Dear Miss Behavior, My dog Tika is an eight-month-old Terrier; she bites my feet when I’m on the phone or the computer. She also bites at my ankles when we’re playing outside or walking through the house. She sometimes bites hard enough to break the skin. What do I do?
The little ankle-biter has learned that she gets attention when she does certain behaviors. She is also entering adolescence which means she’s starting to challenge the world around her. First you need to make sure you’re consistent with your rules. Don’t allow her on the couch one day and then punish her the next day. It’s important for her to know what to expect from you.
Now to deal with the nipping and biting. Not only is the chasing, pouncing and biting very fun for her (after all that’s what Terriers do when they go after rodents), but she’s also rewarded when you yell and push at her. So you need to make a plan on what you’re going to do when she starts after your feet.
You need to begin rewarding her for what you want. Write down all the times she exhibits the behavior, then decide what you want her to do to ask for your attention. You said she often attacks your feet when you’re on the phone or computer. If you’re unable to interrupt your phone call, or stop what you’re doing on the computer to correct the behavior appropriately, put Tika in a crate with a stuffed Kong® or a good tasting chew toy so she’s unable to practice the bad behavior.
Now for the training part. At the first sign of her focusing on your feet stop moving and say “Ah-ah!” We often use “No” way too much with dogs and they learn to ignore it. Using a low sounding noise that she may not have heard before is better. Be sure to reward her if she backs off and doesn’t continue with the behavior. You could throw a toy or treat for her to go and get or just say “Good dog” in a happy voice.
It might be useful to have her drag a ribbon or small leash at first. This will allow you to get control over her physically without touching her (touching can be rewarding.) If she continues the behavior and begins pouncing on your ankles, use the long line to stop her and gently escort her to her crate. She needs to remain in her crate for a few minutes then quietly release her. She needs to learn that puppies that don’t play nice, play alone.
Make sure she’s getting plenty of physical and mental exercise. You will want to take time to walk her and teach her fun tricks. Letting her occasionally ‘hunt’ for her food is a fun game for her. Just scatter her food over the kitchen floor and let her hunt for the small pieces of kibble. When she gets good at the game, in the evening, you can shut off your kitchen light so she has to use her nose to find her food.
Finally, stop wearing your fuzzy bunny slippers, as comfortable as they are, they’re just too much temptation for a terrier.
Thanks to this feature goes to Greater Lincoln Obedience Club, who ran the Miss Behavior Dog Advice Column in their newsletter. Appreciation also is extended to Marcy Graybill, a trainer at GLOC and the expert behind this column. She also hosts her own blog, Dog Log, where she talks about training adventures with her dogs.