I occasionally get calls where a dog owner gets bitten by his own dog. It probably happens more frequently than one would think.
Owners don’t call for help soon enough with matters like this because of embarrassment I think. You must admit that it would really be embarrassing and humiliating for many to admit to such act of aggression by their beloved pet – and especially to them. Being bitten by your own dog is a serious problem, especially if it was done intentionally.
Bad to the bone
Dog owners will sometimes admit of their older dog, “He’s been aggressive since we got him as a puppy at 8 weeks of age.
So, what brings a dog to this place in his life?
More importantly, when a dog owner gets bitten by his own dog, why does he put up with bad dog behavior for 8 years? There are many contributing factors for dog behavior problems. Consider Harry, a small, 8 year old terrier type dog. The names have been changed to “protect the not so innocent.”
In Harry’s case the husband was the recipient of all the bites and on most of the occasions it was when Harry’s owners, Ed and Carol, had heated arguments. Other times it was when Ed and Carol tried to get amorous with each other. Harry would bite Ed.
In fact, I discovered it was impossible for Ed and Carol to sit together on the couch without Harry jumping up and sitting between them. For Harry, it was a very successful strategy that kept Ed away from Carol. In fact, Carol admitted to moving to the chair adjacent to the couch when Harry jumped on the couch – just to avoid any confrontation.
As I continued my questions, I also found out that the relationship Ed and Carol had with Harry was really one of convenience. By that I mean that a “no structure” approach to meeting Harry’s needs was what worked for Ed and Carol.
For example, it was convenient to put his food bowl down, top it off and leave it there all day. It was convenient to open the back door and let Harry outside in the backyard to potty, explore and come back in when he wanted. It was also convenient to have Harry there to cuddle with when they wanted some doggie love. But that turned sour as Harry began to keep Ed away from Carol, who had been the exceptional provider of love and affection. Little did they know that this kind of misguided “owner input” was creating the very monster dog they did not want.
Since Ed and Carol were not providing strong leadership or structure, Harry began to capitalize on the idea of leadership and control of the home. No leadership on their part and this “free-lunch” approach “out of convenience,” gave Harry an elevator ride straight to the top.
As I turned the conversation to what they really wanted, Ed and Carol said that they didn’t want, or need a “star obedience dog,” they just wanted a dog that got along with them and the kids they would have in the very near future. As Carol so aptly put it, “I want a well-mannered dog, a dog that will do what you want when you want it – not because he has to but because he wants to.
Sounds simple, right? It is simple and could have been done back at 8 weeks of age. It’s never too late.
Time to get Harry right with Ground Rules
To “re-tool” Harry’s brain so that he viewed Ed and Carol as strong role models, Harry received dog obedience training 3 times a day for just 2 minutes. This was enough scheduled training to begin to give Harry a sense of working for them rather than Harry controlling all home situations.
Some folks seem to get overwhelmed if they think obedience training is going to involve hours of practice or work. Consistency, more than time, is needed. Six minutes a day was very appealing to Ed, Carol and Harry. It also worked well with their schedule. It would be good if they could find consistent times during the day and evening to work in the training aside from earning things like food, couch time, potty breaks, love and affection, etc..
Ed and Carol also began to walk Harry once again. He loved being outside, other than the back yard – especially with his pack. I expressed the importance of daily walks at predictable times during the day. I also mentioned that Harry should be, at least for the next 4-6 weeks, kept on the same walk schedule on weekends as they had him on during the week. Predictable activities help greatly to reduce stress and anxiety in dogs.
The hardest part was taking back their personal bed space. Harry was given his own bed in their bedroom next to their bed. And after a few restless nights, Harry resigned himself to sleeping on his own bed throughout the night.
With regards to couch space, they used the leash to keep Harry settled at their feet until invited up. Teaching him to settle by their feet was a good way to teach Harry patience and that he could not always get what he wanted when he wanted it. Harry finally resigned to waiting patiently to be asked to come up on the couch – after a good sit of course.
Three weeks into Harry’s new schedule brought harmony to the family, all biting ceased and no loss of love between pack members. A new found respect for Ed and Carol developed in Harry. All seemed better in his world.
See, you can teach old dogs new tricks. Just ask my wife Leila!
Thanks for letting me share my dog training knowledge with you. I truly hope you found answers and hope for helping if your dog acts like this. Don’t be a stranger. I’d love to hear what you think. Please come over to my Facebook page to let me know how this article impacted you and the way you think about puppy training. Are you looking at it a little differently? Remember:
“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”
Jim Burwell, professional dog trainer for 25+ years, serving 8700+ clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog.
His Ground Rules for Great Dogs is the culmination of these years of training into an easy, step-by-step process so that your dog understands what you expect of him, you empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you empower him to be successful at living in a human home.