The #1 Biggest Mistake I Have Made as a Professional Dog Trainer
Curious, aren’t you?
Those of you, who are familiar with my articles, know I tell it as it is and I am not afraid for other people to learn from my numerous mistakes.
Just because we are professional dog trainers doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes. We usually make them with our own dogs!
Ask any mathematician, accountant, doctor, lawyer or any other professional and you will route out mistakes. Some people readily admit to them and others…well, they don’t.
But, I am no God. I am not immune from making mistakes every now and again.
And, this time I made a BIG one! This mistake I even knew better than to make, but decided to do it anyway.
I broke one of my cardinal rules:
Never, Ever Take a Puppy Younger than 8 Weeks Old!
No excuses! Don’t do it!
Not only did I take my latest family member at 6 weeks, I did it because he had already been separated from his mother at 4 weeks.
4 weeks, *gasp…This is WAY too young!
Puppies need their moms for essential learning and especially bite inhibition.
Puppies grow and develop and explore their world with their little mouths and tiny, sharp teeth. And, when these teeth inevitably find their momma’s leg or paw; she strikes back delivering a punishing blow and an experience they will likely not forget.
Moms don’t usually hurt their puppies; they are simply quick to put an end to hard and inappropriate biting, possessiveness and aggressive behaviors amongst her pups.
This interaction is crucial and often humans are unable to duplicate the strict force needed to teach young puppies not to bite.
And, other dogs can injure puppies with no bite inhibition.
What I Should Have Done….
When I found out the pups had been pulled from their mother and all other adult dogs at 4 weeks, I should have declined taking a pup from this litter and I should have found another litter that had the experience of living with mom.
BUT… I figured since I was a professional, I could help get this puppy what he needed at a young age.
I assumed that my dogs could teach him how to act.
I Was Wrong….
Now first let me explain myself…
I have had true genetic working dogs for over a decade. Those that have come from top line competition lines and those from working dog lines (police K9 etc.). So working dogs and their issues are not new to me.
I have dealt with possessive and aggressive puppies before, but never like this one.
At 6 weeks he bit an adult dog in the leg over a bath mat and was over corrected by the adult dog resulting in a swift bite to the puppy face and the loss of a couple of puppy teeth.
He Has No Bite Inhibition and is EXTREMELY Possessive and has a Terrible Temper!
Now, if you know me, you also know that I too compete in the world of dog bite sports so to some degree this is expected, and wanted but never have I had a puppy that could not integrate with my adult dogs.
Usually they can be possessive with me or other humans but when they are puppies they are accepting of the pecking order of the adult dogs.
Not this puppy, he has no respect and despite his horrible bite to the face, still no fear.
So What Do You Do?
To some degree I have to accept what I have, learn to train and live with him.
I know that you would like me to tell you that there is some miracle cure for this puppy. But there is not, it just is not that simple.
Instead, he is going to be a lifetime of maintenance.
He will need to be separated for every meal, not only from people he doesn’t know (I am working with his acceptance of me being around his food) but also for my other dogs and other animals.
He has no doggy social skills, and the lack of these skills puts him at risk for an attack.
He has no appeasement skills. Let me explain. Most puppies get into the face of an adult dog and eventually that dog may get tired of being poked at and climbed on so the adult dog will snarl or growl and the puppy (having been taught by his mother) immediately rolls onto his back may put his head down or otherwise show appeasement skills; showing the adult dog he is sorry he made a mistake.
My puppy on the other hand, gets more aggressive when an adult dog gets irritated with his poor behavior and threatens to lash out in heightened aggression and anger.
This means that he will probably never be able to go to dog parks or play with other dogs.
With time and obedience, I should be able to teach him how to act around other dogs and socialize him safely by teaching him to simply ignore other dogs. But he will probably never be able to be trusted to play with them without the risk of a severe dog fight.
And, make no mistake without obedience and teaching him around other dogs he would probably become severely dog aggressive. So, I will have to do all that I can to socialize him without allowing a negative experience to happen and I must be in ultimate control at all times.
Right now all of his interactions with my dogs are completely controlled (except for my 12 year old dog that mothers him to the best of his ability; without hurting him).
Obedience will rule his world and already does at 9 weeks! He has already been taught to tolerate me around his food bowl and my hand in his food bowl and he has learned how to sit, lie down, stand and put his head down on command.
This obedience helps his lack of impulse control, by forcing him to learn impulse control.
He Also Bites ME as HARD as He Can…
He simply doesn’t realize he shouldn’t bite me so hard.
And sometimes he bites me because he is angry that I have taken away an object or blocked his access to something he wants.
I have cuts and puncture wounds all over my arm from him biting too hard because his mother wasn’t there to teach him.
Sometimes he wraps his whole mouth around my arm and bites down over and over again rolling his eyes back into his head as if he was getting some kind of pleasure out of it; almost like he is nursing.
How To Stop this Biting
I have to redirect him when he starts biting, by giving him a toy or something appropriate to chew on.
I have also used bitter apple on my arms, hands, feet, pants to keep him from mouthing me.
When he becomes angry I have to remove myself from the situation. If I use punishment his aggression is likely to escalate and become much worse.
But ultimately the obedience I have taught him is the key to keeping him from injuring me along with lots and lots of exercise.
When he sleeps, well that is my favorite time of day! So, I must exercise him and his mind almost constantly to keep from falling prey to those jaws.
- I run him on my agility equipment
- I socialize him with other people (he is very social with people, it’s me he likes to bite)
- I walk him back and forth around my yard
- I let him chase toys
- And I teach him obedience skills! At 9 weeks he probably knows more obedience than some adult dogs and this keeps him preoccupied when his teeth come out I can tell him to do something else for a toy or a treat!
This dog is not going to be easy to own. He is going to be a lifetime of maintenance, obedience and control and I know that and am willing to put in the time and effort.
But take a lesson from me and don’t do this to yourself! Not all puppies separated from their mother at a young age will become like this, but you run a much higher risk of these behaviors by taking an uneducated baby!
Make sure that your pup has been with his mom; and don’t take him before 8 weeks of age! Mom has lots of life lessons to teach him, that we as humans simply can’t…instead we are left to a lifetime of lessons and maintenance.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.