“We have a one-year-old Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix. We have had her since she was a few weeks old. Neighbors found her, she was abandoned, we were looking for a dog and took her in. When she was a puppy, she would bite on your hand/wrist area. We tried correcting that by telling her "no" or "no bite" and things got better. She would also nip at your feet, we figured this was due to her Herding instinct. Now, however, she is really biting.
I try to wipe her paws off when she comes in the house (due to the rain.) She bites on the towel and then bites my hand. This morning, she nipped, growled and bared her teeth to me. There have not been any new occurrences in the house. Nothing abnormal. Why now is she doing this? Does she have an ALPHA/pack leader mentality?
She is defiant; does not want to come into the house when you tell her to. Is there hope? I don't like the biting. Also, when someone comes to the house, she barks incessantly. There is no stopping her. I'm afraid to have someone in the house for fear she will bite them. We put her in the garage - but again, she bites us in the process. Any light you can shed is helpful.”
- Collie Owner
Dear Collie Owner,
What you have happening is not uncommon in the early stages of a relationship with a dog. As we progress the dog excels in this behavior in an aggressive stance. In most cases dogs who mouth at a young age are dogs who want to play (read Biting Puppy article for more info.) In the play format, which is normal in the dog world, becomes an establishment of dominance. When a dog becomes dominant, in most cases, the dog feels it has no choice and this is where stress becomes prevalent leading to aggression. Dogs do not want to lead, they are not programmed to do so.
Right form the start I can see where the dog is behaving the way she does. She is only correcting you as you have corrected her. One cannot correct a dog unless they have established a relationship and therefore have earned the right to do so, and this begins the moment you bring the dog home. It isn’t the correction that breeds the respect, as some trainers teach their students. It is more like the dog is looking for fair and guiding direction as opposed to condescending tones leading to correction.
For example, "No-no! No biting," grabbing its snout, etc., is condescending to a puppy who is only doing things that come natural to it based on what we show the dog as to who we are. The fact that the puppy herds you “nipping at your heels," in the dogs eyes you are prey and prey is something to take advantage of or control. What we needed to do is re-direct and harness prey drive to work in our favor. In retrospect, this would have established your leadership in a fun and manipulative sense. I teach my students from the very beginning that noble, strong leaders know how to cause their subjects to follow based on trust, without threats or pain, using their subject’s virtues in their favor.
In order to alleviate this, a couple of things have to happen. First, we must change our behavior and remove all of our habits that cause this reaction from your dog. We’ve all been there; catching ourselves and relaxing before we let out the huge sigh is difficult to do, but not impossible. Second, we need to re-build the foundation of breeding respect and knowing how to find that. "SEE WHAT OUR DOGS SEE IN US" is the key to understanding this issue. Secondly, how did we show our dog with our actions to act this way? Don't blame it on genetics as many dog behaviorists and people do these days. The only thing genetic on a dog in a primitive sense is simple: "LEAD ME OR I WILL LEAD YOU." You choose which one happens, the dog should not.
In order to begin to breed respect you have to remove all issues of fear, anxiety and resentment on your part because this only causes things to accelerate. Sure, the dog seems ferocious, but if you feed into it, the dog will get more intense. Breathe, stay calm, and the dog will follow your example. The dog will think “okay, mom’s not upset, so I’m okay.”
If you are using your crate, there needs to be a regular scheduled routine that the dog knows as a daily exercise or part of its life. If you can e-mail me back as to what a regular day is with your dog I can help you set a schedule.
Only have the dog with you when you are training it or the process is going to be a long, drawn-out one. Start from the beginning as if you have just acquired the dog and know what is needed to do, begin the Whelping Box Theory. We need to go through all the drives; Food Drive, Prey Drive, Pack Drive, Defense Drive. The first three drives need to be understood managed and used properly as a progression of the cure. If these drives are not handled properly then what happens is the Defensive Drive becomes prevalent. This is what you have now, but this most certainly can be fixed.
Socialization being the next key; Indirect Presence, Direct Presence and Confrontational Presence of stimuli, and knowing what is used to stabilize the dog. The dog will need to trust you in order to deal with these issues.
For now I want you to feed the dog in the crate, cut back on 20% of the food. This builds the dog’s Food Drive. Use the remaining 20% for training (teaching sit, recall, etc.) My Whelping Box Theory covers this in detail. Though you can’t use food forever, it builds a good foundation through the dog’s most sacred drive, the Food Drive, and then you can graduate through the other drives. (I am trying my hardest to get my book out! I promise!)
For coming out of the rain, just have her stand on a towel, hold food or a ball in your hand don't let her jump up to grab it from you. This way the towel will soak up her paws.
Put her in her crate when she comes in. If you are going to crate a dog, take the dog for a walk, play with it, and train it, this will exhaust the dog.
Do not acknowledge the dog for its bad behavior, set up things that are positive like a good sit and praise the dog.
In order for this to be cured, you will need professional help and follow the guidance of someone who can do this for you and get you through (make sure you choose one that doesn’t use pain or forced submission in any way, this will accelerate your aggression situation.) Many dogs have been cured of these issues. It is paramount that you start right away and re-channel through a daily work-in-progress format. I have helped many through the e-mail process of training and have geared this to work. If you wish to begin I need you to think about how we as humans may have put the dog in a expecting situation innocently enough to be a house pet.
I have always said that the job a dog has as a family house pet is one the the most demanding jobs of all (even beyond search and rescue, Schutzhund, agility, etc.) because it requires extensive training and management. I have a piece I am working on called "House Pet Expectation Syndrome." It will be part of my book and it fully explains the events on an daily basis that leads to the problems we have with dogs today. Your dog, through no fault of your own or the dog’s, is suffering from this. It can be easily changed if you are open to it.
Hope this helps in some way,