Human Chew Toy

Dear Liz,

My husband and I recently adopted a shelter dog. He’s generally sweet, but he bites! The history we received gave no indication of problems. We plan to start a family soon, but want to make sure our dog is broken of this habit ahead of time. How should we handle?

Human Chew Toy

Dear Chewie:

Well, I think I’d have to know more about the situations under which he bites. Basically, dogs bite for several reasons – fear, breed type, aggression, because they’ve been allowed to and dominance.
Fear biting is understood easily. If your dog feels its life is in eminent danger, he’s going to bite to protect himself.

If your dog’s breed is of a herding type, it is their nature to ‘herd’ by nipping.

Aggressive biting is not excusable. It may or may not come right after a growl or at least some warning. This is a nasty dog and I’m not thinking it would have been adopted out from any pound or shelter that wants to keep their liability insurance at a reasonable price. I have to say that I will not adopt out a dog that has shown serious aggression issues.

Dogs sometimes bite because they’ve been allowed to do so from puppy-hood. Having a cute, playful puppy nibble on your hands is often excused. What happens, though, is that the little puppy grows up and the owners forget to tell the pup that it is no longer ok to puppy chew / nip. The puppy is now an adult and the biting, once acceptable, is just a habit.

Dominance is biting to be assertive and to gain status on the chain of command. It can start from just “testing the waters” to all-out biting. This is the dog who sits on the furniture first, who goes out the door first, and who generally takes over as the leader of the family. Not good.
I’m thinking that you should keep a log as to when he bites and what immediately preceded the event. This will help you understand a little bit and it will help the trainer as well to get a better picture. Note if there are any warning signs, such as growls or stiffened stances. Also note what YOUR response was – Did you yell NO and turn your back (a good response)?

I’d say for sure that this dog needs to be brought into training asap. Taking over the dominance role yourselves is also a good start to showing your dog who is in control and who is not. See if some of these steps help to shake things up a bit in his world.

Eat first – the leader of the pack always does. And make sure he knows you’re eating first. He should be fed after you have eaten and cleared the table and no table scraps.

Go through the doorway first. Make him sit and stay while you go through and only allow him to go through AFTER you’ve cleared it. Remember, leaders go first, subordinates go last.

Keep a leash on him while he’s in the house. If he goes to sit up on the furniture (a pinnacle place in the dog world), pull the leash and him off. Then you sit on the furniture to show him that YOU are boss. He’s to stay OFF the furniture until his place in the pack is established. Keeping a leash on him at all times also allows you to grab the leash (instead of him, directly) and get him away from a situation you don’t like.

Too many pounds are filled with dogs that have been let run the house. Then, when the dog is about 2 years old, the owner throws his or her hands in the air and gives up because the dog is “awful”. I’d say that 95% of the dogs in pounds are there because of behavioral issues and that 95% of those can be corrected with proper training.
Remember that your dog is looking to you for boundaries and guidance. Getting this dog into training with a behaviorist (my preference for dogs with issues) asap will help you take back your territory (your house, your hands!). Don’t be surprised if there’s a struggle that goes on, though, as most will test you out to see if you’ll give in and give him back his “power”.

I wish you the best and hope you’ll let me know how things progress.


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