PET WORLD: Positive reinforcement can help with a dog that bites
Sunday, December 11, 2016

By Marc Morrone

Tribune Content Agency
 
Q: We have a 5-year-old male cockapoo dog that bites. We do not hit him. We got him at 8 weeks from a family breeder. We can't remove anything from his mouth or groom him without concern. If we pet him he can snap. He growls and attacks at times. He also barks in an attack stance at any dogs and people walking by. I think it is the breed mixture of the dog and my husband thinks he was traumatized. What's your thought? - Sarah Richards, Chicago, IL
 
  A: I am the first one to admit that I do not always have the answer and this is one of those cases. You had him since he was 8 weeks old, so he was obviously not traumatized - he is just not quite right in the head. 
 
  I never can understand how one dog will never, ever bite no matter what the circumstances are and yet another will bite you without any hesitation and then expect you to forget all about it. I have had both kinds of dogs. 
 
  You see the problem here is that you can change the way the dog acts, but you cannot change the way it "thinks." 
 
  Here is a perfect example: If you want to teach a dog not to be possessive about things in its mouth then you have to show it that when you ask it to drop an object it is holding then that object can be replaced with something better. 
 
  If your dog has something that you want then instead of being confrontational about it, just give it a piece of chicken or cheese. Offer it to the dog while giving it some kind of command such as "trade." In most cases the dog will drop whatever it is carrying and run to you for the treat. You tell the dog to sit and then give it the treat from your hand and then pick up the object in question. In no time he will be bringing you all sorts of items to trade with you willingly.
 
  However, even though you may have changed the dog's behavior you have not changed the way he thinks. He would still cheerfully bite you if he thought it was justified or to his advantage. 
 
  I had a dog like yours. He was a very smart Cairn Terrier named Buddy and I got suckered into taking him in at a year old. He would bite me or any other human and offered no apologies for it. Fortunately at this point in my life there were no small children toddling about in my house. 
 
  I always admired the Cairn Terrier Toto in "The Wizard of Oz." I figured I would see what I could do to try and get him re-habilitated. Using various positive reinforcement training methods, I was able to trick him into being fairly polite with us. However, we basically had to walk on eggshells around him for the 10 years he lived with us until he died. 
 
  You have had this dog now for 5 years, and it sounds to me as if you have resigned yourself to having to tiptoe around him for the rest of his life as I did with Buddy. However, if you work on using positive reinforcement reward training with him as I described briefly, then things will be a lot better than they are now. There are a number of resources out there that are more detailed than I can in explain in this column. You just have to be realistic about the situation. Your dog just views humans in a different manner than most other dogs do and you have to make the best of it.
 
  Q: We have just gotten a corn snake as a pet a month ago and the pet store that sold him fed him a mouse once a week except when he is going to shed his skin, as he will not eat while he is shedding. So a week ago his eyes turned white and we knew that meant he was going to shed so we did not offer him anything. Today we saw that his eyes were clear again but he did not eat when we offered him a mouse and we also see that there is no shed skin in his vivarium. Can you tell us what is going on? - Greg Medina, Las Vegas, NV
 
  A: By the time you read this your problem will have most likely solved itself. Snakes do have to shed their skins to allow their bodies to grow and when the process starts their eyes do become a milky white color. This is because snakes do not have eyelids and their eyes are protected by a clear scale that covers it like a contact lens. 
 
  When the shedding process starts, the eyes become cloudy and the snakes whole color goes off as the outer skin is starting to separate from the new skin forming underneath. This normally takes a few days and the snake will just curl up in a corner or sometimes soak in its water dish and patiently wait for the process do finish - they will never eat while this is going on. 
 
  When the process is finished the eyes clear up, meaning their old skin is now separate from the new and usually the snake will then peel it off. Sometimes this happens in a few hours, sometimes a day later. This is the in-between stage that your snake is in right now - most likely by the time you sent this, your snake will have shed its skin and the snake is eagerly looking for its next meal. If you like to photograph your pets then this is the best time to take a picture of your snake as its colors will be fresh, bright and crisp.
 
Marc Morrone has kept almost every kind of animal as a pet for the last half-century and he is happy to share his knowledge with others. Although he cannot answer every question, he will publish many of those that have a general interest. You can contact him at petxperts2@aol.com; please include your name, city and state.
 
Printed in the December 11 - December 26, 2016 edition
 

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