They worry that it’s their fault that their dog bites them.
I’m sure it’s largely genetic. Some dogs resort to biting a lot more readily than others. Some dogs will put up with anything and not bite.
The family has had eighteen-month-old Rough Haired Dachshund Toto since she was eight weeks old. Like many people, they have had dogs before, treated them in the same loving way, but never had this problem. I myself can look back at past dogs of mine and wish I had known then what I know now.
Toto stole a shoe
She showed no signs of aggression as a young puppy. If they had predicted how dog bites were going to develop, they would have reacted differently from the very first time it happened, when at about a year old Toto stole a shoe – had they realised there was another way.
Like so many people would do, they chased and cornered her in order to retrieve the item. She will have felt both aroused and scared. She growled and then snapped. The behaviour then escalated quickly.
With my ‘puppy parenting’, guarding behaviour is something I like to pre-empt. We do ‘give’ and ‘exchange’ right from the start. The puppy is taught to come when called – we try not to chase puppy to get something off him.
Her personal space
Toto bites in predictable circumstances. Aggression is specifically triggered by one of three things.
She guards her own personal space – whether it’s where she is behind the sofa or in her own bed. This is sometimes, not always.
The rule now must be for the entire family not to invade her space. Never for now. Nobody. The family consists of grandparents, parents and two young children. Nobody should now go over to her where Toto is lying down, particularly the children. I suggest they imagine an invisible bubble around her. The dog bites only when they burst the bubble.
Things she nicks
Toto guards things that she nicks. This may be a child’s new shoe or homework carelessly dropped. She then runs off with it into a corner and growls. They chase her – hunt her down.
Being chased and cornered is scary for the dog, Then the dog bites. This ‘scary game’ can become addictive, a habit, and actually encourage stealing things and running off with them.
They will put in even more management including a gate they can put her, away from visiting children. They will take a lot more care to keep her away from things like homework and shoes – it’s hard for young children to remember.
Each time they corner her and forcibly take something off her they make her worse.
They will now ignore Toto completely if the item isn’t really valuable or dangerous. Their own reactions are probably giving the behaviour fuel. Why not walk out and shut the door? This tells her there is no contest and that they don’t want it, so guarding is pointless. She’s not going to do it when nobody is at home, after all, is she,
The family has work to do – the kind of work that would have been a lot simpler if done when she was a puppy. They can issue chew items one at a time, using the ‘exchange game’: offer it, don’t let go, say ‘Give’ and exchange for food. After doing this a couple more times without food they will end in letting her keep it.
The rule is that they never take anything off her unless they give it back to her or exchange it for something better than what she already has (better to her that is).
Dog bites when stroked
The third situation that causes her to snap seems to be out of the blue, when they touch or stroke her.
She growls when they approach her with her lead. She may suddenly bite while sitting beside them and they are stroking her. On nearly every occasion it’s when they go over to her, not when she comes to sit by them.
I walked towards her to take the photo. She licked her lips. She was telling me she was feeling very uncomfortable. The dog can’t realise that the signals she’s giving out simply aren’t being read by her humans.
They will watch her body language now and won’t stroke her unless she comes to them. They will stop briefly after a few strokes, take their hand away and see what she does. Is she enjoying it? She will tell them whether she wants it or not.
Fuelled by fear
The aggression problem is further fuelled by over-arousal. Contributing to this in a big way is fear.
They take Toto out for a short walk along the road several times a day instead of toileting in the garden. She is reluctant to walk beyond the driveway. She is scared of traffic, most particularly when it’s dark and there are lights.
Each time they take her out they are topping up her fear and stress levels.
She is particularly reluctant to go out at night time and it’s little wonder she may growl when approached with the lead. I suggest at night in particular they walk her round the garden instead. Why take her out if it scares her? Their large garden isn’t secure – so they can take her on lead.
Getting her happy with traffic
Now they will gradually desensitise her to traffic going past their drive by using food. They will let her decide how far she is ready to walk. They will let her choose. No force. This is another thing best done in the early months as part of ‘socialisation’.
Exercise is important but not as important as herToto’s state of mind.
A large part in reducing this over-arousal is to give Toto more fulfilment so she can calm herself, with things that exercise her brain along with sniffing and foraging.
Giving valuable chew items can be a problem when you have a resource-guarder. However, a stuffed Kong is a good idea. She will lose interest once it’s emptied.
It may be a challenge for each member of the family to do the same things in the same way, but it’s important not to give Toto mixed messages. She must be motivated to come over to them, willingly, when asked.
As they keep trying it will get easier and the situation should improve. Dog bites will hopefully become a thing of the past with some hard work and more management.