Stopping a Dog From Biting People Who Pick Her Up

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 16, 2020

For this Omaha dog training session worked with a pair of Jack Russell Terriers; sharing tips to stop 2 year-old Juju from biting people who try to pick her up and build the confidence of 5 year old Ed, who is anxious around new people or situations.

When I sat down with the dog’s guardians I learned that most of Jujus biting came when she was asleep or on someone’s lap and someone came over to pick her up.

I always try to use analogies when discussing dog behavior problems and so I asked the guardians how they would feel if every time they went to sleep, someone came over and woke him up by giving them a shoulder rub followed by telling them how pretty there are. The first time it happened you probably take it as a compliment, but after that, you’d be like let me alone and let me get some rest.

Many people are unaware the dogs give consent, we just think what I’m about to do, petting, is a positive thing so it’s OK to do it any point. But just like humans, there are times when a dog would prefer to be left alone.

I suggested that in the future if they wanted to pet a dog that was on someone’s lap, they call the dog over to them. If the dog refuses, it’s the dog‘s way of saying I’m not interested.

If the dog responds, the best thing to do is to reach out to interact with them when they come over to you, but stop a few inches short of making physical contact. If the dog leans forward and touches your hand, that is the dog giving consent.

I made sure to also point out the more common signals a dog gives when they don’t wish to be interacted with; turning away, lowering their head, backing away, ears pulled back, freezing or literally moving away.  By learning to read the dogs signals and respecting it when it wishes to be left alone, I think most of the biting problem will be eliminated.

Juju also had a problem with one of the guardians in particular. She didn’t like interacting with this guardian but I believe some of it was based on a lack of listening and consent.

To build up some positive associations, I showed the guardians a simple hand targeting exercise that went over extremely well. I would like to see this guardian practicing this exercise with Juju three or more times a day in different rooms and in different postures. Because the game has some built-in consent, it will build a positive association and also help human and dog practice respecting boundaries.

But Juju dog didn’t like to be picked up. In many cases it would be because the dog is not interested and is not giving consent. For this reason I recommend that the dog bed should be off-limits to the humans. Giving the dogs a safe place is very wise as it makes the dog feel comfortable and relaxed.

But because Juju had been correcting with her mouth when people didn’t listen for so long, she had gotten out of practice of being picked up in a positive way. To stop the dog from biting people who try to pick her up, I went over a positive reinforcement exercise to change that. You can learn how to teach a dog to enjoy being picked up by watching the free positive dog training video below.

I would like to see anyone that the dog does not like picking her up practice this exercise with her three or four times a day in short practice sessions in different rooms.  It may take a couple of practice sessions before the humans can even make contact with Juju, that’s OK. The main thing is that they need to learn to read her body language and signals and stop before she feels the need to use her mouth to say no.

If the guardians go slow and practiced this secret to helping a dog enjoy being picked up, I would imagine within a week or two, they should all be able to pick her up without getting bitten, provided she is interested in being picked up in the first place.  And everyone in the home can do this, even if they dont work as a professional Jacke Russell dog trainer.

Throughout the session, I was also trying to build up a positive association with the other dog, Ed. Ed is a rescue dog and is very uncomfortable interacting with new people.

I tossed treats around to get him moving both towards me and away from me. Not only did this help create a positive association, it also helped the dog practice moving away when he was uncomfortable.  All this seems very basic and logical to us, but dogs are very front facing and often they don’t realize they can move away when they are uncomfortable.

I recommended the guardians should not try to correct or disagree with Ed when he offers a growl towards a new guest or visitor. This is the dog’s way of communicating that he is uncomfortable. If you were uncomfortable and every time you expressed yourself, someone told you to shut up or shushed you, it would make you probably feel more frustrated and amplify the problem.

A much better solution is to hand the guest a number of treats so that they can toss them in front of the dog as well as away from the dog to get it moving forward and away when it growls.

When they are doing this, the guest should ignore Ed and not try to look at him call him or try to pet him. The more space they give him while tossing the treats, the more comfortable the dog will become. If they are patient and respectful of his space, it shouldn’t take long before he comes over to them and starts taking treats from their hand like he did for me.

I covered her a number of other dog behavior tips in this in-home Omaha dog training session. To help the guardians remember them all, I recorded a roadmap to success video that you can watch below.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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