Bad Behaviors

So my gotcha day post is going to be postponed again because of what is a more pressing problem (I think). Lately, Pearl has been barking at me. Like, demanding I play with her by dropping a toy in my lap and barking at me when I won’t, or barking like mad at me while I am on the phone or even when I am just sitting on the couch doing nothing. Then, in the past two days, she has actually been biting me. Not hard enough to break skin, but hard enough to leave a mark. She has nipped me on the leg, on the rear end, on the arm, the back…

Now, she had a steroid shot and was on antibiotics for a cut on her foot and she is also on dewormer, but this is not acceptable behavior, right? And because we are trying to be positive, I don’t know how to tell her it is wrong to do that. We’ve tried time outs but no result yet, although we will keep being consistent with that (thanks for the really timely post from Love and a Six-Foot Leash. But when we let her out of her crate following a time out she comes flying out and starts nipping and jumping all over me again. I try to ignore her and turn away and she bites me in the back. And of course, now, after I pushed her away 15 times, she is lying calmly in my husband’s lap.  He says she doesn’t lie calmly with me because I don’t just sit and pet her and give her attention, and that the fact that most days I feed her and walk her twice doesn’t count. I am so frustrated… I feel like my dog doesn’t like me and- I can’t help it- I take it personally. It makes me angry at her because I’ve spend thousands of dollars in vet bills, training classes, expensive crazy foods, I’ve moved to accommodate her twice in less than a year (or will have moved twice when we move next week), I wake up early every morning before it is light to walk her, even on weekends. Not to mention her reactivity, which scares, frustrates, and embarrasses me despite how much I research different solutions and work with her. I meet friends’ dogs and want to trade and then feel horrible. I contemplate trying more forceful training techniques (is she barking at me because she thinks she is dominant over me?) and then I think better of it- for now. I feel like this blog has become a place mostly for me to vent about her, rather than to celebrate her, learn new things, and all those other positive things I want to be doing. It feel like my husband and I had a baby and every time I hold the baby it cries and every time my husband holds the baby it smiles and laughs (except probably not that bad… if my baby cried every time I held it I really would lose it).

Look at this face... is this the face of a bad girl?

Have any of you dealt with these types of problems with your dogs? Do you think it may be the drugs she is on? Are most of you proponents of positive training methods even in these situations? I have had two different trainers come to my house early after we got Pearl and it hasn’t been that helpful, in large part because she is, of course, not badly behaved when they are there. We haven’t been going to classes lately because we are waiting for a canine good citizen or a tricks class to start and because the agility classes I know of are run by a trainer who is 1) kind of far and 2) recommends pinch collars and e-collars. I don’t think we can afford to get another private trainer to the house and we are moving in a week anyway, which worries me even more with uprooting her in the middle of dealing with all these issues. I just feel overwhelmed and also bad for Pearl because I clearly am not equipped to handle this and help her behave more appropriately. It’s just one of those days where I am discouraged and hopefully tomorrow will be better.

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About Pearl the Puppy

Pearl is just over 40 lbs of energy mixed with a pinch of crazy. We adopted her in March 2011 from a St. Louis rescue organization called Impact for Animals (now Pet Rescue Network). We are unsure about her age, but we are guessing she was born in Fall 2010. Her background is anybody's guess, but we are pretty sure that she has at least some sighthound in her. She's a whole lot of trouble but a whole lot of fun.

11 thoughts on “Bad Behaviors

  1. It likely has a lot to do with the medication, and possibly with lack of mental stimulation. It sounds like she is just going a bit crazy. If she has to continue with the medication, you may want to talk to your vet about the behavioral issues that are coming up. Otherwise, try playing games with her that work her mind. Teach a new trick. Make her think about something really hard, like hiding her pieces of kibble around the house a few at a time instead of getting dinner in a bowl.

    If she bugs you with a toy dropped on your lap, the toy goes into a box on top of the fridge where she can’t reach it. Don’t do anything, or say anything, just quietly take the toy, walk at a normal pace, and place the toy in the box out of reach. Pallo used to have this obnoxious habit as well- he now gets one warning of “take it to your corner” and if he persists in bugging me with it, the toy goes away. He almost always takes it away himself now.

  2. Yes, I’d definitely talk to Pearl’s vet. When I first got Frankie he used to go crazy and do the nipping and barking thing and he did break my skin often. I tried all the usual things which you have done to no avail. What worked was walking straight at him with an expressionless face and taking back my space. I saw a video of Patricia McConnell doing this with shelter dogs. It only took about a minute for Frankie to get a confused look on his face and he started thinking about what was happening rather being a brainless psycho dog. He went crazy a few more times before he decided it wasn’t fun any more. If you go to this site there are some of Patricia’s videos there but not the one I’m thinking of but you might get some idea of what I’m talking about with the body blocking ones. It’s not quite the same technique as instead of blocking the dog you just keep walking towards them. Good luck. I sympathise with your problems with Pearl as I had similar with Frankie when he was younger and I know how frustrating and exasperating it is.

