dogs. I would also stop her from playing with other dogs, including your own, until you have solved your problems so that she becomes even more fixated on games with you. Once she is interested in the toy to the exclusion of everything else, you can begin to use the game to get her attention when other dogs are nearby.

Start when they are at a distance and work with her until you can keep her attention on you whenever other dogs are close by. Keep her on a lead at first until she is more reliable. In this way, you will be able to prevent her from getting into trouble with other dogs – unless they are very quick and steal her kong before she can get to it! (take care how you throw it and teach her to deliver it to your hand so that there is less chance other dogs can pick it up).

Once you are giving her more exercise, teach her to sit and wait beside you with the toy out of sight, firstly while your other dogs run free so she cannot get to them.

Reward her with a game for a few seconds of good behaviour and gradually build this up. Practice later with your other dogs present and correct her if she shows any sign of nipping your collie.

Again, gradually build up the time she can remain quiet and good, rewarding good behaviour with a game, and finally, practice with a friend who stops to greet you.

You may like to read What is my Dog Thinking? which has more information on understanding meeting other dogs.

Question: We obtained an 18 month old Husky from a rescue centre in Greece where we live. He is friendly and sociable with people despite the fact that he spent most of his life at the end of a 5 metre rope. He is boisterous and has had no training. His first owner got bored with him and passed him on.

When his second owner went on a trip he was left with a farmer and let loose. He had never been familiarised with farm animals and gave chase to a goat herd. He cornered a heavily pregnant got who could not climb to safety and inflicted wounds on her rear end which required extensive stitching by the veterinary surgeon.

Is there any thing you can suggest we could do to reform his behaviour? A prompt reply would be much appreciated as his life hangs in the balance unless we can find a solution.

Answer: There are two elements that contribute towards livestock attacks by dogs. One is the desire to chase live animals which can easily be developed in most dogs, and the other is the instinct to be predatory when they catch up with the animal they are chasing. Both of these instincts require a predisposition which comes from their genetic make up and the resulting behaviour needs to be developed and honed by practice.

In the case of a Husky, their genetic make up is still rather primitive in the sense that they have not been selected to for a reduction in the desire to chase and predate on other animals as, for example, gun dogs or dogs bred to be companions have. It is likely, therefore, that their instinct to catch and kill prey animals given a chance are nearly as strong as their wolf ancestors. Therefore, the desire to chase, catch and kill in your particular dog is strong as witnessed by the poor goat. He may also have had some practice with other animals when loose on the farm, which may have whetted his appetite for such exciting games.

Unfortunately, once he has learned how much fun it is to chase and catch livestock, stopping him completely is extremely unlikely. You may be able to get him to the point where he is sufficiently under your control when you are with him, but it is unlikely that he will be reliable when on his own. If he is not going to be at liberty with livestock, you may be able to get him to the point were he is safe when out walking with you, depending on your handling skills and the expert help that is available to give advice where you live.

If he were a dog that liked to play with toys, you could, with hard work, teach him to relate better to you when out on a walk, teach him chase recalls and have him under enough control to stop the chase before it started. Unfortunately, Huskies are not ‘object players’ in the same way as collies and gundogs are and so usually cannot be trained to be obsessive about toys in the same way. So the solution lies in drilling him in recalls until this is so ingrained that he responds no matter what else may be happening. This is much harder work than the ‘toy’ method and less reliable. As an alternative or, perhaps, as an addition, you may be able to teach him that goats are part of his social group and, therefore, not to be chased. This, however, takes considerable time, patience and skill as well as access to suitable livestock.

Really, your best solution is to keep him on a lead unless you can guarantee that there are no other animals around. How easy that will be in the part of Greece where you live is hard to imagine. Since Huskies require several miles walking a day if they are to live reasonably contented lives and be less than over-boisterous at home, you will have to make a decision about whether or not this is possible given your circumstances. Your poor dog sounds like a classic case of the wrong sort of dog being placed in the wrong home as a puppy and you, and him, unfortunately, are paying the price.

