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Curbing Socially Unacceptable Behaviors


In This Chapter

What’s socially unacceptable canine behavior? Aggression for one. Even though aggression is a normal form of canine communication that’s similar to our anger, it’s not cool. Other socially unacceptable behaviors include eating stool, marking, and ingesting socks. These behaviors are intense issues that require a greater commitment to modify and resolve. These transgressions have a common theme: Puppies do these things when they’re frustrated, anxious, or vying for attention. This chapter identifies these problems and tells you how to resolve them.


The word aggression strikes fear into the heart of dog owners. Yes, the occasional growl is a frightening sight but not as uncommon as most people think. Like humans, dogs get frustrated and defensive from time to time.
Remember, puppies aren’t members of the human species, which means they’re unable to articulate angry feelings through words. Puppies are canines, and canines communicate through vocal tones, eye contact, and  body language. What humans communicate in words, some dogs communicatethrough aggression. How you cope and redirect this behavior determines how your puppy copes with these feelings as he grows into doghood.


Aggression is a serious topic. If you’re having a problem, get help. Seek a wellknown and respected animal behaviorist or trainer in your area. Your veterinarian may be able to help you find one. My recommendations are just that, recommendations. Don’t follow them if you’re unsure. Aggression, if approached incorrectly or with caution or fear, can result in a serious bite.


If your puppy has bitten, no one can guarantee you that he won’t do it again. Your effort to remedy the problem can only help, however, and remedying the problem is your only option other than euthanasia. Passing an aggressive puppy onto another home or into a shelter is irresponsible. You’d ultimately be responsible if he bit someone or maimed a child. So get help if you need it.

Determining how serious the problem is

To determine how serious the aggressive behavior is, you need to consider these factors:

Breed: Is your puppy a spatial or protective breed (for example, a Terrier, Nordic, or Guarding dog)? These breeds have a greater propensity toward aggression. Seeing a 17-week-old Golden Retriever, known for its passive nature, growling over his dish is more alarming than seeing a protective dog growl over his possessions. Neither should growl, but a growling Golden indicates that you may have a deeper problem than just a breed-inherent trait. Know your breed, understand its natural inclinations, and work through them at the earliest age possible.


Research your breed. Understand your puppy’s personality. An ounce of foresight can help you prevent problems before they arise.

Age: A puppy under 20 weeks shouldn’t show any sign of serious aggression. An occasional play growl is common, but if you witness any hard stares and belly growling, you may have a serious problem on your hands. Seek out a professional and call the breeder immediately, if applicable. Beyond 20 weeks, aggression usually coincides with the release of adult hormones. If this is the case, try not to be too alarmed. The information here can help you understand the problem.

Temperament: Aggression is most commonly seen in puppies who are headstrong and bold. These pups determine early whether you’re giving direction or taking it. If you’re not considered “leadership worthy,” your puppy takes charge. As he grows, he becomes more mindful of sounds and stimulation and may often show aggression in order to keep “his” group under tight surveillance. Of course, passive puppies can show a similar type of aggression. If you pamper a passive, fearful pup, he too will assume the leadership role (by default) and be cautious with any slight changes in his environment.

Early play patterns: If you bring your puppy up on a play diet of rough wrestling and tug of war, he can become aggressive during adolescence. These challenge games set the stage for larger confrontations, which the puppy may not back off from just because you issue the word “No.”

Corrective techniques: If a young puppy is subjected to heavy-handed corrections early in his life, he learns self-control through fear, not through understanding. For example, if you slap your puppy for grabbing a sock, he may grab the sock less when he’s with you, but he’ll be more protective of the sock after it’s obtained (known as prize envy).


Read the upcoming section “Preventing various forms of aggression” and the problem-solving techniques in Chapter Dealing with Daily Hassles to avoid these pitfalls. If you have a puppy who shows aggression, keep him off your bed. This is a big deal because an aggressive dog thinks it’s his duty to protect you or keep you in line. The first step in resolving this issue is to take over the high sleeping grounds. If you can’t keep him off your bed, station him by attaching him to your dresser (see Chapter Teaching Everyday Etiquette for stationing tips).

Preventing various forms of aggression

Dogs display several different types of aggression. Understanding what may be developing enables you to react appropriately. This section identifies the various types of aggression and gives prevention advice.


If you meet up with an aggressive dog, don’t run away. (Think about it: Have you ever seen a dog attack a post or a tree?) If you must approach the dog, move in sideways. Approaching from the front equals a challenge. You can extend a stick to distract the dog from your body.


The following descriptions and suggestions don’t take the place of professional attention.

