So my dog used to bite… EVERYONE. He bit friends, family members, neighbors, and passersby who dared to share the sidewalk with him. He’s a handsome fella so people would run up to pet him and things would usually happen in slow motion… his mouth would open, teeth would bare, a quick snap… I try to forget the rest.
He never did serious harm, but he did break skin. The worst offense, he bit my neighbor in the stomach, ripping his tee-shirt and drawing blood. I could tell you how my neighbor asked for it by swearing he could reform my dog with his savvy (cocky) know-how and Cesear Milan pack leader presence (despite me pleading that he was making my dog (and me) extremely uncomfortable as he tried to take the leash from me), but alas, I won’t place the blame on him, my dog should not have been biting anyone…
Mind you, my dog is the sweetest angel you’ll ever meet. It wasn’t that he wanted people to die, he was fear biting. It was a reflex. He was scared of strangers. People in his “inner circle” could do whatever they wanted to him, pick him up, tickle him, roughhouse, anything. If you weren’t in the inner circle and you approaced the wrong way? Blood.
I can’t tell you how many people said things to me like “wow, I can’t believe you haven’t taken him back to a shelter”. Those comments made me angry, my dog was an ANGEL. His intentions weren’t bad, they were based on fear. Do you stick your children in a shelter when they don’t behave? No, you find a darn solution (or at least try to).
I learned a ton about his breed during this time (Note: In NO way do I think a breed determines everything and the fact that my dog no longer bites goes to prove that). But he is part Chow Chow and has a full Chow personality - insanely loyal to his guardians (I swear this loyalty goes beyond most dogs but perhaps I’m biased…) and very cautious of strangers. No matter what his breed, it was our fault that he was biting and it was up to us to fix it.
How to Fix a Biting Dog… Love, Determination, PATIENCE, and Taking Some Risks
1. Hire a Trainer. Fire a Trainer. So we found a local trainer and began a few sessions with her. She handed us a pamphlet on why Cesar Millan is the devil and came with a million cookies. For the life me I don’t understand Cesar haters, the man can reform extremely dangerous dogs using exercise, appropriate levels of discipline, and love. I’ve watched his show a thousand times and I’ve never been offended by his methods. After a few sessions of her feeding my dog endless cookies for doing nothing and there being zero improvement in his behavior, she told us that he will always be this way and we can never have him around people. I fired her dumb ass.
2. Hire a Good Trainer. Recognize that It’s YOU Who Needs to be Trained. I found a Cesear Milan equivalent and he gave me, my husband, and our dog the butt whipping we needed (without there being any actually whipping of course). He did not give up on us or our baby. He told us from the start that our dog may never be the dopey slap happy retriever that goes jumping into every strangers lap, but we can teach him to simply duck his head away when he doesn’t want to be pet. And so using both positive enforcement and negative enforcement that’s exactly what we did.
3. Positive Enforcement. The usual, ENDLESS praise and treats when he lets someone pet him without digging his teeth into them. We had brave friends come over for these lessons. We put their hands in ski gloves and wrapped their arms in endless layers of clothes to protect their body parts (although they were still scared outta their wits). And then we had them walk over and try to pet him. When he didn’t bite, we acted like he won the Noble Peace Prize.
4. Negative Enforcement. Negative enforcement is not always necessary and while it may be negative it must NEVER be abusive. Our situation was severe, he was biting everyone. Our negative enforcement began in the form of loudly shaking a water bottle with coins in it when he acted aggressively. Later, after many more bite attempts, we had to get a remote controlled citronella collar. Our trainer trained him to recognize that he’ll get sprayed with citronella immediately after we make the collar beep. In total, he was maybe sprayed 8 times. After that, as soon as he heard the beep he stopped in his tracks and we never had to spray him again. The beep was his discipline.
5. Take Smart Calculated Risks. Socialize Your Anti-Social Pup. I knew my dog was pure of heart. I knew he meant nothing bad, he was just scared. So instead of keeping him from people, I brought him EVERYWHERE. I was determined to socialize the bejesus out of him. And so I did. It was scary but I had methods. I knew exactly how he liked to be pet, so I’d take him all over Brooklyn (where I used to live) popping in and out of boutique clothing stores who all had dog cookies waiting (even though my dog usually won’t take cookies from strangers…). The ladies working there would come over to pet him and I’d tell them exactly how to do it and then smoother him with praise. I called those our “shopping” days, even though I never bought anything. We took him to every dog run, off leash park, friend’s house, and outdoor restaurant we could find. There was no way I was keeping him away from people, instead we drowned him in them! Best decision we ever made.
6. Most Important – EXERCISE!!!! You may think I’m crazy for risking the untorn skin of so many strangers with tip #5 above, but here’s the key to that tip: before I’d embark on these little journeys, I’d run him. 45 minutes to 1 hour jogs. An exercised dog is a happy, well behaved, too filled with endorphins to bite dog. No exercise = Cujo. Exercise = Angel.
I can now proudly say that my dog no longer bites, EVER. After months of implementing these tactics something clicked and he just stopped biting. He now loves EVERYONE and the gentle soul he always was fully shines through. And like our good trainer promised, when someone comes along that he doesn’t want petting him, he ducks his head down and to the side like the snake dance move from the 80′s. I’m a proud mama for sure.
If you have a dog with behavior problems, just remember… where there’s a will there’s always a way. There’s no such thing as a bad dog.
Now how about some family photos where Cujo is the main subject?!