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding your dog's behaviour & more helpful details.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: I have a 2 year old Springer Spaniel. When we are out for a walk she starts barking furiously at me when I stop for any reason, i.e. sit on a bench, stop to talk to someone or stop for my son to play on the swings. She is very excitable when she is out walking at the best of times.

This is my second Springer who had behaved like this, so I realise it is my fault, but would like some tips on how to possibly cure this annoying problem. She is very good at retrieving but I stopped throwing the ball for her after this problem started because I feel it is aggravating the problem.

Answer: When she barks, you will be doing something that rewards her and reinforces the behaviour. Ask a friend to walk with you to help find out what it is it. It may be something obvious such as telling her to be quiet, or it may be more subtle such as shaking the lead or moving on more quickly as her barking gets more insistent.

Once you know how you are rewarding her noisy behaviour, it is relatively easy to train yourself to stop. Let us say, for example, that loud, persistent barking makes you say ‘quiet’ a few times and then makes you move on more quickly than you otherwise would have done. You need to find a place in the park or at home where barking doesn’t matter. Take her toys with you and keep them hidden. Walk to the chosen place, stop or sit down, and ignore any barking. Ignoring means don’t touch her, look at her or speak to her. Turn away from her, take ear plugs if you need to, but keep ignoring until she is quiet, even if it take a very long time at first.

For interest, count how many times she barks. When she is quiet, count to three and then take her toy out of your pocket and throw it. Repeat as many times as you can on the walk. You will notice that the barking gets worse for a while as she tries harder to get you to respond. Then there will be a dramatic decrease in the barking. When she is quiet when you stand still, throw her toy immediately. It may take a while to achieve this but it will be worth persevering.

Once she is quiet in areas where barking doesn’t matter, take her to places where it does and repeat the process. Hang on for quiet, try not to get tense and then reward her with a run in the same way. At other times, never let her off the lead until she is quiet and wait for quiet before leaving the house or moving forward when she is on the lead. If she barks at any time, deliberately stand still and wait for three seconds of quiet before moving on. Be consistent and try not to lapse back into your old habits when someone stops to speak to you. Practice meeting friends until both of you know how to behave well!

Being a Springer, one of the reasons she is excitable on walks is that she needs lots of exercise. Not throwing the ball for her will make her worse rather than better, so go back to doing this as much as possible. Keep the ball in your pocket until you are ready to play and never throw it when she is barking. It may help to take two balls out so that you can throw one of them as soon as she returns with the other, giving her no opportunity to bark to try to speed you up.

Gradually she will learn that barking at you is not worthwhile and will give up. Once you have begun this process, don’t go back to rewarding the barking occasionally because it is more important sometimes for her to be quiet.

If you do, you will be rewarding randomly and this is likely to make her bark even more than she does now!

You may like to read Good Dog Behaviour has more information on understanding more about your dog's behaviour.

Question: I have a 10-week-old Bull Terrier pup that loves to chew and bite. The problem is that she is biting too hard and no amount of discipline with stop her. She is worse with my boyfriend and jumps up at his face or arms with mouth open ready to bite. If we push her down or try to restrain her, she growls and tries to bite even more.

When visitors come to the house, she attacks their clothes that they don’t appreciate. How can we teach her to stop when we tell her? I’m sure she thinks she is playing, but I am worried it will get worse and out of control as she gets older, - or will she grow out of it?

Answer: At such a young age, she is just playing. However, she is learning patterns of behaviour now that will stay with her for the rest of her life, so it is important that she learns the right things. Many owners tolerate bad behaviour from puppies thinking they will grow out of it and end up giving them up to rescue societies when they have a large, full-grown delinquent on their hands and can’t cope.

In the litter, terrier puppies will play rougher games that litters of, say, gundog puppies and, in addition their mother will be rougher with them too. Since Bull Terriers were originally bred to use their mouths to hang on and not let go, it is not surprising that this genetic trait is to being played out in your puppy. It was also important for Bull Terriers to not feel too much pain so that they would carry on despite being injured, so they are, as a breed, relatively insensitive to pain themselves and so do not learn to be too careful about biting each other when playing.