Dominant aggression

Do you have a dominant pup under your roof who steals clothing for fun, barks for attention, leans against you in new environments or around strangers, or successfully solicits attention whenever the mood strikes? Constant attention and dedication to his every need puts you at servant status. When you assert yourself, he has no other choice than to remind you to get back in line. To regain control, follow these tips for starters:

– Use the “Excuse Me” command when your puppy gets in your way. Using this command is the most passive way to communicate your leadership. (Chapter Training through Your Pup’s Growth Stages covers “Excuse Me” and other training commands.)

– Ignore all his attempts to get your attention. Some of these attentiongetting behaviors include barking, pawing, head butting, and whining.

– Practice two to five lessons each day (from five to ten minutes) and during those lessons, use each direction he knows. If he’s growling when you ask him to lie down, skip that direction until you get professional help.

– If your puppy will obey the “Down” direction, repeat it throughout the day, positioning him rather than repeating yourself.

– Avoid stare downs unless you initiate them, in which case make sure your dog breaks eye contact first. Your puppy should watch you for direction, and you should be giving it.

– Regulate his feeding to twice a day. Don’t free feed at this point.

– Once a day, enforce a 30-minute quiet time by stationing or anchoring (refer to Chapter Teaching Everyday Etiquette).


If your puppy growls during any of these efforts, such as getting him to move out of your way, don’t push it. Stop everything until you get professional help. Your problem is serious.

Spatial aggression (object guarding)

A puppy who shows aggression while eating, sleeping, grooming, or being medicated by a family member, stranger, or dog professional (veterinarian or groomer) is showing spatial aggression. Spatial aggression is usually tied in with dominant, territorial, or psychotic aggression.


If you see this type of behavior from your puppy, don’t freak out, hit him, or scream. These reactions only reinforce his defensive notion that you’ve come to steal his prize or assert yourself.

To help your pup accept you as less threatening, follow these steps, which use the food dish as an example:

1. Don’t make a power struggle out of the feeding ritual.

2. Shake a treat cup or snap a clicker, always following the sound with a food reward (Chapter Using Cool Tools and Groovy Gadgets goes over using these training aids).

Continue until your puppy connects the sound with a reward.

3. Approach your puppy once a day with the treat cup or clicker and treat him while he’s eating a meal.


If he growls as you approach him during a meal, you’ve entered his Red Zone (refer to Chapter Life from His Paws: Understanding Your Puppy’s View of the World). Stop where you are, and toss him a few treats before you leave. If this continues, seek professional advice immediately: Don’t let your puppy become another dog-bite statistic.

4. Repeat Step 3 until you can stand over him and drop treats into his bowl.

5. At this point, approach his bowl while speaking happy praises but without shaking the cup or clicking. When you get to his side, make the sound, toss a treat into the bowl, and leave.

6. Try kneeling down as you shake the cup or click and toss a treat into his bowl.

7. After your pup is comfortable with your kneeling and tossing a treat into his bowl, try placing the treat into his bowl with your hand.

8. After you offer your puppy a handful of treats, try stirring your pup’s kibble with your hand.

If you’re successful, continue stirring the kibble once every other day for a week.

9. After offering a handful of treats, try lifting your pup’s bowl. Give it back immediately and leave. Repeat once a month only.

10. Repeat this entire process for other prized objects, such as bones or squeak toys.


Dogs notice fear. If you’re afraid, your puppy knows it and will be suspicious. Call a professional immediately.


I can’t guarantee that you won’t get bitten in the process of training an aggressive pup, so be your own judge. Proceed as your puppy is comfortable, and seek help if you need to.
3 Territorial aggression
Dogs who act aggressively when strangers approach their homes are territorial. This problem is encouraged by the following:

When delivery people approach and leave the home territory. Because the puppy thinks that he drove the people away, his aggression is reinforced.

When the owners are home and react to a territorial response by yelling or physical handling. In this situation, the dog perceives the owners’ heightened response as backup.

When a dog is allowed to react aggressively in a car or on a tie out. When a dog acts aggressively in these situations, he’s warning all intruders to stay away. Because they do, he considers himself victorious, which reinforces his territorial aggression.

When dogs are isolated during greetings or visits. These isolated dogs may develop Frustrated Territorial Aggression (FTA). FTA isn’t a good thing. In a normal group of dogs, the leader permits or denies entry to a visitor, who is then “sniffed out” by the rest of the pack. Isolation frustrates this normal process and encourages a more aggressive response the next time the doorbell rings.


