‘No Touching’. Breaking the Behaviour Pattern of Biting.
‘No touching’ for a period of time is the way to go now.
In all respects apart from the biting, Cocker Spaniel Lupo is wonderful. The young couple have worked really hard and most of the time he’s soft and affectionate. They have had help before and have conscientiously done their best. This hasn’t stopped both of them being bitten many times.
Biting people fortunately doesn’t happen when they are out on walks, so Lupo can be trusted off lead. It’s at home where there can be trouble.
From the start he has been a resource guarder which they successfully worked on. I lent him a chew which, as you can see from the picture, he wasn’t relaxed with. To get it back, the young man called him over, went through a sequence he had previously taught Lupo and the dog dropped the chew into his hand. Impressive.
As the two-year-old Cocker Spaniel matured, this guarding tendency, genetically wired in him I’m certain, spread to guarding his own personal space. He was becoming grumpy and unpredictable when someone was touching him.
The young couple have learnt a lot already. After the behaviourist helped them some months ago he improved. For three months he didn’t bite at all. As their sense of security grew they gradually relaxed some of the strategies they had been taught, as so many people do. Now Lupo is back to biting them again.
A different perspective
I feel my job now is about looking at things with new eyes, to find a different approach that is hopefully long-lasting.
For a start, they now accept that Lupo is how he is, and he will never be ‘cured’. They will work with what they’ve got and aim at a situation that’s a mix of management and behaviour modification.
He bites mostly when people go over to him – which is common. A peaceful, beautiful dog, lying in his bed, is such a temptation to stroke. Now there will be a strict ‘no approaching his bed’ rule, most particularly no touching him.
Lupo may bite if a hand comes out to him to touch him. He may bite while being brushed. He bites if on a person’s lap and another reaches out to touch him. While being stroked he may bite, even if it seems he has initiated the stroking in the first place. He has bitten around food.
When the young man is rummaging for the remote or reaches out for something when on the sofa, Lupo may fly at him with his teeth.
The most recent bite was when the young lady had just come home from work. Lupo was excited. They were throwing the ball down the hallway for him. The young man approached him and the ball and he went ballistic (to quote). He clamped down on the young man’s hand.
This sounds like he’s always biting but this isn’t the case. A lot of the time he is the softest, most friendly dog imaginable. He loves a cuddle. It’s like he is two different dogs.
Arousal/stress levels play a key role in Lupo’s bursts of aggression. He is a different dog in the morning after a night to relax.
As well as tightening up again generally, there are further things they could do to avoid arousing him. Importantly, they will introduce further enrichment activities which should specifically help him to de-stress.
With so much rehearsal, his ‘attacks’ will have become learned patterns of behaviour now.
Abstainence from touching
As well as further lowering of stress, the way to work our way through this is, I’m sure, to break the habit. Lupo should have no further opportunity for rehearsal for several months. This means no touching him at all for a set period of time initially.
Then gradually, one thing at a time, they can introduce touching again, starting only with circumstances where he’s never bitten, and take it from there. There will always be situations where ‘No Touching’ will be the rule, for the rest of his life. It should become easier now they accept this.
In the future, they will make sure they don’t just subconsciously relax back to their old ways as they did before. Instead, any easing up on the restrictions should be done in a systematic, planned way.
All behaviours have a function of some sort. The biting makes the hand immediately withdraw. It works.
We will set a period of time for the ‘touching abstinence’– four weeks, say. An additional benefit of this will be to make people touching him a lot more valuable to Lupo.
For the benefit of other people who may simply forget and put a hand down to him, they will get him a yellow vest with words, ‘Please Don’t Touch Me’ written in big so it can’t be missed. Then there should be no misunderstanding.
Any time Lupo regresses or someone pushes him a bit too far, even if just a hint of any freezing or whale eye, they should go back to a few days’ ‘abstinence’ from touching him.
It’s likely that in times of stress he will regress, in which case they also should wind things back again for a while – with days of ‘no touching’ once more. It’s not going to be easy to deny themselves cuddles but they will compensate by talking to him and playing well-chosen games with him. They can encourage him to use his brain more along with his natural sniffing and hunting instincts.
It’s after the build up of stress/excitement/arousal that the biting happens. It can be the opposite now – Operation Calm, boring maybe, but a lot better for Lupo.
I see it a bit like he’s diabetic. He will always have the condition but with the right treatment and discipline it can be kept at bay and managed. Too much arousal and stress, if you like, is Lupo’s sugar.