When your puppy came into your home, you became her substitute for littermates to play with and she has learned that you are available for play whenever she can get hold of you! Yelling and shouting, or even smacking serves to make the game more exciting and, hence, more rewarding. It’s never a good idea to punish puppies as this only teaches them to be defensive and aggressive.

With some puppies, you can cry out loudly to let them know that you have been hurt to stop the game, but this seems to excite terrier puppies even more. Her behaviour will be worse with your boyfriend because he is likely to play more roughly than you and hence be more exciting. Since humans have soft sensitive human skin, they make very good ‘toys’ since they wriggle and flap around enticingly whenever she puts her teeth on them. If she cannot manage to get hold of a piece of flesh, pieces of loose clothing are kindly provided with which to have a nice game of tug-of-war.

The answer to the problem is to teach her that ALL play with humans happens with toys. No more biting humans or their clothes. For the next few weeks, whenever you interact with her, always have a toy ready. Keep stashes of them around the house, particularly at places where you greet her. Make sure they are soft enough to encourage her to bite onto them, big enough so that you can hold one end and she can hold another, and small enough so that her little mouth can hold them easily.

Wriggle them enticingly to begin a game and make sure you play short games often with her throughout the day. If she gets hold of your hand, make a fist and keep it as still as possible. Wriggle the toy frantically with the other hand. She should leave your hand and transfer to the toy so you can have a game with her as a reward. When she grabs clothes, gather up the extra material and hold it firmly so she cannot tug. Again, use the toy to elicit a more rewarding game instead.

With older puppies, it may be necessary at first to restrict their access to you with a lead attached to a fixed object while you teach them to play, but this shouldn’t be necessary at 10 weeks of age. You may, however, like to leave her lead on so that you can pull her away from your hands for long enough to get her interested in the toy if necessary.

You should also teach her the ‘leave’ command so that, later, you can ask her to let go when she has grabbed the wrong thing thinking it was a toy. Do this with titbits, concealing them in your hand so that she cannot get them. The instant she gives up trying to get it and takes her nose away, say ‘leave’ and offer the titbit. After several sessions, she should begin to understand what is required.

When visitors come, put her on the lead and do not let her greet them until they are in and settled. You can practice good behaviour when greeting visitors a little later but for now, it enough that she learns not to bite their clothes but to wait for a game with a toy with them instead.

You may like to read The Perfect Puppy which has more information on understanding your puppy's behaviour.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: We have an eight-year-old Staffie, called Busby and a four-month-old Staffie puppy, named Lucy. Lucy has been with us for six weeks and all is well apart from one problem. She will not stop nipping Busby.

It is only in play and I’m sure she means no real harm, but nothing we do seems to get the message through. I have read all the manuals that explain that this is normal ‘pack’ behaviour and that left alone dogs will find their own hierarchy but I find this increasingly difficult to do.

Busby is a mild mannered dog and although he occasionally gives a warning growl and pushes her away with his nose she continues to nip. I would take the advice of the dog manuals and leave them to it but she is drawing blood. Busby has puncture marks up both his front legs and numerous scabs from previous encounters.

I’ve rang my vet and she says just leave them to it and perhaps put dressings on Busby’s front legs as protection. We’ve tried this numerous times but no matter what we do the bandages slip off.

I’ve now started to put Lucy in a separate room (for a ‘cooling off’ period) when she nips him, in the hope that she will put two and two together and realise that her actions have consequences. When they are separated she becomes fretful and howls for him. Is this the correct thing to do? Will she realise that nipping him means she gets separated from him.

On the premise that we will try anything-can you help? Any advice you can give will be much appreciated.

Answer: Poor old Busby, I can just imagine how distressing it is for him when Lucy tugs away on the dressings on his legs or accidentally bites too hard.

As Lucy has only been with you for six weeks and is still a young puppy, she will be very interested in playing with Busby as he plays in the same way as her littermates and speaks her language. It is worth noting that the bull breeds inherit a higher pain threshold than other breeds of dog. This pain insensitivity explains why exploratory biting and mouthing is tolerated readily by their thick-skinned mothers. Terriers also seem to play more roughly with their puppies than other types. This, together with the fact that the bull breeds strong jaw muscles, means that Staffie puppies tend to bite harder and play more roughly.