  3. I second Crystal’s opinion — she sounds like she’s going stir-crazy. I don’t care how many times people say how walking is enough for their dogs. It’s not. She’s becoming a teenager-y dog and she needs more than just a walk. Start biking with her or hiking off-leash with her – teach her to fetch her toy – anything to get her cardio in. And yeah, mentally stimulate her! Nose work is an excellent suggestion. Get her working for that food. It’s also exceptionally fun to watch them search for their meals.

    A suggestion for the biting and such is to tether her (probably 4-6 feet is enough room so long as the tether is low to the ground – if it’s higher up, add a few more feet) and leave the room when it happens. You’ll play with her (and a toy) while she’s tethered so long as she doesn’t bite; if she bites, you IMMEDIATELY walk away (with the toy, preferably) calmly. Come back in three/five minutes/when she’s quiet and resume quiet, happy play (with or without the toy). Walk away if she bites. Timeouts can be ineffective if the timeout area is too far from where the incident happened, the tether allows you to move quickly away, thus the consequence (end of fun) is more appropriately linked (in timing) to the action (of biting). This also restricts her access to you – she won’t be able to come at you as you walk away. The most important part of this, as it is with timeouts, is to be 100% consistent about ignoring her. If you just tether her to a wall in the living room and then ignore her on the couch in the same room, it won’t be as effective as she can still be around you and stare at you.

    As she begins to understand that biting makes the fun end, you can give her a little more freedom – lengthen the tether or let it drag as she moves about the house. If at any time she comes at you, tether her up and leave the room.

    A note: Dominance exists intraspecies, indeed, but not so much interspecies. When we think about dominant humans, do we think of ones who lash out and act without control of their emotions? No. We think of the ones who calmly choose not to engage in such petty wastes of time. It’s the same with dogs. She’s not trying to dominate you – that’s silliness. She’s trying to convey something to you. 🙂

  4. I think the meds could be linked to this, but also Pearl is just wanting you to play. Maybe you could make a point of having a play session every day even if only for 10 minutes. Maybe pick up a toy and say ‘Play Time’, so she get’s to know this is when she plays. When she wants to play at other times you have to ignore her. If needs be shut her out of the room for a few minutes. Then let her back in. If she continues to bark and/or nip at you put her out of the room again. Keep doing this until she stops the behaviour. It’s not good to give in to the behaviour as then she will think whenever she wants something all she has to do is bark and/or nip.

    My Greyhound definitely knows what ‘No’ means. She stops whatever it is she is doing, but I know some people don’t like using it as a general telling off word. I use this if she get’s too excited when she sees a cat (the only thing she reacts to:)) and now she calms right down as soon as I say it. Find what works for you and Pearl.

  5. Hey, I have a lot of thoughts on this and have learned a ton more since I last “met” with you guys online. Email me if you’re interested in talking more about this – I have some ideas, but one big thing that you/a trainer should do (that most trainers don’t do) is look at what is CAUSING and MAINTAINING the problem behavior and then change that. Don’t just pull a solution out of a bag of tricks (e.g. “I know other dogs who have done this, so I’ll treat your dog exactly the way I treated them.” If we know one thing by now, it’s probably that Pearl is not that much like other dogs, right? I mean that in the best way :)). Forget whether it’s “positive” training, there are simple things that are not choke or shock collars that can help this. Let me know if you want to talk more!

  6. I would absolutely get some blood work done if this is a sudden change. If she’s on steroids it’s very possible she has a chemical imbalance that’s making this problem worse. I know my last dog, who was reactive, actually got worse when she was on a higher protein food. It doesn’t take much to make an imbalance, and steroids are *supposed* to make a change, they just might not be making the one you want.
    As far as training, I would stick with the ignoring. Don’t do anything else (I know it’s hard when she’s jumping and biting you, I don’t know how hard she’s biting but hopefully not breaking the skin. Any acknowledgment is just going to reinforce her). I’d also try catching her when she’s being calm. If she’s lying calmly in your husband’s lap, go over and pet her. Try body massages to calm her–she really sounds over-stimulated, in which case walking her more or doing more training is just going to rev her up more. There’s the T-Touch techniques ( for a sorta demo). You don’t have to buy into the “animal communication” bent (I sure don’t), but it’s obviously relaxing for the dog and rewards them for calm behaviour (and shows that they can have a nice time with you by just calmly hanging out). Stroke in 1-2 circles and then draw your hand down the line of muscle (use the base of your palm on larger muscle groups and your fingers on more delicate areas). I usually start at the larger muscles in the shoulders, work my way to the tail and then go back to the head. There are a lot of trained t-touch practitioners around if you want to take her in for a massage, they might have some better ideas than me. You could also take her in for some acupuncture, that can sometimes have a dramatic affect.
    There’s also a really great animal behaviourist in my area who keeps a pretty great blog, I’ve gotten some great tips there and it would be worth a read-through of her back catalogue (all positive based, by the way! And I’ve seen the wonders this woman can work, it’s really amazing):

