Know Your Pooch
My dog is a vicious biter
‘My dog is a vicious biter,’ rang up a friend one day. He said, that no maid is prepared to come to work in my house, my friends and relatives too have started avoiding visiting our place and above all he is such a dog that except me, he doesn’t spare even my children. What to do? How do I cure such a dog?’ He pestered me with innumerable questions. About a year ago, the same friend told me that his daughter has been pestering him for a puppy and he has bought a puppy, a cross between a ‘pure’ Rottweiler and a ‘pure’ Labrador retriever. He gave more emphasis on the purity of the dog’s ancestry without knowing anything about dogs.
A majority of the dog lovers think man’s oldest friend dog is just like any other animal. Bring home a dog, tie him with a stout chain and collar, feed him milk and roti and lo, you have a companion for 12 years! Wish it was that simple. Like human beings, dogs to have a psyche and each individual, irrespective of his ‘purity’ has a behavior, which can be normal or problematic. A five year old child from an impeccable family background throws a tantrum in a Mall, he lies on the floor, bangs his head, screams and shouts because he wants a toy that is beyond the budget of his calm parents. Or a teenager attacks his classmate after the school, whips out a knife and slashes the arm of his mate, in a fit of anger. Both types of children have psychological behavioral patterns, knowledgeable parents try to counsel the child to bring him on the right track or consult a psychologist.
However, in case of a dog it is not so, because as I said that most dog lovers think ‘a dog is a dog, feed him well and take him to a vet periodically for checkups.’ It is correct to some extent, a good feeding and regular checkups keep the dog physically fit; but what about his mental health? Like my friend, most of the people remain blissfully unaware that a dog can have psychological problems too!
If your dog continuously growls and snaps at the first opportunity, he is suffering from an abnormal behavior. This has nothing to do with dog’s size or breed. Some breeds have been branded as aggressive, like Rottweiler. Yes, it is an aggressive breed if reared by ignorant owners, in some congested rooms. If a Rotty is kept in a farmhouse and properly trained and exercised, no other breed can match his loyalty and attachment with the family.
But the main issue is why do dogs become aggressive and how to cure then? Aggression in dogs can be due to several reasons, for example: Territorial instinct compels a dog to protect his master and his home. He may turn aggressive while protecting his territory and master Some dogs are possessive of master’s clothing, sock etc. and if someone tries to snatch it, get bitten. Majority of animals do not want to be disturbed while having food. In nature and also at home, many times their food is snatched. Thus, he attacks people to keep them at bay. Let the dogs be dogs. In case there is a fight between dogs, never try to break it because as a result of redirected aggression and one of them might attack you! A dog suffering with pain can become aggressive, while you may be trying to assuage him! Dog is a predator and for him there is no difference between a moving Scooty and a running child. He can attack both; presuming them to be his prey.
Now let us discuss how to cure your dog. A very dear friend had an absolutely normal dachshund. All of a sudden at the age of eight the dog became a vicious biter. He asked me to have a look. I found that the dog was chained, the same creature used to come running and jump into my lap. But that day he watched me wide eyed, barring his teeth and growling. Dog was eating normal and his other parameters were normal. He was taken to a Vet and was diagnosed suffering from a brain tumor. Poor creature died soon. The moral of the story is that if your dog becomes aggressive all of a sudden, better consult a vet immediately.
Once the vet says there is no physical problem, then either consult a dog behavior specialist or start correcting the dog yourself. For example, if dog attacks a stranger who just comes close to you to get directions to some place. Ask that person to stay away from you, let the dog feel that you are safe. After he goes away, reward the dog well. Next time let some other stranger come closer and gradually close enough to shake hands. Each time the dog must be promptly rewarded for behaving properly. Over a period of time dog understands that if he remains calm, he gets a reward.
Punishing a vicious dog is not going to lead you anywhere. Except that he may become more aggressive. But a reward for behaving well is a better way to treat him. If your dog is chary of children and you have children at home. Then you may have only one option that is to give the dog for adoption by a family where only adult are there.
The aggressive traits are in the genes of a dog. Sometimes the aggression overtakes their normal behavior. One has to understand his dog, observe him minutely and gradually wean him away from aggression. To begin with, I have said in the initial articles that while a pup is having his food, constantly move the food towards the center of his bowl with four fingers of your hand and while doing so, keep assuring him in a soothing voice. Also with the other free hand stroke his body. Thus he begins to accept the hands and trusts that these will not snatch away his food.
Likewise, there are problems while administering medicines or injections to dogs, particularly the adults. The fear of pain and also the fear of hands suddenly touching his mouth make him aggressive. Please go through the previous issues of this magazine and learn how to give medicines and condition your dog to accept injections without much fuss. Aggression is sometimes inherited as well. Hence you must insist to see both the sire and dam before buying a dog. But in case you are adopting a dog, then treat him well, rear him with love, keep him disciplined and leave certain things on your and his fate.
