Dear Miami Dog and Puppy Trainers,
My puppy just received his third vaccination from the series of four and he should receive the last one in 2 1/2 weeks. He won’t be able to attend group classes until then and we’re having a small issue at home. Every now and then he will snap at us. It will usually occur when we do something that he doesn’t like, for example, this morning he tried to eat our other dogs food and I used my body to walk him away from the bowl, but when I reached down to grab his collar he turned and snapped. It will also happen during play sometimes. He will get worked up and excited, I’ll attempt to push him off the couch and tell him “off”, and he’ll snap at me. Immediately after he’ll hide from us or put himself in his spot as if he knows it’s wrong. Is this common? How should we deal with this? Are we maybe doing something incorrectly that is causing him to snap?
An American Bulldog owner in Brickell, Florida
Dear Puppy Owner,
I’m sorry to hear your puppy has been snapping at you. I know it can be very frustrating. The good news is, we have plenty of time to correct this behavior since your pup is so young. It’s common behavior, but certainly not appropriate for a puppy living in our home. It’s really important that you do two things immediately:
1. Your puppy must be on a leash at all times indoors for the next few weeks. This way when you want to remove him from an area or move him away from a food dish you are physically able to do so without fear of being snapped at. This is extremely important because realize that every time you react in a scared way to his snapping or you back off when he snaps at you (it is instinctual for us to back off when an animal snaps at us!) you are teaching him that aggression is a good strategy. So, with a leash attached, you will be able to control his movements more and insist that he do what you’d like him to do without a) offending him (many dogs find collar grabbing to be threatening, and technically in their “world” it is) b) allowing him to create a habit of snapping at you. Dogs repeat behaviors that work so we certainly cannot let him learn that being aggressive works to get what he wants.
2. Take extra time everyday to desensitize him to collar grabbing. Get a high value food treat, and start by grabbing his collar in a gentle way then while you’re holding onto his collar give him the food treat. Let go of his collar when he’s done chewing the treat. You will repeat this over and over but increase the intensity at which you grab his collar. Meaning… you will ultimately want to grab at him in the same way that you might quickly have to grab a child from touching a hot stove….fast and deliberate. If he is non reactive then you should immediately provide a treat each time and a LOT of praise! You want to make him understand that allowing you to grab him whenever you please is a happy experience and that he will not be in trouble. This also means that you can NEVER grab him if he IS in trouble.
You need to teach your puppy that your hands are for praise, not punishment. Often times we teach dogs and puppies by accident that hands are sometimes used for punishment and so they naturally become defense or aggressive towards our hands being on them. This does not mean we have to hit our dogs, but simply use our hands to do something that is “punishing to the dog.” For example:
Your dog is out enjoying playtime in the yard. He will not come in when you call him so you walk out and grab his collar and bring him inside. The dog learns that having hands put on him CAN lead to punishment. The punishment was having playtime end and having to come inside where it’s boring.
Your scenario of him becoming snappy when you ask him to stop doing something he’s enjoying (being on the sofa, eating, etc) is him telling you that he does not want you near him or your hands on him at that moment. Him running and hiding afterwards is an avoidance behavior, further communicating that he really doesn’t want to be around you anymore at that moment because he is uncomfortable. This has nothing to do with him knowing he did something “wrong.” You should not chase or bother him if he provides avoidance behavior. We PREFER avoidance behavior over defensive behavior like snapping.
So the biggest thing to keep in mind is that we have to make him feel comfortable WHILE making sure he clearly knows that he has to do what we want. We will insist on “our way” in the most non confrontational way possible and that is with a leash. You can easily pick up the end of the leash and move him when you need to this next few weeks and show him that your way is the only way (tough luck!). If he happily complies praise him, maybe offer a treat or offer to play.
Also, it is typical that a bull-breed (really any dog but especially bullies!) who is highly aroused has a shorter fuse. That is why during play when he’s all worked up he’s willing to get assertive with you. There is a fine line (neurochemically) between a high-arousal level of play and aggression. Maybe try and pay more attention to how excited he’s becoming so that we don’t push him over his threshold. If your american bulldog puppy does not already know how to do a tug & drop on command, it is really worth teaching him this exercise so that you can safely play with him but keep his arousal level from getting to high.
Dogs will be dogs 🙂 Know that the behaviors are NORMAL but obviously not safe for our live with a dog in our home. Which is why we’ll try the leash strategy to steer him back in the right direction. Aggression is an animal’s natural way to create SPACE and protect RESOURCES. Keep in mind that true leaders in both people and dogs never treat aggression with aggression, and do not use aggression to get their way. Your puppies’ snapping is not about gaining a higher status in your home, but instead about his insecurity over how he is supposed to respond.
Miami’s expert Dog and Puppy Trainers at www.applauseyourpaws.com
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