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The Song Says Two Front Teeth, Not Piranha Teeth!

Author: Andrea Obey | Date: January 10, 2014

He was jumping on me, barking, kicking his back legs out (marking), standing on me, climbing on me, licking me, nipping me with his incisors, barking again and no, it wasn’t a puppy. Over Christmas, I saw a little dog I hadn’t seen in years. He wasn’t particularly well-behaved when I first met him years ago but when I saw him again it was kind of like being in a horror movie, not a warm fuzzy Christmas movie. There was no sitting by the warm hearth with a fire roaring, eggnog in hand, with a cute little dog lying on my lap. Holy night indeed! More like pass the holy water!

Poor little guy. So afraid and unsure of himself, no proper coping skills or manners were taught, and he was so over threshold he truly didn’t know what to do with himself. He wasn’t trying to kill me but he certainly didn’t know what to do with me either.

I grabbed some treats and went to work rewarding him for not climbing up my leg (which was not often), being quiet (also not often) and giving me space (even less often). I did a little treat and retreat to put some space between us, played some “find it” so he would have something to do, made him do anything he could do to get him to focus. I spent a lot of time completely ignoring him, truth be told. It took him an hour to calm down. I wasn’t there to train the dog, I was there for a holiday visit, but mostly I just wanted to get him to calm down and not be in a state of a little white Tasmanian Devil in a Santa suit. Normally, I wouldn’t go to someone’s house and just start working with their terrorizing dog but this was someone I was close enough to that I had no problem working with him. In fact, I didn’t really feel like I had a choice given this little dog’s state of mind. I kept thinking, “Wow. What if this were a large breed dog like a German Shepherd or Rottweiler?” And, “What about other company that may visit and are not dog trainers? How would they feel? What if they were afraid of dogs? This would surely put them over the edge.”

Little dogs that behave that way tend to get more slack because, well, they’re little.

They look like puppies, they cannot physically do the same kind of damage as a dog that outweighs them by 80 or more pounds, and somehow I think generally speaking, people just accept it more. But the truth is that behavior really isn’t acceptable from any size dog. No one should think for a second that some pretty major damage cannot be done because I assure you, it can.

So what do you do if you’re not a dog trainer and you find yourself in a situation like mine? Here are some basic tips if you have a little piranha (Call AnimalSense!) or if you are visiting one –

  • First and foremost, if this is a dog that bites, nips or anything of the sort, do not even try to interact! Don’t look at the dog; don’t talk to the dog. Ask the owner to confine the dog to another room or crate for everyone’s safety. The owner should preferably give the dog something constructive to do like chewing on a Kong stuffed with his dinner away from company.
  • If it’s a dog that hasn’t bitten but is being a bit obnoxious, just ignore the dog until he calms down. Again, see if the owner can give the dog something constructive to do. The owner yelling at the dog is just going to heighten the anxiety levels so it’s best to just be calm and ignore.
  • If the dog calms down and wants to interact, just pet in long, slow strokes or gently rub the ears to keep the dog from getting too excited. You can even play a little with low-value toys but keep it short and avoid any over stimulation.

Again, please do not interact with a dog that “nips” because that is a danger sign and unless it’s a puppy learning bite inhibition, it’s not cool for a dog of any size to put its teeth on you. But if you just have a rambunctious little dog jumping all over the place see if you can ignore him until he calms down. Once he is calm you can quietly say hi. If at any time you are uncomfortable, please ask the owner to confine the dog to another area.

Visiting friends and family should not be stressful for people or the dogs. May everyone have a safe, calm and lovely new year!


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