To prevent territorial aggression, assert yourself by keeping your puppy off the furniture and by sticking to a regimented training program that includes the following commands:

Wait: Have your pup “Wait” when going through thresholds and doors.

Heel: Use this direction on walks in public spaces.

Sit: Practice “Sit” for all greetings — inside the house and out.

Also discourage all marking behavior. (Your puppy should eliminate in one area.)
If your situation is already out of hand, purchase a head collar (described in Chapter Home Sweet Home), and leash or station your puppy during arrivals. This collar reduces the negative restraint around the neck and places the puppy’s body in a submissive posture.


Handling an aggressive dog on a chain collar is like holding an angry man’s arms behind his back. It creates fury. Using a head collar reduces this tension and communicates structure and discipline passively.

To make associations to visitors more positive, try the following tips:

– Use a treat cup or clicker to help your puppy associate outsiders with a positive reward.

– Eliminate all yelling and verbose or physical corrections because they add more negative energy to an already tense situation. To calm your puppy, you must set the example.


While guard and herding breeds are genetically prone to territorial aggression, this behavior can be found in any breed. So, if your puppy is threatening anyone, get help immediately. A territorial puppy, no matter the breed, almost always turns into a dangerous dog.

Protective aggression

Does your puppy feel responsible for you? Even outside his territory, does he react aggressively if anyone approaches? If your pup’s acting like your guardian wherever you go, you have a serious identity crisis to deal with. He thinks it’s his job to protect you. You must let your puppy know you’re the captain here. Follow these tips:

Buy a head collar. This teaching tool lies across your dog’s muzzle like a halter on a horse. Laying pressure across your dog’s neck and nose will tone him down considerably. See Chapter Home Sweet Home for details.

Train yourself and your puppy. Obviously your pup needs guidance, but don’t forget that you, too, need to step up and assert dominance over your puppy. For starters, keep your pup behind you at all thresholds and when meeting new people.

Call a professional if you need help. Is your puppy giving you no respect? Get help before things get too out of hand.


It’s not uncommon for dogs to develop a protective relationship with a young child or a passive, inexperienced owner. The dog perceives the owner — man, woman, or child — as weak and in need of protection.

Predatory aggression

Predatory aggression is another instinctive behavior from times when dogs were wolves and hunted for survival. Most dogs still possess a chasing instinct. Even though breeders have suppressed the drive to kill in most breeds, some instinctively chase and, in some instances, kill small game.
If you have a chaser on your hands, rehabilitating him will be quite the project. Instincts hold a powerful sway over behavior. Focused play gives chasers an outlet, but you need to correct their impulses with other animals or children to discourage interactive chasing rituals. (For focused predatory games, see Chapter Ten Fun Games.)

Fear-induced aggression

Every litter has its shy puppies. These mama’s boys or girls depend on their mom’s wisdom for safety. After these pups move into human homes, they continue to be needy. Their timidity, which surfaces in new situations, may turn into overwhelming fear if you don’t give them proper direction and support. A puppy in this situation may react aggressively during adolescence.
Even though shyness is a temperamental trait, this behavior also has a learned element: Soothing a frightened puppy doesn’t alleviate the fear; it reinforces it.


If your puppy shows the early signs of fear with company (such as flight, approach-avoid, or protective barking from behind your legs or furniture), you need to be understanding and patient. You can’t correct a fearful puppy; doing so only increases his fear. You can’t soothe him either because your attention just reinforces this behavior.

A large part of the problem is that the puppy feels like no one — not even you — has control of the situation. To help prevent this problem, you must assert yourself as the one who’s calm, in control, and in charge of the situation. Here are some extra tips:

– Keep your puppy on lead when you expect company. Hold your puppy’s lead while acting confidently in new situations. Look to him only after he’s relaxed with the new situation.

– Encourage everyone to ignore your puppy until he approaches them. Ask them to shake a treat cup, click and treat, or extend a tasteful snack.


When strangers or caring professionals back away from a threatening dog, the dog gets the message that aggression works.

– Use your treat cup or a clicker and treats to encourage a more positive association to situations.


When seeking out a professional, find one who uses a soft and positive approach. Threatening this type of dog often creates more fear.

Dog-to-dog aggression

Aggression between dogs occurs when they perceive their territories as overlapping (which can happen anywhere because some dogs think that their territory is very extensive) or when there is a hierarchical struggle in a multidog household. This type of aggression is often exaggerated by well-meaning owners who scream or pull back when their puppies show aggression. Such a reaction only adds to the tension.

