Some time ago I received a call from a client who was concerned about her 9-month-old puppy biting family members and friends. There had been a couple of instances where this had occurred. On my first visit I was to meet with both the husband and the wife – and the dog of course. But when I arrived at their home for our session, the wife was home and the husband was on the way home from the office. So I asked her to put her pup on a leash, unlock the door and I would let myself in while she focused on controlling her dog. I was met immediately with lunging, barking and growling by their dog that was fortunately held at bay by the wife. We sat across the room from each other as I began to click and treat the dog without making direct eye contact with him and you could begin to see a definite shift in his attitude towards me. Within the next 5 minutes the husband got home and we started the session.

A detailed evaluation revealed that there was no structure in the home for the dog. He was not required to do much of anything except get petted by the owners – especially the wife. The dog also shared their bed with them at night, placing himself square in the middle of the bed. He gets a fair amount of exercise with walks but he lunges at people passing by. He does attend a doggie day camp several times a week as well where he is great with the people once he is at doggie day camp— which is on neutral territory with no owners present.

I had noticed a lot missing in the way of balancing the relationship with their dog; I immediately had them put their dog on a learn-to-earn program. Every single thing he wanted he had to earn it by doing sits and downs. This began to set a strong foundation of leadership, thereby giving him a better understanding of who’s doing what for whom while at the same time providing him with a function in the group.

Now it was time to address the problem of the biting. I wanted to be able to show the relevance of the unbridled love and affection the wife had poured onto this pup so I had them tether him to the stair banister with his 6’ leash.
When we did this, he fully extended the leash trying to get to Mom! I had her stand just about 1 foot further away from him. I let her know that I was going to come up and hug her. When I hugged her, he lunged, growled and barked. I then had her husband take her place and I approached him giving him a hug with no reaction from the dog.

In addition to putting their dog on the earn-to-learn program I also suggested that, for a few weeks, the wife throttle way back on her involvement with the dog so that the husband could then start feeding, training and exercising the dog. She, on the other hand, was to only interact when she had to feed if her husband was working late and couldn’t feed. The idea was to balance the owner-dog relationship more by prioritizing the husband’s role of leader and later bring her back into the picture with new rules about her relationship with her dog.

It has taken about 10 weeks of consistent work on this program as well as bringing family members and friends back into the home to complete the behavior modification exercises. I love happy endings and am delighted that this has turned out beautifully.

(C) Jim Burwell 2010