My miniature poodle was a rescue. I was recently put in assisted living, so my daughter agreed to take my dog. The problem is, he has a bad habit of jumping and nipping people, mostly men, in the behind of ankle. I have not been able to break him of that habit. Could you help? It only happens when the other person walks away.
– Connie A., Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota
Small dogs and puppies bite ankles for various reasons. Sometimes because it’s fun to do; sometimes because they are afraid and it’s easier to attack a threat when it’s moving away.
The trick to reducing a bad behavior is to introduce a new behavior in its place. So, tell your daughter to pull out the leash and a clicker and begin training your dog. Have her teach your dog to make eye contact with her first. This involves saying the dog’s name and when he looks at her, clicking and giving the dog a treat. Once he has that down, she needs to just stand there and every time the dog makes eye contact with her, she should click and give a treat. This training will build a bond between the two of them and ensure he looks to her for instructions.
Next, have her reinforce his “sit” and “stay” commands, so she can use these commands when someone gets up and walks away. If he listens, reward him with a treat – or a toy if he is toy motivated. A toy can serve as both reward and a distraction.
If he doesn’t listen and still chases after feet, tell her to continue training, but put him on a leash when people are present until he learns to listen off-leash. Re-training him will take time, but it’s well worth the effort to change his bad habit.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal