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Stop Dogs from Biting

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Bob’s new corgi pup was really cute and forever bringing him a ball or a shoe demanding a game. But her favourite was tug-of -war.

Bob had bought a thick rag cord which Tessa, a very determined player, would hold on to forever, growling furiously all the while. Eventually when Bob had had enough he would laughingly give in leaving Tessa proudly victorious.

But one day, in the heat of the game, Tessa nipped Bob on the finger - and discovered that he would smartly drop the cord.

Bob excused the dog’s behaviour thinking that she was a "bit excited". But a week later she tried it again and once again "won" the cord. A couple of weeks later she gave him a nip on the hand when he bent down to pick up her ball.....

He eventually came in for advice when Tessa, who had been curled up asleep in Bob’s chair, bit him quite badly when he tried to move her off.

The problem here was that Tessa now felt she could dominate Bob. Dogs are pack animals. They feel secure only when they have a place in a hierarchy - and the establishment of their place in the pecking order is an important component of their early playing behaviour.

When you see a litter of pups having a rough and tumble - bowling each other over, grabbing each other by the scruff - you need to realise this play has serious undertones. They’re working out who the "top dog" is and just where each one fits in.

So when a pup comes to a new owner it needs to re-establish its place within its new "pack".

Playing is also an important part of bonding between owner and dog. It provides stimulation and exercise - and it’s a new lot of fun. But approached wrongly it can cause problems.

Bob made a couple of mistakes that unwittingly contributed to Tessa’s increasingly dominant behaviour. First, he let her decide when games would be played by nearly always responding to her "requests".

Also, the tug-of-war kind of game where dog and owner are competing is asking for trouble. A dog’s jaws are extremely strong and you will probably get bored before it lets go.

Every time you let the dog "win" it feels more dominant. This will lead inevitably to confrontation such as Tessa "claiming" the chair.

- Virginia Williams & Bert Westera