Dog Suddenly Bites
An online consultation case story.
Another adolescent dog that suddenly bites ‘out of the blue’.
Finn is a stunning mix of German Shepherd and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. He was picked up at seven weeks old by the RSPCA, living in a faeces-filled crate with his siblings.
His early encounters with humans would have been very negative.
The family adopted him at ten weeks of age. They have been trying to cope with his sudden biting. He’s in no way aggressive. Just too easily over-aroused.
They save him from himself by crating him, something he seems to accept almost with relief by the sound of it. When outside the crate he soon becomes wild. The smallest bit of arousal sends him over the edge.
Learning how to cope with life.
They need now to teach him to how to cope with life so he can spend less time in his crate.
They are a family of five. Finn’s day starts roughly like this:
Mother comes downstairs and let’s Finn out of his crate. He’s quite calm but already finds himself something to chew, to self-calm, while he sits next to her on the sofa.
Dad comes down. Finn becomes a little more demanding for attention, and usually suddenly bites the man’s legs as he leaves the room for work.
Teenage daughter next. She is wearing a floaty dressing gown and slippers. This is too much for Finn, who suddenly bites the slippers and grabs the dressing gown. The girl shouts at mum to rescue her.
Other son comes down later.
It’s not long before Finn is put back into his crate.
So the day begins!
The problem as they described it is that Finn suddenly bites. He charges at them and jumps up. He does it indoors. He’s worse in the garden so now he goes out on a long line and they stand by the door.
Examination of the detail finds that it’s due to build-up of arousal every time.
On walks he may be sniffing, then, out of the blue, he suddenly bites them. It’s hard to diagnose the precise trigger.
He’s wary of traffic, so arousal is building up even as they walk.
Biting is a symptom. Arousal is the cause.
We spent most of the session looking at ways to lower Finn’s arousal levels by both avoiding obvious things that excite him and by giving him the kind of activities that should help him.
They will spend time each day getting him happier around traffic.
At home he humps cushions or attacks his bed, not to be naughty. He has a need to do it. It gives him relief.
We looked at various ways to remove this need.
They will swap NO for Yes. They will constantly look for acceptable activities to replace those they don’t like. These will necessarily include chewing, different ways of working for his food, foraging and brain games.
Click for calm
Finn is another dog where I have taught them how they can use a clicker to ‘click for calm’.
The lady already has done some good training with Finn using a clicker. Now they won’t use it for ‘commands’ (I prefer ‘cues’). They will simply mark and reinforce every little calm or desired behaviour that Finn himself happens to offer them.