Q: I have a 2 year old, 80 lbs mutt that I adopted when he was about 5 months. At that age, I used to always have problems walking him, where he would jump on me, growl and try to bite my hands (he never did this with my boyfriend). I was finally able to correct the behavior but now when I take him to a closed-in area and unleash him, he’ll start running around me in circles, barking and jumping up to snap at me. I’ve tried ignoring him, walking in the other direction, bringing treats along with me (which he will calm down long enough to take, but resort right back to his behavior a few moments later). It’s almost like a game to him. I’m at a loss at what to do, I’m afraid he might do this to someone else, who may not take it so lightly.
Hi there Sarah,
Thanks for writing in with such a good question! It definitely sounds like it isn’t much fun when your dog decides that it’s fun to play with you in such an undesirable manner. I’m happy to hear that you’ve been able to manage him when it comes to his walking, and his behavior on the walks though! You mention that your dog has never done this with your boyfriend, does this mean that your dog doesn’t jump up on him, bark and snap at him while he’s in an enclosed area with your dog off leash as well? Or does your dog only do this with you? If your dog doesn’t do this with your boyfriend, then that suggests to me that your dog takes your boyfriend seriously when it comes to leadership. Does your boyfriend live with you and your dog? Does your boyfriend partake in the caring of your dog? All of these are questions that would help me determine how your boyfriend and dog relate to one another.
When you mention how you deal with your dog when he’s doing these unwanted behaviors, you mentioned trying treats to keep him preoccupied, so that he will calm down long enough for the treat. I suggest you refrain from offering him treats as a way to pacify him, as this is only rewarding him for the behavior that you don’t want. Treats shouldn’t be used with a dog as a form of negotiation. They should only be used as a reward for an earned behavior. So, if you give him treats when he’s jumping all over you, barking and snapping at you, then he’s learning that this undesired behavior pays off best for him. We do need to keep in mind that dogs will always do and choose to partake in behaviors that pays off best. We just need to teach your dog that remaining calm with you is what will pay off best for him.
I am very happy to hear that you haven’t been trying any punishments with your dog to deter him from these unwanted behaviors. Some people suggest pinching the dog’s toes, kneeing them in the chest, or jerking on the leash when they try to jump up onto you. None of which I recommend at all, as they do nothing to actually teach your dog. Remember, punishment is something that will either scare, hurt, or excite your dog…and a dog who is scared, hurt, or excited cannot learn. One of my mantras is that it’s much easier to teach a dog what you want him to do, rather than trying to teach a dog what you don’t want him to do.
Controlling this behavior needs to start before you enter the enclosed area, well before you unleash him. He should be well exercised before you start asking him to behave calmly. He should have ample opportunity to burn off any excess energy that he may have. We have to keep in mind that a hyper dog will not be able to learn while he is in that state. Only once he has been exercised, would I attempt bringing him into the enclosed area to be unleashed.
When you enter the area, your dog will have to earn his freedom, and being unleashed should become his reward. When you enter the area, make sure that he is calm upon entering. He shouldn’t be bouncing around. If he is, then you need to wait. It would also be a great time to ask your dog to perform some basic commands, such as sit, down, and/or stay. Offering him an acceptable behavior choice, to replace the unwanted ones is a great way to teach your dog how you want him to behave. This is conditioning him to act the way you’d prefer him to act, rather than letting him do what you don’t want him doing. Teaching your dog basic commands is also a wonderful way to get your dog to work, while it stimulates him both mentally and physically. It’s also a great way to enact your leadership skills with your dog.
Since I am not there to witness how you and your dog behave together in an enclosed area while he is off leash, it becomes difficult for me to determine exactly what he is doing. I am not sure if he is trying to play with you, or if he’s trying to herd you, or if he is becoming aggressive with you, although I am leaning more towards the playing/herding aspect, based on what you’ve told me. This would greatly help me in helping you, as I’d know more of what to focus on. If he’s only playing, then I’d try bringing a ball or some other toy to get him to focus on something other than you, where he can chase it, put his mouth on it, all in an acceptable manner. Even though he’ll be playing with a ball, he’ll be playing ball with you, especially if you teach him to fetch. Since he tends to run in circles around you, I would not encourage the ‘chase me’ game with him at this point. (Many dogs LOVE this game!)
If he is actually trying to herd you, then you need to offer him other outlets where he can satisfy his instinctual, genetic needs. He’ll need to work more, in form of various physical and mental work outs. Long runs, biking sessions, treadmill time, scent and tracking sessions, basic training sessions, and various forms of play where his mind is stimulated, such as the ‘shell game’ or a good game of ‘find it’, or even hide and seek. All of these will help him satisfy his genetic energy. If he is trying to herd you, when you are in the enclosed area, you can also keep him on a long cord, without a handle/loop on it, so that you can control what he does when he gets close to you. If he starts to jump on you, you can step onto the cord, which will prevent him from getting any higher. At this point, the stepping on the cord becomes self correcting to the dog, which will help him learn quite quickly. Keeping him lower to the ground, so that he cannot jump up at you, will also lessen his ability to snap at you.
You might also want to check out the archives for older posts that deal specifically with jumping, nipping and unruly behavior as well, as there are posts that deal with each.
Since the issue you bring up has the possibility of having many facets, it might be best if we actually spoke together, so that you could fill me in on some things that I am unaware of, that would greatly help narrow down what your dog’s issues are. Feel free to contact me, without any obligation, so that I can narrow things down more, to better help you!
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