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Aversion therapy, retraining without pain

Moving on from pain inducing training equipment that is supposed to correct a dog’s behaviour, I had a recent request from an owner asking to purchase a citronella collar. They said that their little Maltese was always barking when her husband was leaving the house. Not only barking but also their dog was nipping at his ankles. Even for a small dog, its sharp little teeth hurt.

The dog is not being aggressive, only playing an old genetic game that teaches dogs hunting skills. When played with other young dogs those dogs nipped will yelp in a high pitch if they are timid or if they are dominant will make a deep gruff bark. These barks make it obvious to the biting dog that they will not tolerate such nipping.

This is fine for a dog playing with other dogs but if the dog does not have any dogs to play with it can only play the game with the owners. In many cases, humans do not know how to play the game correctly. The dog only thinks the owners when they are trying to push it away are only playing so it will continue the game but still nipping hard.

I asked all the normal questions to learn more about their inter actions with their dog but in my reply I asked her husband to do a small test for me. When he next attempts to leave their house and as their dog rushes towards him, I would like him to try the following method. As his dog attempts to nip at his ankles he should turn round, getting as low as he can and whilst rushing his face towards that of their dog, give his best mimic of a dogs GRRRUFFFF bark or a very deep No right into the dogs face and then tell me what happens. Their reply was success. Their dog backed off and has now given up this game.

Another owner wrote that their little dog would, as soon as friends left their house, charge at them nipping their ankles. In this case, the dog did not bark so the citronella collar again was of little use. There was the remote controlled version but at 220 euros, this was a little expensive and best left as a last resort.

The dog would not bite the owners so I asked if they had a friend that their dog would nip as he left their house. They said that they had a friend who could do this so I suggested they purchased some small balloons. They should then blow them up and using masking tape, they should then fasten them to the legs of their friend so the balloons covered his ankles.

My hope was that as the friend left the house the dog would try to nip his ankles again and would burst the balloons. Possibly the bang would be a sufficient deterrent to stop the dog from doing this in the future.

About a week later, I received a telephone call from the owners to say it had worked successfully on the first attempt. Their dog had indeed tried to nip their friend but only succeeded in biting the balloon. The resulting bang did in fact stop it in its tracks. Later when their friend got up to leave again, the dog did look up but then considered it should leave well alone. Other people have now been able to leave the house without any further problems so it would appear balloons were a success.

One other use for balloons came in from America. The owners of a smallish dog had the problem that he would keep going into their kitchen dustbin to steal thrown away food. He also left all the rubbish all over the kitchen floor. How do you stop a dog doing this?

My suggestion was to purchase a balloon that when blown up would just fit inside the bin. After a while when the dog tries to get to the food at the bottom it will burst the balloon and the resulting bang should stop the dog. Two days later, I received an email to say their dog had indeed stopped going into the bin.

One problem that came in a few weeks ago was a dog that slavers a lot and would insist on resting his jaws on the owner’s legs, particularly when they were eating something. They told me they never gave the dog titbits for this obvious reason but the more they tried to stop the dog the worse it became.

My dog Winston has a similar problem. If he sees food, he immediately starts to salivate but at least he will go away when told to do so. The question was what is the dogs problem and why when told to go away does it only make him more determined to rest his jaws on the owner’s legs.

What we have to look at is what is driving the dog to do this. It cannot be the food, as the owners do not give him any. Certainly, food probably starts the dog to salivate but it was more probable that the dog was seeking attention. Pushing the dog away or even telling the dog to go was not having the desired affect but for the dog, it got its attention so it was happy.

This is an annoying problem especially as the dog also did this to their friends. Whilst wearing old clothes were acceptable, when they were all going out to an evening dinner the dog could easily ruin their clothes and their night out.

So how do you stop this happening? Most people would problem shout at the dog even pushing it away, but this is actually what the dog seeks. It is not the food or aperitifs prior to going out though yes it will make the dog salivate.

The way I suggested they should retrain their dog was to ignore him. They should eat something and have an old towel on their lap and as soon as their dog approached them, they should look away as if their dog does not exist. Sit there and read the paper but no eye-to-eye contact with their dog. If their dog was persistent, the owners should without looking at their dog simply get up and walk away.

If they do not look at their dog whilst its head is on their legs, after a while providing they do not acknowledge their dog actually exists, it should eventually walk away.

For instance, Winston will sometimes come into my bedroom if he thinks I am getting up because I have made some sound. I know he is there as he comes right up to me putting his face almost into mine. My cure is to pretend to be asleep. Eventually getting no response from me, he will walk away and out of the bedroom. Once he has settled down, I will then get up. What I am doing is stopping Winston learning he can come in and wake me up. I for one value my sleep. I certainly do not appreciate a cold wet nose pushed into my face or my face licked first thing in a morning.


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