Teach you pet the super command ‘Fetch’
I was around ten years old when a relative came to stay at our place with his Alsatian bitch Queenie. On return from office he used order her, ‘fetch my slippers’, and Queenie would run and fetch them and place them neatly at his feet. I was able to teach many a things to my dog, but I could not fathom how a dog can be made to fetch! My dogs used to run after the ball or sticks thrown and would pick them and come towards me, but as soon as they were within reach, they would run away. This was usually followed by a game of ‘catch me if you can’ in which the dog always won. About six years later, my dilemma was solved by Raja Bajrang Bahadur Singh of Bhadri. He was a connoisseur of Alsatians and a superb trainer and knew very well what a dog was. Once I understood the reason why a dog fetched, developing a training method was easy. Dogs have a natural instinct to fetch things. Instinctively they carry the chunks of flesh in their mouth from the just made kill to their lair. This wild instinct persists despite domestication. They start treating their bed as their lair. Remove the bedding and often you will find his favorite toys or even pieces of food concealed underneath. So strong becomes the attachment with bedding at times, that some dogs resent if it is removed for washing. ‘What this trait has to do with teaching a dog to fetch,’ one might wonder! The connection lies in the fact that what starts as carrying objects/food to his lair, develops into a habit of carrying such objects to the leader to please him. Till the age of around three months he brings toys, sticks or whatever you throw and delivers it to you in the hope of a smile or an affectionate hug from you. But the day he develops a ‘bolt complex’ he changes the game to ‘catch me if you can’. He fetches the object, comes near but runs away the moment you try to grab him. See the twinkle in his eyes at that moment. If somehow you catch him, he gives a deep throated growl to scare you away. A dog trained to fetch can be easily exercised. Many times the master is not in a position to walk endless miles with his dog or the compound/area of the house is too small for the dog to have a free run, so fetching a ball gives a vigorous work out to the dog. Not only exercise, fetching an object opens doors to train the dog for scent work and also to guard. In short, ‘Fetch’ is a command which if a dog learns to perfection is a gateway for further advance training. Best time to train your dog to fetch is after he has been walked enough to dissipate his energy and he is slightly calm. You will need a suitable object for the dog to fetch. I find a light weight wooden dumbbell with adjustable bells to snugly fit the cheeks of the dog. This is important, because a dog may fetch any object, but he will not repeatedly fetch it during the training sessions if the object is not comfortable and convenient. There are a number of rubber/nylon toys also available in the market. The disadvantage is that dogs like them so much that they do not want to part with them easily. In addition to the dumbbell a choke chain with a 10 feet long nylon, webbed leash are essential. You have to go back to the room from where you started on day one. Slip on the choke chain the right way and attach the leash. Make the dog sit and stay on your left, his muzzle in line with your knee. Keep the other end of the leash under your toe. Hold the dumbbell in your right hand and hold the muzzle of the dog with the fingers of left hand. Give a slight pressure at the hinge of his jaws. This will compel him to open his mouth. Keep talking to him gently and the moment his mouth opens slip in the dumbbell with your right hand in his mouth. Simultaneously encircle his muzzle so that he can not open his mouth. The moment the dumbbell is held by him give command ‘Bozo Fetch’. Count up to five. And again gently press his muzzle from sides he will open his mouth, take the dumbbell in your right hand and praise him a lot. Make lot of fuss, scratching his chin with all the happiness on your face. Repeat the process, next time count up to six. Dog soon learns that holding the dumbbell in his mouth and giving it back to you makes you happy. And he enjoys the game. Generally by next day or at best on third day dog starts coming forward, opens his mouth without any pressure from your fingers and takes the dumbbell. He also gives it back the same way. At that stage you can introduce another command ‘Bozo Give or Cease’. This makes him learn that two separate actions are required by him; one to ‘Fetch’ the object and another to ‘Give’ it back to the master on command. Practice the two commands of ‘Fetch’ and ‘Give’ for another three days while the dog remains sitting. Once you feel that the dog has understood the commands, it is time to teach him to pick the object from floor when you command him to ‘Fetch’ and deliver it in your hand on command ‘Give’. He learns this part very fast as your left palm which was earlier blocking his view briefly as you tried to open his mouth stops bothering him. Now comes the next part of the training when he is required to ‘Fetch’ the thrown object. Tie a 4 feet long thin flexible wire on the dumbbell. Keep the other end of the wire under your toe. Throw the dumbbell carefully at about three feet away. Mind you dog should always be in sit, stay position, hence he should not move unless commanded. To make it further fool proof, keep the extra length of the leash under your toe, so that he can not lunge for the object. Ask the dog to ‘Fetch’, pointing towards the dumbbell. You may ask him to ‘Go Fetch’. He will get up move two-three steps, pick the dumbbell and return to you smartly. Make him sit in front of you. Then ask him to ‘Give’ the dumbbell. Receive it in your both palms. Thereafter praise him a lot. Suddenly you realise that you have almost cut across a major barrier of communicating with your dog. He sits besides you and walks to the object and picks and brings it back to you. Once he perfects the art of retrieving from a short distance, you can throw the object to a longer distance, but certainly not more than the length of the leash! After he comes back and delivers the dumbbell in your palms, swiftly hold his leash and make him encircle you in a clockwise direction, with command Heel. Since he has already learnt the command it takes him less than a second to make out what you want him to do. He sits besides you smartly and awaits your next throw. Once your dog has perfected the commands, you can remove the leash from under your toe and throw the object at slightly longer distance. Gradually you can change the venue from the room to your compound. However, please do not remove the leash, let it trail. This makes the dog believe that he is still connected with you and he forgets the thought of running away. Even with leash trailing you can make him practice till he becomes an expert. I strongly advise even at this stage do not commit the mistake of making the dog retrieve in an open park, without leash. They know very easily if the leash is not there and run away pretty fast. If that happens, you run in the opposite direction reversing his game of catch me if you can. Once he comes to you, take him back to the room and start from day one again. Though I wish you don’t have to repeat it!