Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bowser the Biter

Breed:  Lhasa Apso
Age: 2 years
Prognosis:  Dominant Aggression

Bowser nips and barks at guests, is possessive over his owner, and attacks other members of their dog pack.

Upon first entering the house I made a big mistake, I looked directly at Bowser as he was barking and growling at me and made eye contact.  This is something you should avoid when confronting an unstable dog.  It is in our natural instincts to look directly at things when first meeting them, but in the case of an unstable dog, it is not a good idea.

The owner had put Bowser on a leash to answer the door, which is something I told her to do over the next several weeks or so whenever someone comes over.  The best way to make sure no one gets bitten is to avoid the possibility.  Putting Bowser on a leash helps keeps guests safe from injury and gives the owner better access to address the problem.

The owner and I chatted for a bit and then decided to start the session with an exercise on the couch.  One of Bowser's issues was that he was very possessive over his owner, demonstrated by the fact that no on was allowed to sit by her on the couch.  As soon as I first attempted to sit by her, Bowser attacked, biting me in the leg.  He then quickly jumped off the couch and continued to growl and lunge towards me.  At this point it is most important to stay calm.  You must never use anger or frustration when dealing with an unstable dog.  Although he had bitten me, and yes it hurt, he did not cause any serious damage, and its definitely expected when dealing with a biter.  I stayed calm and applied the method made famous by Cesar Millan, simply making a "shhhhht!" sound while standing calm and assertive.  This method has worked time and time again for me on numerous occasions as it did now.

We worked on Bowser's possession by having me claim several places in the living room as my own. This is something I especially recommend to people with new puppies.  Randomly when your puppy has claimed a space and is laying down, go over and gently push the puppy out of that place then sit there yourself.  Always remember, YOU ARE THE BOSS!

I then had the owner put Bowser on the couch next to her and sat on the opposite side.  I showed her the bite technique (using your fingers as though they are teeth and your hand the mouth).  This technique mimics the bite of a more dominant dog and tells Bowser that this behavior is not acceptable.  The owner saw this technique work immediately.

I talked with the owner and the other members of the household about the importance of claiming everything in their house as theirs.  Even if the object is a dog toy, it is THEIR dog toy.  They are only letting Bowser and the other dogs use the dog toy.  It is important to claim everything as your own so that when a dog has something he is not supposed to, he will give the object up without question.

The owner, Bowser and I then went out for a walk.  I reminded her of all the proper procedures when going out for a walk.  First and foremost, the owner ALWAYS goes through all doors first.  The dog must wait calmly at the door and follow the owner out.  Bowser actually did fairly well on the walk.  I am proud to say that the owner does walk her dogs, and the dogs walk next to her as they should.

When we returned to the house we tackled the issue of Bowser attacking other members of the pack, specifically Bo, a 9-year-old Peekapoo.  For this exercise I had the owner put Bo in her lap, which automatically triggered Bowsers aggression and he came in right away for a nip at Bo.  I further demonstrated the bite technique for when Bowser came in closer than he should.  The owner again saw instant results.  We used treats to maintain interest in the exercise.  Keep in mind that Bowser only got a treat when he was calm and maintained his boundaries.  I emphasized the importance of always making Bo feel safe from now on.  As the owner it is our responsibility to make sure we maintain the balance of our dog pack.  During this exercise Bowser bit me, Bo, and one other pack member, but this is not what we take from this experience, we instead remember that by the end of this exercise, Bowser was calmly sitting while we were able to pet and treat other pack members.  That's whats important!!!

I finished my session in their fenced yard with all the dogs.  I demonstrated what I call "putting a dog down."  This is not to be confused with euthanasia.  When I refer to "putting a dog down," I am referring to physically showing your dominance over a dog by putting him down on the ground and making his submit.  Keep in mind that this technique is not for everyone.  When using this sort of technique it is monumentally important that you follow through.  If you let a dog up before he fully submits, the dog wins and the exercise has only provided the dog with further evidence that the behavior you were actually trying to stop is a behavior that is rewarding.  This technique should only be used if you have the confidence to follow through.  I say confidence because when using this technique the first few times, it is possible you will be nipped at or even bit.  This technique should ONLY be used if you have been properly shown how to do it.

Treatment Plan
*Use a leash at the door whenever possible.
*Leave Bowser's leash on during exercises and when people are over.  He is a small dog and moves very quickly.  The leash will make him easier to catch and then correct.
*Work on exercises with Bo in the owner's lap and correct Bowser when he approaches the wrong way.
*Put Bowser in his kennel for bed time.  He chases Bo under the bed normally.  Putting Bowser in his kennel before this behavior usually occurs will help curb the behavior and help Bo feel safe.
*Reclaim the entire house and take over Bowsers spot whenever possible.
*Put Bowser down into submission when he is out of control.  Follow through.

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