Dog on the Couch

2015-08-20 06:00

DEAR Susan, after a long time of yearning I recently treated myself and brought home a cattle­ dog. Due to unforeseen circumstances my elderly aunt has joined my household and all would be well, but “Wallaby” takes great pleasure in following aunty around, nipping at her ankles and her flowing garments. Shrieks of pain are accompanied by yelps of delight. Why does Wallaby do this and how can I stop him tormenting aunty?


From a pet’s perspective, shuffling feet make alluring substitutes for prey. Having clothes dirtied or torn and legs nipped by needle-sharp puppy teeth is no fun, but the dog has not recognised this, and aunt’s shrieks will only make Wallaby’s idea of play all the more amusing. Please note that the puppy’s behaviour is not to be construed as dislike of your aunt. Puppies and kittens spend a lot of time rehearsing skills that will be needed in their lives in the context of play. These include stalking, pouncing, grabbing, wrestling and biting.

When playing with their mother and siblings, puppies will learn what is and isn’t acceptable in play. Hurting another puppy will result in that puppy withdrawing from the game, and in this way an offending pup learns how to control the bite to an acceptable pressure. Herding breeds in particular, whose instinct is to nip stubborn sheep, will be diving at any opportunity to do their thing. An absence of playmates and exercise, coupled with an abundance of youthful energy and playfulness, is a recipe for targeting some other subject, and in your setting, for some reason that might be fathomed with some detective work, the hapless victim is aunty. Perhaps the aunt’s “flowing garments” have been the catalyst.

As noted, aunt’s screeching in response to Wallaby’s misdirected attentions is probably misinterpreted as an extra element of excitement in the activity, so this needs to change. Try to consistently divert the dog’s attention from the unwanted activity by directing it to an acceptable alternative. Throwing something like an attractive toy away from the legs when they catch the dog’s attention should prove an effective distraction. Desensitisation from the movement of fluttering material and shuffling feet or whatever mannerism it is that has aroused the puppy’s interest needs to be done in a training context and then put into the everyday situation.

Dogs receiving adequate one-on-one attention and environmental stimulation and exercise­ should not need to release energy in unacceptable ways. Teach a few tricks or obedience exercises. Some time devoted to working with the puppy as outlined should be sufficient to inculcate re-direction of the offending habit. Besides, your efforts should prove rewarding, satisfying and bonding.

- Susan Henderson(accredited animal behaviour consultant)

email: info@dogboxtraining

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