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Rough Play

Dogs playingHi John,

Our family adopted Hap, a whatever hopped the fence breed sort of dog. Hap can be quite aggressive with other dogs. We enjoy taking him to the off-leash area. However, Hap seems not to realize when another dog has had enough and persists to the point that he has gotten into an actual fight. When “playing”, he often nips the hind legs of both dogs and people (especially if one is running). We want to take him to the off-leash park daily, but with the aggression towards other dogs even that is not all that enjoyable any more. Secondly, although he does not what I would call ‘bite’, he does nip and use his teeth when excited (e.g. when we return home from being out of the house or when playing). I am not comfortable with this behavior, and it can be painful.

Finally, while I understand he was neglected and left alone for days at a time and it will take time for him to realize we are not going to leave him, having him follow me around the house whenever I need to go into a different room is becoming frustrating.

Hap has come a long way in the past 3 months he has been with us and I realize that it will still take time for him to settle in. But, the aggression is something that I would like some advice on controlling. I do not want to have him hurt another dog or a person only to realize I could have prevented it with a little work. We really have gotten to love Hap in the short time he has been with us, he is a lovable and affectionate guy…we just need a little guidance.



Dear Lisa,

This could be a couple of things. One is some sort of herding behaviour but with the problem also occuring in the house it may be a bite inhibition problem. Sometimes puppies leave the litter too early. Earlier then 7 ½ to 8 weeks and amongst other things you get a pup that hasn’t learned bite inhibition from their mom and litter mates. Without their yelps, growls and physical responses while they’re young they tend to go too far and find it difficult to wind themselves back a notch when later in life.

It would do him a world if a bunch of dogs in the dog park that know a little more about self-restraint, would pin him down and mentally shake him up a bit when he gets too happy with his mouth. Lots of times though the rascals still don’t get it and go back for more. More often then not they get their going over and they come out of it without understanding that it was their behaviour that caused the dust up. They just figure, “Wow! That dog has some issues.” and head on off to rough play with another victim.

A lot of dog trainers think the best way to deal with this type of thing, is to deflect the dog’s attention elsewhere. There’s a risk though that the dog may perceive the bad behaviour with good results. Instead, like the dog’s in the park, I want the dog’s undivided attention. I want the dog to be nipping at my hands one second and the next second be looking me in the eye thinking, “Holy smokes! He looks ticked!” Now, as I said these fellows don’t always understand it’s them that’s the cause of the subsequent reaction when it’s another dog but when I’m working with the dog I can help connect the dots more easily by recreating the scenario immediately and whenever else suits me.

I don’t want a dog in any training situation where they’re learning to stop an undesirable behavior to to think they’re a bad dog. I don’t want them to think I’m a bad guy. I want them to understand it was their behavior, just a moment before that was bad. Done correctly I find it takes that average dog 3 – 6 repetitions to understand. If animals young or old in nature don’t make connections quickly they’re not usually don’t make it to collect their pension.

Even the playing field first by leaving the leash on him whenever you can supervise him which with this sort of behavior should be a lot. When he grabs you, use the leash to get his attention. Give it a firm a pop to the side. Not hard enough to hurt him, but not lazy enough to wind him up. It’s the same area his mom would target to get his attention. Your reaction is suppose to be the consequence. What he needs to see once you have his attention is Naomi Campbell on a bad day. (Google her and you’ll understand.) When he stops, return to your sunny self, but the key is to immediately re-tempt him to grab at you again, and then again, and then again with each result being your slip into bipolarism. He should connect the dots within 3 – 6 times if you’re doing it right. When he does, only then give him the reward. It shouldn’t be long either when the leash is unnecessary as he’ll recognize your tone and body language as healthy signals that he’s crossing a line. After a while the behavior should completely extinguish.

You need to start with yourself as the guinea pig. If you can’t get him to understand it around you, you’re never going to have a chance at a distance around another dog. If you’re not having success, then find yourself a balanced philosophy trainer to give you a hand.

Pawsitively Yours,


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