After Biting Her Owner in the Nose, Ginger Learns to Respect Authority

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 30, 2014

Ginger and CocoGinger is a three-year-old Blue Heeler Lab mix, pictured here on the left with her room mate, a former bait dog named Coco.

Ginger was adopted three months ago. Her owners called me for help after a recent incident in which Ginger bit one of her owners on the nose.

When I first met Ginger, she was excited but showed zero signs of aggression. Coco was very excited too and his owners were having difficulty controlling him so they put him in another room so I could focus on Ginger.

I showed them a technique to use when Ginger got too excited. Whenever you have multiple dogs living together, its natural for the dogs to increase their energy level to match that of the dog with the most energy. If the difference is too great, the calmer dogs can become stressed out as they are outside of their normal energy level. As a result, its important for a owner to intercede and correct the over excited dog.

Its not unusually for a dog to see and identify itself as equal or superior to the authority of their humans when the humans don’t incorporate rules and structure and the dog sees. When I asked what sort of rules or structure they put in place for the dogs, both owners struggled to come up with any. This is pretty common for my clients, and is usually related to the problems their dogs have.

If Ginger’s nose bite wasn’t due to over excitement, its a good bet its due to the dog disagreeing with the human. Dogs bite to communicate with other dogs when a dog doesn’t listen. Its possible her owner was pulling Ginger in a way she disagreed with and that the owner didn’t see her attempts to disagree with him so she took things to the next level of communication, a bite.

I suggested that their owners start adding some basic rules and boundaries and helped them come up with a few that won’t take up much time but will help the dogs start to see and identify their owners as authority figures. Because Ginger wasn’t displaying any dominant or insecure behaviors, changing the leader follower dynamic should help prevent any future disagree bites from happening.

Next I demonstrated a leadership exercise to help to further define the leader follower relationship to Ginger. It was obvious Ginger didn’t have complete respect for the authority of her owners. She wasn’t defiant, but she was selective in responding until we ran through the exercise a few times. When I heard her owners tell each other they couldn’t believe how well she responded, I knew we were on the right track.

Her owner said they Ginger “went wherever she wanted” when she walked her so we went outside for a quick walking clinic. I started out walking the dog alone so they could observe my movements and corrections. When I returned to their driveway, her owners told me they wished the dog behaved for them like it did for me.

I handed her the leash and coached her on a short walk until the dog was responding the same way for her. She was so happy it was almost contagious. I coached her other owner through the exercise with equal success before we headed inside.

As we started to wrap up the session, one of Ginger’s owners asked me about a dog training technique that involved “taking the dog’s air away.” I always grimace when a client references a negative or punitive dog exercise or technique.

For years, dominance theory was the default opinion by most trainers and sadly many still use these methods. In my opinion, things like alpha roles, dominating a dog or punitive corrections are both cruel and ineffective. Anyone can overpower a smaller dog. But overpowering or intimidating a dog into submission is harley the foundation of a healthy relationship.

I strongly suggested that the owner forget every technique, exercise or correction that trainer had taught her, but it turns out I didn’t need to make a case. “This is a total transformation,” she told me. “I can’t believe what a difference you have made with them in a few hours. Its like they are completely different dogs.”

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