Ask the Experts: Puppy Biting Problem
This question was submitted by one of our readers. If you have a pet care or pet behavior question, send it to Ask the Expert and we may feature it on The Water Bowl.
I found your website. I guess you could say I am searching for answers. I have a 8 month old goldendoodle. She was without litter mates. She was taken from her mother at 7 weeks. We bought her from a pet store that had her for 1 week prior to us buying her. She has always exhibited fear of everything around her. She has always been a “mouthy” dog – nipping at our pant legs, biting our hands, etc as a puppy. She was starting to calm down some when she went in for spay surgery. Since her surgery 1.5 months ago, she has started “biting” my 20-year-old son when he is home. She will not leave him alone. She is not drawing blood and her tail is wagging when she does it, but she will not stop. It is getting where we have to crate her in the evening when he is here. He has never even yelled at her so we do not get why. I took her to the vet and we were told she may have a severe genetic anxiety disorder and that we may have to “put her down” and were referred to a behavioral psychologist vet. My husband feels there is something wrong with her and that she can never be trained and wants to get rid of her. Can we deal with this or is our dog a hopeless cause? We do not see the psychologist for 2 more weeks. What can we do in the meantime or in your experience is there something really wrong with our dog.
A desperate dog owner
So sorry you are having a hard time. There are several things that stuck out to me right away after reading your email. We have just posted a blog about Puppy Mill Awareness and I feel like several things you mentioned we mention in that blog.
Before I get started – please know that it is very hard to offer specific solutions without meeting and evaluating your dog first hand, so I’ll provide some general advice and information that could work for you.
With that said, based on your description I don’t think there is anything seriously wrong and I don’t think your situation is hopeless.
Your puppy was taken from its mother at 7 weeks or earlier, this is illegal in many states. A puppy needs its mother for at least 8 weeks to grow healthy and strong, but it also needs its litter mates for socialization. Puppies learn bite inhibition from their siblings, since you said your pup had no litter mates, it sounds like maybe she didn’t learn this.
Aside from her age there are many other factors that may affect her behavior. If I were talking to you in person these are just a few of the many questions that I would ask to try to better understand what might be contributing to your dog’s undesirable behavior. How much exercise does she get? Have you taken her to a “puppy kindergarten” training class? Do you socialize her? Does she spend time playing with other dogs?
Nipping and mouthing is normal puppy behavior and a dog can be trained to stop. She could also outgrow it since she is still very young. Either way, she is not too old to learn bite inhibition and never too old for training. If you are willing to put some time and energy into training your dog, and if you connect with the right resources, I’m confident that her behavior will improve.
It doesn’t surprise me that your pup goes after your son particularly. My own dog plays much rougher with my male friends than he does with me. It sounds to me like your pup is just doing normal puppy biting, but may be more intense than average because she didn’t learn bite inhibition. If she does not draw blood and her tail is wagging, it is possible that she thinks it’s a game. Just like children, dogs need structure, rules, and boundaries. Puppies in particular have to be taught the “house rules” about what behavior is acceptable and what is not. Things like couch privileges, leash walking, and how rough is too rough to play are all part of this process.
Concerning your vet’s advice on euthanizing your dog, personally, I think that seems very extreme. Your dog is not even a year old yet and still a puppy! Puppies are kind of a pain, that’s why they are so cute, they NEED to be. I would suggest a consultation with a reputable dog trainer and a 4-6 week positive reinforcement based obedience class. Our staff have had great experiences with the Zoom Room which has several locations in Southern California and nationwide. They offer a wide variety of classes from Puppy Pre-School to “Calm Down” that might really help your situation. A quick google search for “positive dog training” in your area should help you find local resources. You can also ask your friends and neighbors, or even your vet, for recommendations.
Regarding the genetic anxiety concern, this is one of the reasons why puppy mills were noticed in the first place, because they often breed dogs with health and genetic problems and care primarily about making a profit so these issues are not a big concern to them. People purchase dogs and the dogs often get sick, sometimes very soon after they have been purchased. This is such a problem that there are puppy “Lemon Laws” and lawsuits happening right now. If you ultimately discover that this is a genetic issue you may be entitled to compensation depending on the laws in your state. For more information on what options you may have, check out the HSUS Puppy Mill FAQ page.
As for your vet – Do you like him or her? Do you feel that your vet understands your situation and has given you the best advice? Vets are just like doctors, it’s always good to get a 2nd or 3rd opinion, especially when the potential “treatment” is this drastic. There are even anxiety medications and calming products that may help in some situations – did your vet discuss any of these with you?
Lastly your husband… Almost every dog can overcome their issues with the help of dedicated owners.This is the best advice I can give via email, having never met you or your dog. I hope there is something useful in here that will help you. Please feel free to keep me posted on the situation!
Almost no dog or situation is hopeless. I see and hear people struggling with all sorts of problems every day. You are not alone! I think seeing a behaviorist is a an excellent idea and will hopefully help you understand all of your options.
I have included some links to related articles that will give you some more information. I also suggest reading a book about Dog Behavior, and picking up some calming chews and starting some training. Try and hang in there and always be proactive. You may need a mix of training, socialization, behavior modification and medication to get your dog to a happy place, but almost every dog can get over their lot and fit into your life in harmony.