biting issues - reassurance please

(19 Posts)
legendofzelda Fri 11-Oct-13 13:15:18

Hi all, have been lurking here for a while since we got our puppy in july and am now in need of some advice please from you wise lot!

We have an adorable little cocker spaniel, now five months, who is a complete poppet in nearly every way - so far so smug....

However, we have recently had a few incidents (3 this week, hence the plea for help) of him biting my daughter (she's 10, he only bites her, not my other 2 children btw) in the face. Definitely not playbiting which has now just about stopped - this is accompanied by a definite snarl and lunge and has marked/broken the skin each time. I know that puppies do bite/nip so not totally freaking out, but obviously keen to sort out before it becomes a habit.

It tends to happen in the afternoons/early evening and often after a busy day so am assuming he is tired and probably overstimulated. Often it's when he's lying down and looking a bit tired but hasn't yet gone to sleep so I think it's him saying 'I'm knackered, leave me alone!' (On each occasion she has done nothing wrong, just sat down near him or given him a stroke and he doesn't growl at all beforehand as a warning, has never really growled at anything.)

So my plan is: 1) Make sure I put him in his crate regularly during the day for naps rather than letting him conk out on the carpet so he doesn't get overtired. 2) Supervise him more closely around the kids and limit the chaos/noise levels around him so that he doesn't get to the point where all his tolerance is used up. 3) Help my daugher work on her body language around him so its less stressful for him (she is a bit squeaky/flappy by nature!) and getting her to feed him his meals/give him treats sometimes so he gets a more positve association with her.

Does this sound OK? Should I also be doing a firm no and/or time out so he doesn't think this is an appropriate way to communicate 'leave me alone'?

thanks in advance for any words of advice, sorry so long....

poachedeggs Fri 11-Oct-13 15:01:44

OK, no time to go into details but this is not "without warning". He will be giving negative body language signals, they just aren't being identified. These signals can include things like looking away, licking his lips, yawning, holding his ears flat/back (harder to identify with spaniels), a closed mouth and tight muzzle, showing the white of his eyes. I strongly suggest you buy Life Skills For Puppies by Mills and Zulch, and read it together with your daughter. It will help you up tune in to his body language.

Your daughter should not interact with the puppy unless she has initiated it by calling him over to her with a treat to reward him for coming. She should not approach him while he's resting, instead calling him to her, although if he's tired she should accept that he has a right to peace and quiet and leave him alone. If he wanted to be petted he'd choose to be with someone.

It is vital that you prevent this situation from happening again. Not just because of your daughter's safety but also because if your puppy learns that people do not listen to his body language he will very quickly learn that he has to bite in order to get his message across.

You would not be overreacting if you were to book a session with an APBC dog behaviourist in order to help you all understand him a bit better smile

noddingoff Fri 11-Oct-13 16:03:44

Um, the dog has snarled, lunged, and bitten the child in the face on several occasions? This is definitely not "normal" behaviour for any age of pup, and a 5 month old should have got over all but the most gentle mouthing by now. I do like your thoughts of how to help the situation (though would NOT get your daughter to feed him or give him treats yet as introducing food risks inflaming the situation) but I think you definitely need more than this- you need professional help with him, right now.
I would get an APBC consult booked as a matter of urgency- ask your vet to refer you if necessary- and in the meantime keep the pup crated when your daughter is loose.

legendofzelda Fri 11-Oct-13 23:14:47

thanks for your replies, much appreciated - I suppose I was hoping this would be something easily solved/grown out of as he is such a gentle lovely boy 99% of the time - it just seems so out of character...
I guess you must be right about us missing the warning signs - I do know roughly what to look out for but I must be misreading them as really don't see him doing many of these beforehand but will spend more time watching more closely.
have had a good day today as my daughter has been trying really hard to interact less and more appropriately and I have been crating him more so he seems less tired and more relaxed.
I will call a behaviourist to talk it through though - think I've been in denial a bit as, like I say, he's such a poppet the rest of the time :-(

legendofzelda Sat 12-Oct-13 02:55:47

Can't sleep as feeling distraught that we might have an aggressive dog on our hands - I just can't make sense of it in what to me seems like such a little puppy (literally just turned five months this week) with mostly such a nice friendly nature - from what I read I'd thought (or maybe hoped?) that this is too young for 'proper' aggression at this age?
Aaah, going round in circles - possibly just in denial cos we all adore him so much and therefore making excuses for him

poachedeggs Sat 12-Oct-13 06:42:52

Look, dogs don't show aggression lightly. They're cooperative animals by nature. Aggression is a last resort. Don't label your dog "an aggressive dog" just yet. But it is important to take this seriously - what they will do is learn that aggression is effective in getting them what they want (in this case, some peace and quiet). So you need to prevent him repeating this so he doesn't learn to resort to biting quickly.

He isn't too young for proper aggression, but neither is aggression an inherent personality trait. Why don't you devote today to getting in touch with a behaviourist? Your plan sounds good but I think you need the confidence which you will get from having outside help. Please just ensure they are APBC/APDT/COAPE listed - a dodgy behaviourist can make things a lot worse.

idirdog Sat 12-Oct-13 08:33:13

Aggression is a symptom not in itself a behaviour. It is usually caused by fear or frustration. eg The dog is fearful of a situation and to avoid it will show aggression to make it stop.

Dogs are not aggressive just for the hell of it.

So as owners and trainers this makes it easier to deal with in theory smile Prevent the situation that is causing the frustration or fear and there will be no need for the dog to be aggressive. Alternatively change the dogs behaviour to a situation or event and they will not need to show the aggression.