    Aside from that I wish you luck. I’ve been on that horrible roller coaster of reactivity and it can be the most frustrating, demoralizing thing ever. It’s not something that changes overnight, it takes soooo much time and patience. Stick with it! You’re not alone!

  7. I know exactly how you feel. You’re not alone. There are some days where Kobi amazes me with the progress he’s making, then there are days where he barks like crazy, pulls like hell on his walks, lunges at people or dogs or just finds any other way to be annoying. I’ve been working really really hard in the last few months to work on his reactivity. The book Control Unleashed has been a huge help, but there are still bad days. I adopted a puppy that I could train into a Therapy Dog to take the place of my bomb proof senior dog, and when I say bomb proof I mean it, I never did any training with him and he isn’t fazed by anything and can go anywhere. Kobi showed signs of being a dog like that but as soon as we got him home, totally different story. I was expecting things to be a walk in the park because I took my time choosing a dog and researching training methods and how to do things right. There have been days where I feel like I have wasted the last 9 months of my life trying to work with him, but then there are days when there is a glimmer of hope. I’ve looked into different types of training as well and am considering it, especially for his barking, we have tried everything and it just doesn’t seem to be working. I like many things about positive training and I love the trainers I’m going to, they’re close and they are genuinely interested in helping me work out these issues with Kobi rather than taking my money and sending me off on my way. Yesterday was a really bad day for us, but I remember the progress we’ve made and have a new plan to work on the issues from yesterday. I’ve recently been spending a lot more time on behavior training rather than trick training, and the few tricks I’m working on are confidence building tricks such as rear end awareness or getting him to lie down while I’m in motion. Good luck with everything and know you are by no means alone!

  8. I agree with the comments about mental stimulation. We use a Kong Wobbler to feed Gwynn, if you want her to have to think a bit about her food, that one works well. But then, you don’t want to reward the obnoxious behaviour by getting up and interacting with her… so I don’t know. Gwynn tried barking at me to say ‘let’s go play’ for a while, and I found it just took a lot of consistently not getting up from my seat (even when I wanted to, or really really had to go to the bathroom and he showed up at the wrong moment), to get him to calm down a bit. I will say one thing, though – SO jealous that Pearl is interested in her toys. Gwynn will play with them sometimes, but I cannot seem to get him interested in toys. He just doesn’t want to play with me, I’m just that weird person getting all worked up about a squeaky snake in my living room, with my dog wandering away with indifference.

  9. I’ve dealt with these kinds of temperamental or demanding behaviours by ignoring. I suppose that’s technically a punishment, so not sure it would fall into the realm of “staying positive”. And by ignoring, I mean IGNORING. Not even eye contact. And even walk away if necessary. That would be what I would recommend for when she barks, jumps, drops a ball on your lap, etc.

    I did read that you’ve tried this, and that she escalates it to more excitable demanding and even biting. I would recommend to keep 100% consistent with the ignoring in all cases. She’s exercising all of her options – if she figures out that something gets her attention (even pushing away or a stern “no”)… well, some attention is better than none.

    Should the biting become a more serious issue (or if it already is), that’s when I would implore some redirecting; give her something to do – a sit-stay in the house, for example. It would give her something to pay attention to, as well as calm her down.

    The others above who have mentioned focusing on positively reinforcing good behaviours – petting and playing with her only when she’s calm – is also excellent advice!

  10. I’m just getting around to reading this now, and everyone has given you great advice. I highly suggest talking to your vet and maybe even having a free consult with a behaviorist. I am so in your boat and understand your frustration. It’s going to be a long slow process, unfortunately, but it will be worth it. Good luck!

  11. I know this is a long time afterwards, but steroids in humans can cause huge changes to personality and demeanour. I am a nurse and work with transplant clients who take steroids post transplant and they and their families report these changes, so I would not doubt this could be part of the problem. As soon as I read the steroid injection I had to share. It is a known side effect.

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