Overlapping territory disputes

Overlapping territory disputes usually result from a lack of early socialization. If your pup has limited socialization, you must assess how serious it is. A puppy class may be the perfect solution. You, as an owner, need to know how to assert yourself and act like a protective leader when you meet another dog.
In my puppy kindergarten classes, I allow ten minutes of off-lead play, which allows the puppies to socialize with each other and with other people. Socializing your puppy at a young age ensures that he will learn to interact and posture with other puppies and grow into a dog less reactive to the sight of his own species.

Hierarchical disputes

Whenever a home has two or more dogs, the dogs develop a hierarchical relationship. The lead dog dominates over toys or food and is the one pushing the other dog out of the way when attention is offered. In addition, your leader is the one racing to be out the door first.


Disputes arise when you undermine their organization by paying more attention to the underdog. The lead dog is frustrated, and the underdog is confused. To calm things down, pay more attention to the Top Dog. Feed, greet, and play with him first and most. Spend time training him. The other dog will follow. If they fight, praise the Top Dog and ignore the other. I know it sounds cruel, and it’s difficult (I had to do it), but trust me — it works. If you’re having difficulty, bring in a professional.

Psychotic aggression

I very rarely come across a psychotic dog or puppy, but they do exist. Most, although not all, dogs with this problem are the result of poor puppy-milltype breeding. Psychotic aggression is identified by erratic or fearful aggression responses in atypical situations, and these traits are seen at a very young age. Following are the two categories of psychotic aggression:

Erratic viciousness: At unpredictable intervals, a puppy in this category growls fiercely from his belly. This behavior may happen when the puppy’s owner passes his food bowl, approaches when he’s chewing a toy, or even walks by him. At other times, the dog is perfectly sweet — this Jekyll and Hyde personality is common.

Fear biting: A puppy in this category shows dramatic fear or a startled bite response to nonthreatening situations such as turning a page of the newspaper or the sudden movement of an arm. These puppies, who are known as fear biters, may also act extremely confused or threatened when strangers approach.

Many well-educated dog people use the term “fear biter” incorrectly. They don’t realize the big difference between a puppy who bites out of fear and a fear biter. A puppy who bites because he is afraid feels trapped or threatened for good cause; a fear biter may suddenly fly off the wall and attack you when you turn a page in a book. Don’t automatically assume the worst if someone labels your dog with this term.


Don’t panic if your puppy occasionally growls at you or barks at the mail carrier. A lot of puppies growl when protecting a food dish or toy, and the guarding instinct is strong in many breeds. These are behavioral problems that you can cure or control with proper training. Even many biters can be rehabilitated. The situations I’m speaking of here involve severe aggression — bared teeth, hard eyes, a growl that begins in the belly, and a bite response you’d expect from a trained police dog. These personality disturbances are seen very early, usually by 4 months of age.

Psychotic aggression is both frightening and tragic because nothing can be done to alter the dog’s development. Unfortunately, his fate was sealed by the people who ran the puppy mill he came from or bred him irresponsibly. In my career, I’ve only seen six psychotic dog cases, and all were purchased from unknown or suspicious breeders. If you suspect that your puppy is displaying erratic viciousness or fear biting, speak to your breeder and veterinarian immediately and call a specialist to analyze the situation. Most times these puppies must be euthanized.

Eating Indigestibles

Chewing sticks and socks and mouthing rocks are all perfectly normal activities for a pooch. Eating them, however, isn’t. If your puppy is into swallowing everything in sight or has a difficult time passing up the kids’ underwear or shoes, you’re dealing with obsessive-compulsive behavior.
There are some breeds that show a propensity for this behavior, such as Bernese Mountain Dogs and Golden Retrievers. This behavior has an obsessive-compulsive quality to it, and though it’s difficult to shake their focus, the action loses its thrill as puppies mature.


Most people react theatrically when their puppies grab forbidden objects. They make this big fuss hoping to discourage the puppy from doing it again. But to the puppy, this is a confrontational reaction, which I term prize envy. When your puppy grabs something he shouldn’t, you think “Bad dog, give it back!” Your puppy, however, sees your body language from a puppy’s perspective. He thinks you’re racing forward to steal what he’s found. If he wants to keep it, he had better split or gulp it — whatever “it” may be. Some split. Others gulp. To stop this behavior permanently, you may need to seek professional help. Until then, follow these guidelines:

– Don’t chase angrily after your puppy for anything.

– Place treat cups or clickers and treats in several rooms around your home (flip to Chapter Using Cool Tools and Groovy Gadgets for more on treat cups and clickers). If your puppy picks up something he shouldn’t, grab your nearest rescue gadgets and encourage him to “Give.” Exchange the object for a treat.

