Overarousal Biting on Walks

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Overarousal Biting on Walks

This is a discussion on Overarousal Biting on Walks within the Dog Training and Behavior forums, part of the Keeping and Caring for Dogs category; Hello, everyone! I received wonderful help this fall-- back then, I had a 6 month old dog from CL who I rehomed based on advice ...

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Old 06-01-2015, 11:54 AM
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Overarousal Biting on Walks

Hello, everyone!

I received wonderful help this fall-- back then, I had a 6 month old dog from CL who I rehomed based on advice from this forum as well as vets, behaviorist, and rescues.

I really still wanted a dog, and my husband would only agree to a puppy. (I didn't want a puppy!) So, we researched a lot and got a Golden Retriever from a breeder who did all the health testing, basic socialization (he lives alone, so not as much as families), etc.

Overall, my puppy, who is now 6 months old, has been great. VERY nippy in those early weeks, but pretty quickly he moved from skin to clothing only. (Not so great because I wanted him to get more feedback about strength of bites, though.) He pretty much just chews on what we give him, is housebroken, does not resource guard, approaches things with curiosity but not fear (though he's gone through some fear periods), and has done great with clicker training. Likes my kids! We've been through 2 sessions of obedience/puppy school (we will be doing more), and he goes to a structured playtime weekly for one hour (monitored by a trainer and we are there as well). He is still very jumpy with new people and still too mouthy with new people for me to allow him to have a lot of interaction (esp. with kids), but with us, not too mouthy in general, esp. given that he is a GR. He takes treats nicely, has good impulse control inside, is able to relax on his mat, etc. Counter-surfing is still an issue even though he never finds anything.

I started talking him on walks pretty young, being careful not to overdo it. There was a lot of snow for weeks, and I always used food, so he had GREAT focus on me. I have trained him to be able to look at interesting things (dogs, people, squirrels) calmly (not when they are right close by, though) and then look back at me.

However, at about 4.5 months, I was treating him on his walk with more spaces in between, and he mounted me, grabbed the treat bag, bit my coat. From then on, I tried to be very careful and exacting with my spacing so that he could build up his tolerance to wait (variable schedule). That worked for awhile, but then on longer walks-- no. Every so often-- has always been longer walks-- he will suddenly give me a look, turn toward me, and really bite hard (bruising me).

This has happened for no apparent reason, or because of food, or because (in the case of a forest preserve), he wanted to run freely and I couldn't let him. Yesterday he did it again and I can't think why. It was a short walk and it has never happened on a short walk. This happens once a week.

I've tried ignoring him, but he just bites harder. Yesterday I did a treat scatter-- he went for them but then right back to me. Someone told me to sort of cover his eyes (not touching) to change perspective, but he bit my hand (though not hard). I also tried, for the first time, putting my leg up to block him (not knee him) and he just bit my pants. Thankfully, I was next to a post so I tied him there and waited for him to calm down.

IF I can catch his arousal building, I can work with him to sit, down, etc. but he absolutely will NOT sit or listen when he is already aroused. Yesterday, it happened so quickly-- one minute he was calmly walking across the street, but in the middle of the street he got The Look and when we reached the curb, he started. There was a car in the street but it was quiet. I live in a boring suburb.

I watch his body language a lot to see if he is stressed. I have NEVER forced him to do anything that he is cautious about. I offer clicks and treats when he chooses to explore, but that is it. I took him out a lot to different places when he was younger but was careful not to overdo. Now I am more worried to take him out because I don't want him to start biting.

Most of the time he is a really calm dog. But then he has these moments . . .

So, I am going to be working more diligently on the calming protocol and other protocols by Karen Overall. Just got a book-- Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out and it looks about the same. Had a trainer who has a degree in behavior come and she thinks we should manage/prevent the behavior as much as possible for now.

He used to do this in the yard OFF-LEASH, too (so it isn't just the leash), but I've been a lot more careful in our yard so he hasn't done it again.

Oh, and he plays tug well-- sits before he starts, pretty quick to give when I say to give.

Now, he also does get overstimulated by my kids sometimes-- if they come in the room jumping or being loud, he will want to mount them-- they do NOT bother him (we are very strict and everything is highly monitored), so I guess now we are going to work on training sessions where they jump/get crazy on purpose and he is treated for being calm. I used to do this when he was younger . . .not sure why I stopped.

Anyway, I know this is not a common issue but not rare. I've read tons of articles, posted on the GR forum, etc. One person I know took her dog to a behaviorist and just got the same calming protocol advice.

What I want to know is-- WHAT AM I MISSING? Have you been through this? Did your dog grow out of it?

It seems it happens with larger breeds more often. It's been pretty depressing and even sometimes feels scary. I just want to take him on a walk!

