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Nip it In the Butt

Dear John,

We have a problem when we have company over with our Giant Schnauzer. He tends to push at people with his nose and then nips at clothes. He nipped our tenant’s friend in the butt when she was walking away from us. Also when we go out for an evening and come home he growls at my husband and is stand offish. We read that is a dominance issue so my husband made a point of being the only one to feed him and show that he is the alpha male. Now he growls when my husband feeds him. What do we do?


Dear Joyce,

Dominance, alpha, pack leader, whatever you want to call it isn’t found in a food dish. Your dog might just as easily interpret your husband giving him food as viewing him as a subordinate surrendering his food to his superior. His attitude when you’ve been out for the evening might stem from his seeing you as his “property”. Maybe from your dog’s perspective he sees you come traipsing in with what from his perspective is your beta boyfriend after going who knows where and doing who knows what and like with the food is warning him.

If you and your husband want your dog to learn who’s the teacher and who’s the student build these into your understanding of dog training. 1. A dog is learning 24 hours a day, 7 days a week whether you’re teaching or not. 2. Constant supervision turns into consistent behaviour. 3. If the dog can’t be caught, the dog can’t be taught. 4. When the dog thinks it’s stronger, it won’t listen any longer. 5. Without a dog’s attention, there can’t be any retention. 6. When you don’t immediately repeat, the lesson’s incomplete.

Let’s use the nipping as an example. Firstly your dog has to be reminded throughout the day that you and your husband are the ones with the opposable thumbs not just when he does something wrong so have him drag his leash attached to a proper collar and supervise him throughout the day like CBS lawyers supervising David Letterman at the next staff party. With the leash the dog can’t get to the guest’s butt before you can get to the dog or the food dish or down the stairs or through the door or to the back of the yard.

If the dog’s faster which he is, and stronger which he might be you can supervise him all you want but when the need for a chat arises he’s capable of shrugging you off. That’s where the right collar comes in. I’ve tried them all and finally just designed one myself that doesn’t freak the dog or the owner out and still gets the job done. The idea is to have power steering rather then having to use two hands and heels dug in to get the dog’s attention. Just as with any other job the right tools are an asset. Neutralize the strength factor and you’ll be amazed how quickly brains replace brawn.

With a leash and a proper collar if you tug the leash to the left or right like you’d tug on my shirt sleeve you might actually get your dog’s attention before you try to train him. It’s not to correct him, it’s to get his attention so you can correct and reward him with your tone and body language.

Finally give him a shot at actually connecting the dots by setting him up to make his mistakes and repeating the lesson at least 3 times each time. In fact make it the flavour of the week. When jumping is the problem I just ask guests and anyone else that might co-operate to try and get the dog to jump but asking guests to wiggle their butts as targets might have a downside. Particularly if your dog has a sense of humour and instead of trying to nip just looks at you incredulously after you say, “Please wiggle your butt, I’m trying to train my dog.”

John Wade

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