K9 Corner, May 16

Published 8:34 am Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Two readers called with questions about play aggression. One dog is an adult and the other is a 13-week-old pup.

Play aggression occurs when the animal gets “carried away” with the play and starts to bare its teeth, growl, charge or even as in the case of the pup, bite. We shouldn’t be surprised at this behavior. Children go through this state too: they are playing, they get frustrated and the play turns into a fight.

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What we need to do is to teach the dog self-control, just like we teach our children to respect the rights of others. We can do this with our dogs by setting them up to misbehave and then distracting them, making them obey a command and rewarding them for their correct action.

This works differently with each problem activity. Dogs’ minds work differently from humans. If a dog concentrates on something, he is oblivious to everything else. I feel that this comes from the wild ancestors who needed to concentrate on the prey while hunting. I have seen a dog, known to attack women, retrained to respect women in three 10-minute training sessions. Using the dog’s concentration on the “victim” (me) as the distraction, the dog received a surprise correction from the trainer. From the dog’s actions it was obvious he never realized where the correction came from. The trainer called the dog to come and rewarded the dog for responding. On the second try the dog was uneasy about approaching me and on the third try he put the trainer between himself and me. In all three efforts, I just stood there, trying not to look at the dog. Repeating the training with several other women convinced the dog that women were to be respected – he even allowed us to pet him.

Using this ability to concentrate, a pup can be distracted from chewing by offering an allowable chew toy. (I used a piece of oven-dried toast with my 6-week-old pup until she was about 12 weeks old.) I have also used one of my dogs as a distraction to get a shy, fearful dog to go into an enclosed area willingly. We just walked together side by side and suddenly the shy dog found itself confronted by the “monster” which was just a white wall. Several repetitions convinced the dog there was nothing to be afraid of.

Using a bitter tasting substance on your hands, furniture and plants will teach most dogs to respect these objects and play with allowable toys. This will work for both my callers’ adult dog and the pup.  However, I urged the owners to wash their hands after the play period. Neither of these dogs should play “tug-of-war or tag with their human families. The first game encourages using the mouth and teeth and the second game encourages the prey-chase instinct which might result in a bite. I recommended that the owner of the adult dog take his pet through obedience training classes where he will continue learning self-control.