You ask – we answer:
Q: I have an 8-week-old black lab puppy that loves to bite and chew on my hands. What can I do to help him break this habit? I keep chew toys all over the place, but he seems to be more interested in chewing on me. I will be traveling with my sister and her small children soon and don’t want the puppy to chew on them. Please help!
A: Mouthing and chewing are a very natural part of a puppy’s development. Puppies learn through their mouths. You need to teach your puppy the appropriate use of its mouth. When you interact with your puppy make sure you always play and even pet with a toy in your hand. Dogs think in black and white, so you need to be consistent! Make it a rule to never allow teeth on skin. When your puppy’s teeth touch your skin make a sharp, firm noise such as “Egh, Egh,” and end the interaction immediately by freezing briefly and then walking away. Your puppy should learn that when his teeth touch your skin, interaction with you instantly ends. Mouthing and chewing the appropriate articles, like toys, means more fun and interaction with you. Make sure your puppy has chewies that are tasty and appropriate. Do not give too many at one time or your puppy will get bored. Frequently change out the toys and chewies to keep interested up.
Q: I think my dog (a Shih Tzu) has a split personality. For example, he loves my mom and will jump on her lap and sit there while she pets him. But on two occasions he has turned around and bit her (while looking totally calm the second before the bite). Please advise.
A: There could be several different reasons for this issue. If aggression suddenly starts with a dog you should consult your vet. It could be that your Shih Tzu has some pain, and when your mother touches a certain spot on him it causes the aggressive reaction. This is something you would want to rule out with your vet before you seek behavioral help.
If your vet does not find a cause for the aggression, then you need to look to the behavioral side. He would need an evaluation based on his age and the history of aggression. In the meantime, do not allow him to jump up onto a lap. Jumping on the furniture is an act of dominance. He should only be invited up on occasion, petted for a short period of time and then go back to the floor. I would also make him earn rewards such as sitting on your lap. For example, have him sit and wait a few seconds before you invite him up. By having him earn rewards, you create more value and he will appreciate the time more. You also need to make sure he is getting enough exercise. Dogs will develop a host of issues when they do not get enough exercise. Even though he is a small dog, he still needs to walk in heel position and not stop to sniff and pee along the walk. If things do not improve, and his vet check comes back clear, you should seek professional help. He might need more intensive behavioral counter-conditioning.