I talked to the breeder about it but got the whole alpha roll/choke collar speech so no advice I will follow.
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Old 06-01-2015, 01:26 PM
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I had a foster that used to do this and he as a big dog, at least 100lbs. We chalked it up to him being frustratingly over-stimulated. I was still scary though and I was afraid of what he would do if he actually knocked me down when he was so wound-up. He would jump up to my face, grab my arms and legs, was not fun at all.

I didn't have a fenced yard at the time so what worked very well (mind you, it took time and a lot of patience) was to have him on a long lead tied to a tree. If he started getting overstimulated all I had to do was take one step back and was out of range. If he continued in inappropriate behaviour, I turned and walked away further as I didn't want to increase his frustration, just trying to find the threshold.

As soon as he calmed down we interacted again. I didn't say one word to him, no punishment nor verbal rewards. I tried to keep everything as nonchalant and calm as possible. I find that some dogs get too overexcited when praised lavishly, and find that reward is in interaction alone, not treats or words said to him. Especially if a dog has a tendency to go over the top, I don't give reward by being over the top back as it can be sending mixed signals. This is why I usually tend to keep things low-key during training.

I kept doing this and he did eventually learn and I was able to start walking him on leash again. I coupled this training with giving him ample time to get his energy out playing with another dog. I found that doing both helped to teach him and he turned to gold after that.
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Old 06-02-2015, 09:05 AM
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Thank you so much, Timber!

I tried tethering my dog last week while he started acting up on a walk and it worked very well. Now I am walking with a tether attached to my leash so that I can tether him quickly to anything!

So-- did you not walk him AT ALL during this time, and just keep him tethered, and teach him that way? Or, would you tether him while out on a walk?

My dog will act up all of a sudden on walks, all of a sudden outside, and most of the time is OK inside. But, sometimes I can find the trigger- like a person passing by or something. He is not showing signs of anxiety-- more that he wants to greet the person and I won't let him.

Lately he has been getting worse than ever.

I am so glad to hear you had success. This is very reassuring. How old was the foster?
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Old 06-02-2015, 01:43 PM
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Retrievers can be super mouthy dogs, which is probably what makes them great assistance dogs. They love to investigate, grab, hold and manipulate things with their mouths and as a puppy just exploring the number of things he can do with his mouth, this inclination can quickly get out of hand.

Very friendly, sociable dogs can also be subject to barrier frustration where a leash, fence, etc. is interfering with their ability to just rush people and assault them with jumping and kissing and mouthing.

A very good countermeasure to both of these issues is off-leash exercise. Taking him to a park on a long-line/harness combo and just allowing him to release his inner hooligan once a day will keep it from rearing its maniacal head when you are on your walks! It is great to play in the backyard, but I really feel that a park or field offers more space and stimulation for a young, pent-up puppy to fully 'get it out of their system'.

One thing that worked really well for me when I was trying to cope with walking my neighbor's lab puppy was to just get her down to a big, open park in any way I could. The walk to the park is about 10 minutes and at first it was just survival-- push/pull/ignore/drag her all the way down there, and then release the hound. She would then run around like crazy for an hour (we brought toys to play with, as well) and then on the way back, she was actually mellow enough to attempt loose-leash walking, polite greetings and what-have-you. All in an hour's work! We do this twice a day.

Now she is about 1.5 years old and people usually disbelieve me when I tell them that, because she is far from your typical goofy, jumpy, rude retriever puppy. They are just seeing Dr. Jekyll. What they don't understand is because she spends 2 hours a day off-leash just acting like this:

Releasing her inner beast
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Last edited by kelly528; 06-02-2015 at 01:46 PM.
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Old 06-02-2015, 05:22 PM
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Unfortunately I was not able to walk him on leash in the beginning. It was just too dangerous with the grabbing of limbs, ankles, and jumping up on me and too close to my face for comfort. He was about a year old at the time, and boy did he ever have issues, lol.

If you know what his trigger is, you can have him sit and teach "watch me". If it's not enough to distract him, I would step on the leash so that it's too short for him to jump up. I don't mean to have the leash force him down to the ground, just short enough that he can stand normally but will hinder his ability to rear up at you. Give treats when all 4 paws are kept on the ground if he's receptive to treats during overexcitement.

Another option could be to walk in the opposite direction of the trigger. It might be enough to get him to settle once he can't see the trigger. Once he settles, turn back around and see if he can control his excitement. If not, turn and walk away again. You might be going in circles for a while, but it might teach him that his behaviour means that he will not get to where he wants to go. This is how I teach leash manners too. If the dog pulls, we go in the opposite direction of where they want to go. When they behave and don't pull, his reward is getting to where he wants to go. We go literally in circles initially but they learn pretty quickly.
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