Tips to Get a Miniature Schnauzer to Stop Nipping Running Children

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 11, 2017

Lucy (left) is an eight-year-old Miniature Schnauzer who lives in a home with twelve-year-old Stormy (right). Their guardians are fostering a pair of five year old Schnauzer’s (middle and available to adopt) for Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue; Jake and Gracie. The foster guardians set up this dog behavior training session to train Gracie to not nip the family’s toddler when he runs or moves too fast.

I had previously worked with this family a few years ago. The only dog remaining from that session was Stormy who seemed to remember me. The other three Schnauzers spent their time barking, running around and jumping up on me as you can see in the video below.

When I sat down with the guardians to discuss the situation, I learned that the guardians had stopped enforcing the rules we introduced at our first session a few years ago.

Dogs go through life probing to determine boundaries and test the authority of those around them. Without the humans enforcing rules and boundaries, the new dogs were confused as to their role in the home. Some dogs nip to correct or disagree and that is likely the case with Gracie. Over the course of the three hour session, I did not see any aggressive behaviors from her whatsoever.

To help the dogs start to adopt a follower’s mindset, it will be important that the humans start acting like leaders and enforcing rules is a great way to start that process. I suggest some rules and ways to enforce them in the video below.

Dogs react to us based on how they perceive us. Many humans think the dog automatically sees them as authority figures. After working for years as a dog behavior expert, I can assure you that is not the case. Its all about what the dogs see us actually do.

By consistently enfacing rules and boundaries, the humans can help the dogs see them as authority figures each time they correct them.

Anyone who reads my posts knows, Im a big believer of the power of positive dog training and using positive reinforcement. I never want to say that petting a dog is wrong, but petting a dog at the wrong time can reinforce the wrong thing. Anything your dog is doing when you pet it is what you are rewarding.

To help the guardians start petting the dogs for desired actions and behaviors, I went over my Petting with a Purpose philosophy. You can learn more about this positive dog training secret by watching the video below.

The more the humans ask the dogs to sit or lay down before petting them, the more inclined the dogs will be to engage in those behaviors. This is one of the easiest things you can do to help it learn to practice basic dog obedience.

Another really easy thing to do is what I like to call Passive Training. Its another positive dog training trick and you can learn more about it by watching the video below.

Both passive training and petting with a purpose are easy, but take a week or two for the humans to get into a habit of doing them. But if they can get into a habit of doing so, every time they pet the dog, its like a mini dog obedience training session that happens without even thinking about it.

Something else I wanted to share with the dog’s guardians was how to move in ways that help the dog respect the human’s authority. When a dog is serious about something, its willing to spend energy to get its point across. I have come up with a way for humans to adopt part of this way of interacting. You can find out how by watching toe below video.

Training a dog to defer and move out of your way is very under appreciated. But when you have small dogs or dogs who aren’t respecting you as an authority figure, this small change to how you move around your dog can pay off big time.

While we were talking about training dogs to move out of the way, one of the guardians mentioned its sometimes challenging to get some of the dogs to drop things. Especially high value (i.e. inappropriate) items.

I pulled out some of the high value training treats I like to use and showed the guardians how to train a dog to drop things on command.

I also wanted to share some other dog training tips and dog behavior secrets to help the humans disagree with unwanted behaviors by knowing what the warning signs are. I shot a video of this, but unfortunately there was a file corruption and I wasn’t able to use that video.

Some of the warning signs or signals a dog uses to disagree include the following:

  • Freezing in place.
  • Licking of lips.
  • Staring, either directly or looking slightly off to the side.
  • Breathing heavily or holding its breath.
  • Bearing teeth or snarling.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Hackles going up (hair along the dog’s spine).
  • Tail going straight up.
  • Growling.

I suggested that the guardians film Gracie the next time their son is doing anything she seems to disagree with or be uncomfortable around. Being able to play this video back on a big screen, pause it, or use slow motion can make it easy to spot Gracie’s warning signs. Knowing what to look for can make it much easier for the humans to interject or disagree before Gracie feels the need to nip.

Now we were ready to work on Gracie’s nipping behavior. From what the humans detailed, I am more and more convinced that this nip was the dog’s way of disagreeing with movements that caught it by surprise or disagreed with. Many people think a nipping dog is aggressive, but it most cases, dogs who nip are doing so as a warning or attempt to get something to stop.

To help Gracie learn to develop a new behavior in these situations, I used a combination of counterconditioning and desensitization techniques to help her develop a positive association with these movements. I explain how to do this in the video below.

Counterconditioning isn’t hard, but it takes a lot of practice to become fully effective. And the exercise must be done right. If the dog is reacting, the humans didn’t read her warning signs. This will result in work that wont help with the behavior problem. The key is to keep practicing at a level where the dog doesn’t feel a threat or reason to respond. Only once the dog is comfortable at that level should the human’s bump things up by increasing he speed, decreasing the space or increasing the volume.

Id like to see the guardians practicing this counterconditioning exercise at least once daily (more is better and will result in faster progress) for each activity that Gracie is reacting to. The guardians may need to make a list of these scenarios and practice them one at a time until they extinguish that specific behavior for good.

By the end of the session, the dogs were barking less, looking to the humans for guidance and leadership and Gracie wasn’t reacting when the toddler moved by quickly. This does not mean the problems are gone for good. It will take some time and practice, but from what I saw, there were no behaviors (including her nipping) that were really engraved or can’t be addressed.

Gracie and Jake really are a great pair of dogs. Playful, happy, smart and fun loving with big personalities. I have no doubt that they are going to make a great addition to someone’s home.

While Gracie did nip the family’s toddler twice, she did not follow through, bite hard or attempt to do any damage. I read these interactions as a dog who didn’t know how to deal with a running child while she was still adjusting to a new home. With some practice at the techniques and exercises I went over in this session, there is a strong chance this unwanted behavior will be fixed by the time the dogs are adopted into a new home.

Because they have always lived together, Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue; is looking for new guardians who will adopt both dogs together. If you are interested in adopting them or getting more information on this pair of Schnauzers, please use this link.

We wrapped up the session by shooting a highlight video filled with all the dog behavior tips and dog training secrets I shared with the guardians in this session. You can check them out for yourself in the video below.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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