Sharp Pei Harry may bit if touched on top of his headHenry is a confused fifteen-month-old Shar Pei.

He has been loved and indulged by everyone in the family, but recently has become increasingly snappy and unpredictable. The problem seems to have come to a head when his family moved house a short while ago, grandad moved in and older daughters moved out. His new house gives him a lot more uncontrolled outside space and freedom.

Always a vocal dog, it is hard to tell the difference between his natural snoring type noises due to his physique and growling. I think he has been given the benefit of the doubt for too long and what has been put down as friendly vocalising is actually growling. He will go over to someone for a fuss, and after a minute’s petting, suddenly bite. He seems to indiscriminately bite family and strangers alike if a hand goes over his head.

They think there has been no warning, but with the usual doggy facial features, mouth and eyes lost in folds of skin, it’s hard to see what he’s thinking. This puts Henry at a big disadvantage. I believe he is now biting because he has learnt that warning is useless – his warnings are always ignored. Imagine how frustrating this must be for him. I’m sure to start with he will have tried facial warnings, but these won’t have been visible. Then he will have growled ‘out of the blue’ so far as his humans are concerned, and they have taken it to be friendly vocalising.  All his warnings saying ‘leave me alone’ or ‘get out of my space’  ignored, it seems reasonable from his point of view for him now to go directly to the next level with no preamble – biting. This then makes the person angry, which scares and confuses Henry – because in his mind what he did was entirely reasonable.

Another possibility is, because of his hidden eyes, he can’t see a hand approaching from above, so this intensifies a dislike of being touched on the top of his head or body.

From when he was a puppy members of his family alternated between fussing him, ‘training’ him with repeated commands, and playing the sort of games that have encouraged him to do the very things they now don’t like – growling through tug games, physical play encouraging use of mouth, teeth and growls and playing chasing feet games.

Although he has been to puppy classes and understands commands, giving a dog commands doesn’t make a leader. In fact, a dog like this will choose to ignore them much of the time unless they are repeated over and over, and then it can end in either the owner giving up and not carrying through, or in defiance and confrontation. A lead dog certainly doesn’t give verbal commands! Confrontation and punishment in response to growling or snapping will only make things escalate.

The question is, what DO you do?

How should they be reacting to growling and biting, and how will they avoid it happening altogether by winning Henry’s respect through changes in their own behaviour? This is what we are now working on. Unless in pain, a dog won’t growl or snap at someone he respects and, just as important, treats him with respect too, which means being respectful of the dog’s own comfort zone. This isn’t about love, it’s about leadership – dog ‘parenting’.

NB. Always with any sudden changes in behaviour the dog should first be checked over by a vet to make sure he’s not ill or in pain.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.