Unfortunately for Busby, he is now the main source of attraction for young Lucy, and it is not in his placid nature to curb her over boisterous attention. Simply leaving them to it will be unpleasant for Busby and will allow Lucy to learn all the wrong things about playing with other dogs. Later, when she is older and tries to play in this rough way with the other dogs, they will probably react with aggression, eventually teaching her to be aggressive too in self defence.

To prevent this, practise your appropriately named “cool off” periods more frequently in a more effective way. Attach a short line to Lucy’s collar before she begins playing, and stop her when she becomes over excited or does anything to Busby that unfamiliar dogs would find unacceptable. Lead her away from him and encourage her to play with you instead. Encourage gentle games with firm rules. Do this every time she tries to play with Busby and she will soon learn that she cannot pester him, but can have a good time playing with you instead.

Keep play sessions to a minimum between Busby and Lucy, and double your play sessions with her, making sure that they short and packed with excitement.

Use a stair gate to separate Lucy and Busby at times when your attention is needed elsewhere. This will prevent Lucy practising rough games, without excluding her or denying her company. This is a better compromise than putting her in another room where it will be difficult for her to associate her isolation with her behaviour.

Question: We have read your book, The Perfect Puppy, which has helped us enormously even though this is our third poodle.

We have a super Poodle who is intelligent and easily trained. In fact he came top of his training class. He is good with people and other dogs and we have acclimatised him to all sorts of different situations.

The only problem we have is with visitors. Although we try to train them to ignore him when they first come in, we always have a problem, mainly when there is more than one person, as we cannot stop him biting visitor’s clothes or even their bottoms. If they then sit down, even after he has clamed down, he will then try very hard to get them to play by jumping all over them. We don’t have a problem because we ignore him and he goes away, but there is a limit to how long visitors are prepared to do this and why should they?

We ask him to sit, which he does but then returns to the biting. He usually does stop after several minutes. We have tried keeping him on a lead and putting him outside for a short while.

We have solved nearly every other problem as he has been growing up but this one seems to be defeating us. Any help would be appreciated.

Answer: Firstly congratulations for being top of the class in your dog training classes. It shows you are on the right track and I’m so pleased The Perfect Puppy helped.

Your problem is a side effect of teaching puppies to enjoy the company of visitors but luckily, it is very easy to put right and much easier than dealing with the opposite problem of fearfulness. Young friendly puppies that use their mouths and paws to say hello to visitors usually do so because they have not learned to contain the level of excitement that they feel at this time. Beautiful puppies such as poodles are more able to melt the defences of a visitor who are under your strict instructions to ignore them, as I am sure hundreds of similar dog owning families would agree.

To begin with we need to understand that visitors to our home change the behaviour of all of us, dogs included. Paying attention to training the puppy at this time will probably be replaced by you with paying attention to the visitors instead. Unfortunately, your sharp-witted poodle capitalises on the temporarily slackened code of conduct.

I suggest you begin to work on the problem by teaching him to deal with the frustration he feels about not being able to get to visitors to play or pay him attention. You can practice this with other members of the family at first. Ask them to go outside and knock on the door. Before letting them in, attach a lead to your puppy’s collar. Take hold of the lead and sit at a suitable distance from your visitors keeping your puppy by your side. The longer your puppy is kept away from your visitors, the more frustrated he will become. If you remain calm and ignore your puppy’s attempts to wriggle free or bark, his frustration will eventually subside into acceptance and he will gradually begin to settle. Be patient and reward the settled periods with high value food rewards and if appropriate a suitable game that can be played without letting go of the lead.

When this has been well practised, invite co-operative visitors to your home under the same instructions as before. In time you can begin adding length to the line or indeed let go of it for short periods, but always return to the original strategy if your puppy begins to offend. Always make sure that all rewards are offered by you to avoid confusing your puppy as to where the best things in life come from and to avoid over-exciting him (he already knows how much fun visitors can be, it is time to calm him down for a while).

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