By Sophia Yin, DVM, MS July 4, 2009
I have been raising a Rottweiler puppy since she was 1 week old. I’ve worked at a small animal practice for 5 years—and a breeder came to us with a 5 day old female puppy who’s hind leg was bitten off just above the tarsal joint by another dog– the breeder wanted her euthanized, but I asked for her to sign ownership to me and thankfully she did.
She is now 11 weeks and I’m getting discouraged with her behavior. She continuously bites at your hands, arms, ankles, neck, etc., when she’s getting attention/ affection and being (gently) petted; and she grabs and bites almost anything you’re holding that’s within her reach. But I think I’ve been very consistent with training and behavior modification (re-directing her with toys, practicing positive reinforcement, ignoring unwanted behaviors). Showing friends and coworkers how to react when she displays these types of unwanted behaviors.
Also, she doesn’t obey any commands and hardly acknowledges them, as well as repeatedly tears up stuff in the house (even though she has plenty of treat-dispensing and regular toys available).
My 3 year old Akita plays well with her. I thought he would help to keep her in her place when she acts out and they play together VERY well, but she curls her lip- baring her teeth, and goes after him too!
Do you think it is likely she acts out like this because she was hand-raised, and wasn’t corrected or taught by the mother dog? Ultimately, she’s SO sweet and its heart breaking that she wasn’t able to bond and socialize with her littermates, that crucial stage in development was robbed from her. I just want her to be happy, healthy and well behaved.
Amber from Deleware
Yes, hand rearing can bring with it some issues. In general, dogs and other animals that have been hand-reared tend to have problems with self control. It has to do with the fact that most humans just aren’t as good at setting limits for puppy behavior as the pup’s mom and siblings are. And our timing is not nearly as good, it’s usually too late. As a result, pups tend to learn that it’s ok to crawl all over people and use them as a jungle gym. In contrast, when their mom gets tired of this pushy behavior she and other adults may voice their displeasure by raising their lip first and then snapping. The pup quickly learns what a raised lip means and backs down. And when the pup plays with her litter mates, if she gets too rough, the other pups yelp and all play stops. Puppies raised as single pups in a litter or those removed early from the litter are also more likely to be less socially appropriate.
In addition to these disabilities, the stress of injury during the first week of age when the nervous system is just developing may also be an important factor.
Despite these early obstacles, the pup’s behavioral destiny is not set in stone. There’s much more that can be done to teach self-control. First off, at this age, the Rottie pup should always be on leash in the house when you’re home—either attached to you or tethered near by to furniture. That will immediately stop all chewing on inappropriate objects since they will be out of reach, and it will allow you to reward appropriate behaviors frequently throughout the day. When you’re not home the puppy should be in a kennel, crate or dog-safe playpen.
Secondly, while rewarding appropriate behaviors is essential, it’s equally important to remove rewards for undesirable behavior. And it’s important to note that removing rewards for undesirable behavior is very different from ignoring bad behavior. For instance, if the pup is jumping on you for attention while you’re sitting down, then ignoring the pup may be appropriate because by ignoring him you are essentially removing attention; however, it’s better to do something that makes it clear within 1-2 seconds that you are removing your attention. For instance, if you immediately stand up and look away when the pup jumps up, it will be clear to her that she can’t jump into your lap. Her response to back up and just stand and look should be almost immediate after you’ve done this several times. On the other hand, if she jumps on you and you remove your attention but then she walks away to chew on the table leg, then ignoring her will be useless since chewing on the table is in itself a reward. Hence the leash. If she’s on leash she can’t blow you off when you remove your attention because she’s stuck to you. Consequently the leash allows you to remove rewards for all kinds of naughty behaviors just by keeping him out of range of those rewards.
Third, the rate of reward for desirable behavior must be really high and the removal of rewards for undesirable behavior nearly 100% if you want to make good behavior a habit quickly. For instance, I generally put all dogs that enter my house on the learn to earn program where they earn everything they want by automatically sitting and looking at me. That means they earn every single bit of kibble they eat by saying please by sitting throughout the day. That’s 200 rewards for sitting quietly throughout the day. The pup is attached to me via leash and I have several sit training sessions, plus throughout the day, I randomly and frequently reward for sitting near me. First the rewards are treats but they quickly include petting.
Next you’ll generalize the calm sitting to everything else the pup wants. For instance if she wants to be petted when she pushes up against you or tries to jump then clearly remove your hands or stand up straight (Watch Stellah learn to earn at https://drsophiayin.com/videos/entry/stellah_sits_for_excited_petting/). Do whichever makes it clear that you’ve removed the reward for the unfocused behavior. Because you’ve rewarded her a lot for sitting, sit should be her default behavior and she should offer it soon. When she does sit you can reward with petting.
Which brings the next question. How do you pet without getting the pup overly-aroused? First off, for now, petting should occur in five-second bouts. I first give the puppy treats (kibble) and pet simultaneously. This way the pup is focused on the food and is holding still. Then I stop both the food and the petting at the same time. After a short break, usually of 3 seconds or more, I can pet again while giving treats continuously. When the pup is reliable at the calm sitting in this situation, I can start petting first and then quickly follow with a string of treats before the pup gets overly aroused. Or I can start petting and giving the string of treats at the same time but in between each treat, pull my treat feeding hand away from the dog before delivering a second treat. The goal is to give the second treat before she starts to react to the petting by getting wiggly or excited. In this manner I can quickly increase the interval between treats such that very few treats are needed to keep her calm when you are petting her. Eventually you’ll be able to pet her then give her a treat afterward, then later just pet her as her reward without needing to give treats. But until she’s perfect, it’s important to pet in short bouts when she’s sitting and then wait at least 3 seconds between so that the petting is a reward for continuing to sit still.
Other things that she should earn by automatically sitting include: getting her leash on, going out the door on walks, coming back in from the yard, having her toy tossed, and whatever else you think she wants. By saying please by sitting for everything she wants she will learn self control and she’ll learn to look to you for permission and guidance. Because you’ll no longer be commanding her to do what you want but rather letting her figure out that the only way she gets it is by sitting politely and asking, she’ll be learning a calmer, more polite way to control her world. Her overall arousal level will go way down and consequently her reactive response to your Akita will go down. You’ll also need to teach a really fun full-speed-running come when called so that you can also call her away from situations where she may respond reactively. (See Comes when called).
Realistically for a pup, if you change her world this dramatically, you can get a completely different pup in a week. The twist is that everyone who interacts with her must change their habits because every interaction you have reinforces something desired or something unwanted.
For photo-illustrated instructions on the Dr Yin’s Learn to Earn Program for Puppies read Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: Instructions to My Dad on How to Train Lucy, His New Pup. This may be up for a limited time. Please feel free to add suggestions regarding other things you think this handout may need. Later videos of the techniques will be added to the online learning section of this web site.