I would contact a trained professional asap to help you to prevent this from escalating. Dog behaviour will not get better on its own but with correctly targetted advice and training this situation can be prevented from happening again.

APBC or APDT (personally not a great lover of all COAPE trainers as they do not all have a large amount f practical knowledge)

poachedeggs Sat 12-Oct-13 09:16:29

That's interesting idirdog. I know a couple and have worked with one recently and they have been very good, but they started out as trainers then studied IYSWIM. I will bear this in mind! smile

Good luck OP.

legendofzelda Sat 12-Oct-13 09:59:40

ok, thanks everyone - that makes a lot of sense idirdog about changing the situation that is causing the problem - will contact a behaviourist today to get some advice too

LEMisdisappointed Sat 12-Oct-13 10:15:34

I think you have to ask why it is that its only your 10yo DD that is having a problem. It is about finding out what she did to make the dog scared of her - now im not saying she has done something nasty or is mean to the dog, i'm sure she hasn't. It is probably more about her getting in his face/space and smothering him, being overly loving, stroking him when he is in his own space, asleep and her not reading his body language. She is probably doing all this with the best will in the world an loves the dog. It may be something as simple as her accidentally treading on his foot or something similar.

I often use the saying "my ears are flat on my head" to mean that i am scared or anxious because that would be what our dog did. Thats the thing with body language though, its subtle. Just as your DD may be missing that the dog doesn't want to be cuddled etc, your dog may be missing that your DD wants to play as a threat. The key is turning this around and creating a positive association with the DD.

One thing you could try is that your DD becomes the person who feeds the dog, puts him on his lead ready for a walk (it might not be appropriate for her to walk him at her age, just yet) and also only pets and strokes the dog when he comes to her. Just few ideas, but your DD will need some help on how to behave around the dog now because just as sthe dog is now wary of your DD your DD is probably wary of the dog and its become a circle. He doesn't sound aggressive though.

Contacting a behaviourist definately a good idea but make sure they are approved.

Booboostoo Sat 12-Oct-13 11:35:09

Don't try anything, don't think this through on your own, get a professional to assess the dog in your home and give you advice. In most cases behaviour can be modified relatively easily but this is a problem that could have serious consequences and you should not try to deal with it yourself.

While you wait for the behaviourist minimise the contact between your DD and the dog, especially at times when you think he is most likely to react this way.

legendofzelda Sat 12-Oct-13 12:18:25

LEM, all my instincts tell me that's what it is - a miscommunication in some way that's made him anxious around her. I really, really don't think my dd has hurt him deliberately, she loves him to bits and is very gentle with animals (has had lots of hamsters/guinea pigs, etc and always treated them very well) but yes, I can see she is probably interacting in a way that seems unpredictable to him, and like i said she is a bit squeaky and wriggly as a person so I can see that this may have made him feel unintentionally threatened by her.
Funnily enough just this week he has been a bit nervous around a couple of people we've met out on a walk which he hasn't done since he was tiny and first being socialised, normally dashes up with great confidence to say hello to everyone he meets - am I right in thinking they go through a second fear phase at this point? Wondering if she has inadvertently freaked him out at a point when he is also feeling a bit nervous about life in general...
Will work really hard on supervision and positive associations and looking up behaviourists now

moosemama Sat 12-Oct-13 14:37:45

I think you could be onto something with the second fear period, all the more reasons to get professional help to sort it out, as it makes it even more important it's handled properly.

legendofzelda Mon 14-Oct-13 11:44:13

Just to give you an update, had to rush the puppy to the vet today as after a walk he was clearly distressed, whining and shivering - turns out he has probably strained his hip (no obvious limping though which is weird) and possibly has early onset hip dysplasia sad(really hope not and just a one off injury) - the vet has prescribed painkillers and told us to rest him for the next week.
When I mentioned he had had a few uncharacteristic aggressive moments in the past week he thought very likely they were pain triggered which makes me feel a bit better about the whole thing - as it is dd who does the most petting and hugging of puppy I guess her most likely to have hurt him accidentally and be on the recieving end. Feel really guilty as had never occurred to me he was in pain and have been walking him as normal all week, poor little chap.
Have still got the behaviourist coming later this week and have insisted that all the kids only interact with him when he seeks it out and under close supervision, but really hope once he feels better he will be back to his normal soppy friendly self.

moosemama Mon 14-Oct-13 11:53:35

Oh no, poor puppy. sad

I suppose at least you have a probably reason for the aggressive behaviour.

I really hope it turns out to be just a strain and he's feeling better really soon. flowers for you and [we need a dog biscuit emoticon] for pup.

legendofzelda Mon 14-Oct-13 12:01:24

thanks moosemama, the poor little boy - guess being in pain could also explain why he didn't seem his normal happy self on walks - feel awful I missed it

bergedorf Mon 14-Oct-13 15:52:27

I wish you all the best. Our puppy also started snapping at 5 months and we are still working with APBC behaviourist. It's due to fear and is taking us a long time to resolve. It's also more directed at my 10 year DD than my DS which is hard for her to cope with. Let's hope it's a pain issue rather than anything more deep-seated.

LEMisdisappointed Mon 14-Oct-13 15:57:07

At least you have an indication of what triggered him to snap. Shame he is in pain though, my dog bit my dd once and it turned out to be in pain, poor thing.

Booboostoo Mon 14-Oct-13 17:00:40

Poor little man! It does explain the bitting though and if that is the reason once he is pain free you should have your normal, loving puppy back.

Do seek a specialist opinion on the possibility of hip dysplasia if the problem does not go away. Ortho vets can offer you more treatment options than local vets (who are very competent, and very well meaning but they are not specialists).

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