We rescued a miniature poodle in 2016. He was five months old. It has been a trying 18 months. We took (obedience) training with him and he got the basics. He just turned two and no longer eats everything he finds. But he has bitten both my husband and me on multiple occasions. I’m at a loss as what to do. I have had poodles all my life, so I’m familiar with the breed.
This is my third rescue, all my others are, and were, very sweet. He is a loving lap dog, but if you move while he’s on your lap or if you close the dishwasher while he’s licking something he will bite and draw blood. He also watches TV and attacks it whenever there is an animal on the screen. I use a water spray bottle to discourage this behavior, but he still goes right back to doing it. He is also getting very aggressive and attacking us when we put him in his crate. Any suggestions?
– Liz, West Islip, NY
Your dog is trying to control you. For now, the best way to halt this behavior is to not allow the triggers to occur in the first place. That means he doesn’t get to come into the kitchen to lick the dishes while you are loading the dishwasher, ever again. Take him to his kennel. Toss in a stuffed Kong or other treat, so he wants to go into his kennel. (The kennel should always be a place of reward, never punishment.) Then, do the dishes completely before letting him out again. See, no more biting you around the dishes.
As for the lap, he doesn’t get the privilege of sitting in your lap, if he is going to bite you later. Put a pillow on your lap and make him sit beside you. As for the TV, nix the spray bottle and reinforce your original obedience work. Practice calling him to you and giving him a treat, throughout the day for several weeks. Then, when he attacks the TV, say “here” or whatever phrase you use to call him to you. The goal is to get him to stop and look to you for the treat. Make him sit before giving him the treat.
While there is no actual cure for dog aggression, there are medications for aggression that can help when combined with a behavior modification program. So, if these strategies don’t work, talk to a veterinarian and animal behaviorist, or a veterinarian animal behaviorist, for some help. This is not dog training; it’s behavior modification, which is designed to desensitize your dog to his triggers. A behaviorist will either observe your dog (or interview you over the phone) and will outline a plan of action for you to follow closely. Occasionally, biting dogs may have to wear muzzles around their triggers until they learn to relax. A basket muzzle is not a big deal. Dogs can drink with it on and it can be removed when it comes time to eat.
During this time, make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. Also, ask your veterinarian about putting him on a low protein/high tryptophan diet. Studies have shown that increasing the amount of tryptophan in food may help reduce aggressiveness in some dogs.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, children’s author, syndicated pet columnist, and pet expert with more than 30 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to email@example.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal