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eadinad's avatar

Is my dog being a bully or just a puppy?

Asked by eadinad (1263 points ) November 26th, 2010

We adopted a 7 week old small mix puppy from a shelter a little over two months ago (he is now 4 months old.) He has always been a biter – he loves to gnaw on our hands, and will also bite our pants and drag behind us. We have tried sharply saying, “No!”, spraying him with water, holding his snout shut while looking in his eyes and saying “NO!”, flipping him on his back and holding him down until he calms down, etc. For the most part it seems playful, but as he gets older it is starting to really hurt sometimes.

He has played with a few friends’ dogs and likes the dog park, and behaves pretty well there, but all the dogs are bigger than him. When he plays with his “cousin,” a french bulldog, they both sometimes growl at each other and bark but haven’t really fought. My dog kept stealing his cousin’s bone and running away though.

And now, we are dogsitting a 3 month puppy for some friends (also a small breed.) They seem to love wrestling each other, and the other dog holds her own against our dog, but twice they have started sort of snarling and growling and seeming like they’re really biting each other. My dog also barked and nipped at the 3 month old when she started eating from his food bowl (she had her own.) What really worries me is that when they’re playing and biting at each other, my dog’s face looks like it is snarled up and his lips are pulled away from his teeth. He has also done that to me and bitten at my hands when I pick him up when they’re in the middle of wrestling.

Is this just puppy stuff? He is so small it is still manageable but it seems like this is what leads to “small dog syndrome.” I want him to be very friendly and well-behaved, and I’m worried this is a bad sign… am I over-reacting or should we be taking drastic behavioural measures? In general, what can we be doing to curb his biting and make him play nicely with other dogs?

(To his credit, my dog is generally a very loving and happy dog, loves people, loves licking faces, sleeps under the covers with us at night, is making good progress on potty training, knows several commands already, wags his tail incessantly when we come home, etc.)

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18 Answers

syz's avatar

Have you considered puppy class (obedience)? A knowledgeable trainer will be able to evaluate his behavior and suggest techniques and training.

eadinad's avatar

Oh, duh, you’re right. I do plan on taking him to puppy class but we are moving in a month so I was going to wait until then so that he could stay with the same class/trainer for all 6 – 8 weeks. Hopefully his behaviour won’t worsen before then.

crisw's avatar

I’d advise getting a knowledgeable trainer to observe your dog playing with another dog. He or she can tell you whether it’s play-fighting (which can look quite ferocious) or something more severe. It can be hard to tell if you aren’t used to the behaviors.

As for the nipping- here’s some good advice that may work better than what you have been doing. I’ve had retrievers, which are very mouthy dogs, most of my adult life and this has worked very well.

And thanks for being a responsible dog owber who is seeing a potential problem early and dealing with it!

squirbel's avatar

Your dog has alpha dog syndrome. He’s exhibiting very negative behaviors.

- Snapping at the food bowl
– Growling and biting when in proximity to another alpha
– Biting you or your family – he’s punishing you and telling you to get in line. He’s the boss in your home.

And I bet when you take a walk he’s walking far in front of you. Also bad.

Take drastic behavioral measures. Watch Cesar Milan’s “The Dog Whisperer”... download it from a torrent or go to Netflix/Blockbuster and rent it. This is very important. He shows you what behaviors are bad, and why, and how to correct them. Changed my life, and I have 3 dogs and a cat who get along beautifully together, and are happy!

marinelife's avatar

When he attempts to bite you, say “Ow, ow, ow” like it really hurts. That will let him know that he has gone too far. Also, say no.

crisw's avatar

@squirbel

—I am sure Rooeytoo will be along any minute now—-

To the OP-
Don’t do this. Unless you want to traumatize your dog for life. Although he has his defenders, you should be aware that Milan is viewed very negatively by most prominent dog behaviorists in this country. Please make sure you read up on what real professionals think of his methods.

Some links on Milan:

Pack of Lies

Talk Softly and Carry a Carrot or a Big Stick?

From Andrew Luescher, DVM, Veterinary Behaviorist Animal Behavior Clinic, Purdue University

TV’s Dog Whisperer-A Bone to Pick?