– If you both notice something tempting on the ground, don’t dive for it. Remember, you’re setting the example. Try to distract your puppy with another object or with a treat cup and then remove the object calmly.

– Don’t think of your pup’s behavior as a competition for your sock — your puppy is just showing a natural curiosity for items that carry your scent. Teach him to share and show, rather than grab and go (refer to Chapter Training through Your Pup’s Growth Stages).

– Pick up around the house. If your puppy can’t find anything to steal, he has nothing to swallow.


If you own a puppy who has a problem with eating indigestibles, you have to keep a close eye on him. If you think your puppy has eaten something indigestible, call your veterinarian immediately, and then watch his bowel activity. Indigestible items can block your puppy’s intestine, which would prevent him from eliminating. If left untreated, this situation can kill your puppy.


From the human perspective, marking is an unsightly, dirty habit that’s a total bummer to have to deal with. To a puppy, marking is empowering: I scent-mark, therefore I am. And sex doesn’t matter, both male and female puppies mark.


To resolve this habit, you need to look at life from your puppy’s perspective. Your puppy is trying to communicate something. Decide which of the following your pup is trying to communicate:

Anxiety: If a puppy is nervous when left alone or when he’s within earshot (or eyeshot) of things out of his control, he may mark to settle himself. This puppy needs more socialization and training and should be isolated in a crate or small area when left alone to prevent pacing and marking.

Frustration: If you have a strong-willed puppy who is suffering from Hyper Isolation Anxiety (see Chapter When Anxiety Strikes) from being isolated in a room or crate, don’t be too surprised if he marks either in his enclosure or when given unsupervised freedom to explore. This pup needs a formal introduction to household freedom using the leading and stationing techniques listed in Chapter Teaching Everyday Etiquette.

Territorial dominance: A puppy who’s given the message that he rules the roost will often mark to reinforce his position. If your home is run by your puppy, you must live with his rules. This puppy needs structured training lessons, including (but not limited to) these directions: Excuse Me, Wait, Heel, Stay, No, and Down (refer to Chapter Training through Your Pup’s Growth Stages).


Marking is more common in smaller breeds for two main reasons: Their tiny toy size often guarantees being coddled, and their normal dog posturing isn’t taken seriously. Left untrained, their assumption is that they regulate their environment. Marking helps these pups feel empowered.

If your puppy is marking, review all the housetraining tips listed in Chapter Housetraining for Success, and follow a program to reinforce his bladder control and communication skills.
An unneutered puppy will be more prone to marking. It’s nothing personal, just a hormonal urge to leave his scent all over! Another reason to make that appointment now!

Stool Swallowing

Stool swallowing is a delightful habit that involves a pup who eats stool — whether his or another creature’s. Believe it or not, stool swallowing is a fairly common behavior. Though most puppies grow out of it within their first year, your reaction weighs heavily. If you’re prone to dramatic outbursts, shouting and chasing your puppy from every pile, he will view your escapade as competition and gulp fast. What to do? Read on for some surefire tips!

Other creatures’ stools

Stool from other creatures is actually quite a delicacy to your puppy. Deer duds, cat-litter logs, goose goblets — they’re all candies to suit your puppy’s  delight. Most dogs outgrow this behavior if you feed them a balanced mealtwice a day and ignore their stool fetish.


When you catch your pup stealing stool, try to refocus him on a favorite activity. If you’re suffering from litter-box blues, put the litter box in an inaccessible area, buy a litter box with a lid, or correct the box rather than the dog (see Chapter Dealing with Daily Hassles).

If you have an outdoor issue, leave a long line on your puppy and redirect him by running in the opposite direction and calling out his name.

Puppy’s own stools

Though eating stool is probably the most grotesque thing you could ever imagine, in dogland, it’s just a handy way to keep the den clean. When your puppy was much younger, he watched his mother do it, and when he sees you cleaning up after him, he thinks — well, you get the picture.


To halt this habit, follow these tips:

– Never clean up messes in front of your pup.

– Don’t correct your puppy when he shows interest in his stool. If you fuss, he’ll gulp.

– If your puppy shows interest, refocus him on a favorite game: “Get your ball!”

– Ask your veterinarian to give you a food additive that makes his feces distasteful. I know, what could be more distasteful than dog poop? But, nonetheless, such things do exist.

– After your puppy finishes eliminating, spray the pile with something distasteful, like Bitter Apple, hot-pepper sauce, or vinegar.

– And last, but not least, keep the yard clean to reduce temptation.

Sarah Hodgson

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