When people call me about their dog, they nearly always, feeling disloyal, first list their dog’s good points. They tell me that their dog is ‘perfect dog in the house’, or a ‘very loving dog’…..BUT…..and then they tell me about the difficulties they are having and the distress it is causing them.
Alfie, the Staffie/Hungarian Viszla mix I went to yesterday evening, really is a ‘very good dog’. He’s affectionate, biddable and gets on with all people and other dogs…..with just a couple of BUTS. He is 11 months old.
One BUT is that from the start he has jumped up, mouthed or grabbed arms and clothing, and this intensifies the more excited he is. Recently he actually left tooth marks on a friend’s arm, and his lady owner realised that her efforts to stop the behaviour simply weren’t working. Without realising it, she has been reinforcing the behaviour. Dogs (and people) only choose to do things because they get something out of it. We unintentionally reinforce unwanted behaviour. It can take an outsider to see clearly just what is happening.
Approaching with his mouth open is almost a default mode for Alfie when he’s not calm. It is endured initially – and when it gets too much it has been dealt with by giving him the attention he has been seeking – in terms of ‘Down’, No’,’Ouch’ and so on. In fact, the excited tone in which the lady calls him to her and greets him unwittingly invites the behaviour. Then her hands are all over him and near his face, and as she moves them to avoid being mouthed they become something to chase.
Simply ignoring Alfie doesn’t give him a clear enough message. At the very moment his mouth engages, the hand or limb should be withdrawn in a deliberate fashion and the person break all contact with Alfie – turning away from him. If he is actually grabbing then she must freeze until he stops and a little longer The attention then comes when he’s not grabbing. If done every single time it should become absolutely clear to him exactly what he should not be doing. Even an accidental touch with his teeth during play should result in instant withdrawal.
Of course this is only one half of the process. He also needs to be taught better things to do – things incompatible with jumping up, mouthing and grabbing.
For the lady to cut down on physical contact and excitable interaction with Alfie will leave her in a sort of vacuum where interacting with her beloved dog is concerned, so we need to fill it with useful stuff. Clicker training will be ideal for both of them as Alfie learns that he can have the best control over both himself and his environment without using his mouth and she can give him as much attention as she likes without it resulting in mouthing.
I just had to take the picture on the left. Alfie had hopped into the lady’s chair and she had returned. He’s waiting to be asked to get off!