First Do No Harm

squirbel's avatar

Wow, most of those attack him for being an illegal immigrant…. as if that is a sign of poor character.

I’ll be on the side of those who defend him, thank you.

I’d like to add that I’ve used his methods, all without aids like collars and leashes and whatnot, the primary concern of all of those haters – and I’ve seen the same results in 3 dogs! His way is being unfairly attacked by behaviorists because it works and is putting them out of work. That’s what I gain from those articles you posted.

Joybird's avatar

I am a behaviorist…with humans and in difficult dog rehabs. Your dog is showing pack dominance behaviors. But that’s NOT okay because YOU are supposed to be the pack leader and assert yourself as such in a calm, but assertive manner. Your dog was asserting dominance over that other puppy in play and when not taken seriously with more assertiveness by biting. He is attempting to assert his dominance with you as he bites you in the hands when you pick him up to intervene. You don’t say if your dog is a mix with herding ancestry. Herding animals tend to follow behind nipping at clothing and such. It’s an inbred behavior that is hard to curb. You have to train for an alternative behavior. AND so to that end for beginners you need to get into a behavioral class with your dog ASAP. You train a dog to heel instead of following behind biting to get your attention. You train a dog to comply with sit or down and then a lengthened manifestation of either when necessary. No is for non-behaviorists. You never train for NO….you train for what you want. ALL behaviorists can tell you this basic. Stop running isn’t a training command…walk please IS!
In terms of puppy biting I know mouthing is a greeting akin to a hug in dog speak. But I don’t want to be bitten and I want to extinquish the behavior so I slide my hand in the mouth when the dog goes to nip and pull their tongue over their own back teeth which are still puppy sharp. It hurts so they stop. You keep doing that each time and in short order they cease to bite at you as a game. They know it hurts because it hurts THEM. With the food bowl you train your dog to allow you to do anything you want with their food bowl and what’s in it. You MUST do this because in the event of other animals being around, strangers or a child you don’t want an attack or bite to occur. My dog weighs 150lbs. He lets me and any other dog I bring into the house eat or handle his food bowl without protest even IF there is food in it. He will patiently sit and wait for his turn. I don’t even need to command it anymore. He has learned that pack in our house is synonymous with calm cooperation.
That is your goal in training for every situation in every context. You want more info and I will give it to you.
And for the record…I think Cesar Milan IS GOD!!!!!!

crisw's avatar

@Joybird

“I am a behaviorist…”

Where were you trained, out of curiosity, and what is your degree in? Are you a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist?

I’ve talked to a lot of veterinary behaviorists- I’ve never met one who endorses Milan.

@squirbel

That’s a bit of a red herring fallacy. Pointing out something you don’t like in the article in no way invalidates any other opinions presented. And none of these articles focuses on Milan’s immigration status.

squirbel's avatar

Yes, they do focus on his immigration status. It’s there, front and center.

And I wasn’t pointing out what I didn’t like; I was pointing out untruths that are being presented as fact. I have issue with that.

squirbel's avatar

“Pack of Lies”

“While Mr. Millan rejects hitting and yelling at dogs during training, his confrontational methods include physical and psychological intimidation, like finger jabs, choke collars, extended sessions on a treadmill and what is called flooding, or overwhelming the animal with the thing it fears. Compared with some training devices still in use — whips and cattle prods, for example — these are mild, but combined with a lack of positive reinforcement or rewards, they place Mr. Millan firmly in a long tradition of punitive dog trainers.”

This is false because he strongly supports giving positive feedback to the dog when the dog does things correctly, and not responding when they do incorrectly. This article lies outrightly in order to make a point. In the very next paragraph, they take his philosophy and attribute it to those who have done research for 40 years.

“Mr. Millan brings his pastiche of animal behaviorism and pop psychology into millions of homes a week. He’s a charming, one-man wrecking ball directed at 40 years of progress in understanding and shaping dog behavior and in developing nonpunitive, reward-based training programs, which have led to seeing each dog as an individual*, to understand what motivates it, what frightens it and what its talents and limitations are. Building on strengths and working around and through weaknesses, these trainers and specialists in animal behavior often work wonders with their dogs, but it takes time.”

Here, people are upset that 40 years of their work are being upended. They aren’t even hiding it! And they claim they were the ones doling out non-punitive, rewarding, individualistic training. This is abhorrent.

Mr. Millan supposedly delivers fast results. His mantra is “exercise, discipline, affection,” where discipline means “rules, boundaries, limitations.” Rewards are absent and praise scarce, presumably because they will upset the state of calm submission Mr. Millan wants in his dogs.

This is a lie. He encourages one to praise the dogs.

And the rest are more of the same. I was about to break each article down but I don’t like repeating myself.

Joybird's avatar

@crisw Not that it’s any of your business but I’m an LCSW with a specialty in cognitive behavioral therapies. And I am also certified as an animal behaviorist because I wanted to be able to work with a friend who is a vet for a shelter rehabbing difficult cases of dogs.
Are you against Milan because you can’t find other rehab specialists who would prefer not to endorse him because they would prefer to endorse themselves????? or are you just a racist against Mexican immigrants?

Joybird's avatar

@squirbel Flooding is standard operational practice for extinquishing anxiety disorders in humans as well as in other animal species. It is companioned with behaviors that replace the old fear based ones which are shaped and rewarded for. This is true in humans AND in rehabbing other species including dogs.

crisw's avatar

@Joybird

“Are you against Milan because you can’t find other rehab specialists who would prefer not to endorse him because they would prefer to endorse themselves?????”

As i mentioned, I have yet to find a qualified veterinary behaviorist- that is, a veterinarian or psychologist who specializes in animal behavior- who endorses Milan. Nor have I found a single, solitary study that confirms that his methods work. Not one. Perhaps you can provide some?

” or are you just a racist against Mexican immigrants?””

That is an unwarranted personal attack.

All i am asking for is for proof that Milan’s methods are based on actual scientific knowledge of dog behavior, and that they have been scientifically shown to work. Why do you resort to personal attacks rather than providing something that should be simple to provide, if such data actually existed?

crisw's avatar

@Joybird

“Flooding is standard operational practice”

I dsagree. Flooding is a technique that should never be carried out by someone who is not an expert in the technique, as doing it wrong can cause severe emotional trauma for the dog. Even knowledgeable practitioners rarely use it because of its disadvantages. Promoting it on a TV show is simply irresponsible.

For a great story by a behavioral expert on the problems of flooding, read “A Shot in the Dark” in The Dog Who Loved Too Much by Dr. Nicholas Dodman.

crisw's avatar

Oh- the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior formally opposes Milan’s tactics.

As they state, ”“The AVSAB recommends that veterinarians not refer clients to trainers or behavior consultants who coach and advocate dominance hierarchy theory and the subsequent confrontational training that follows from it,” the position statement says.

That statement was initiated with Millan in mind, says Dr. Laurie Bergman, of Norristown, Pa., a member of AVSAB’s executive board. ”

Joybird's avatar

@crisw Cesar Milan doesn’t “promote” flooding although he has demonstrated it’s use with a few dogs. It’s not something he does with ALL his dogs. And it IS used with expertise…just as I use it with expertise with clients on an as needed basis. It’s not something I do quid pro quo with ALL clients. Just because there can be a problem with a course of treatment doesn’t mean the care provider is inept or incompetent. And there are always disagreements between therapeutic practices whether you are talking about humans are dogs. Just because you can google a few doesn’t mean anything other than a few heads disagree.

crisw's avatar

@Joybird

“Cesar Milan doesn’t “promote” flooding”

He uses it on a TV show that is then broadcast to the public. The public then imitates him. And he often does not use flooding appropriately. Note that no one ever goes back to his clients a year later to see how their dogs are behaving!

“Just because you can google a few doesn’t mean anything other than a few heads disagree.”

So where are the behavioral experts that support Milan? Not just random dog trainers who don’t necessarily have any scientific training in behavior- but real behavioral experts? This isn’t just a case of mere “disagreement.” It’s not at all common for an organized body of the top experts in a certain field to unite to condemn practices on a TV show.

As I stated above “All I am asking for is for proof that Milan’s methods are based on actual scientific knowledge of dog behavior, and that they have been scientifically shown to work.”

This isn’t a matter of opinion. Either his methods are based on scientific knowledge and have been shown to be effective in a scientific manner, or they aren’t.

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