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Canine Behavior/Jack Russell Terrier


Hi there,
We have a 1 1/2 year old purebred Jack Russell terrier named Belle. She's smart, sweet, loyal, and generally a good dog. Other than the obvious hyperactivity that comes with the breed, we have a few minor behavioural issues we would like to work on.
1) Constant whining. She's started this new trend where she will whine for just about everything, and what seems like nothing. Usually we check for the obvious, such as needing to go outside or filling the food dish or if she can't reach her toys but lately it seems as though she's just doing it for nothing. What I've noticed is that she'll start whining quietly so I ignore it but then it gets more urgent so when I check it out she's usually sitting in the middle of the floor or the hallway. It doesn't seem as though she's asking for anything from us.
2) Excessive "kisses". She likes to greet us when we get home with an obscene amount of kisses which is not always a horrible thing. But we'll be sitting on the couch and she will jump on us and lick until we push her away which is usually pretty quick. It gets annoying when company is over because I know that people don't generally like it when dogs lick their faces. Or when we're laying in bed she'll come up and lick my hand or leg until I once again push her away. If she's too excited or aggressive, she'll throw a few nips in there too.
3) Aggressive playfulness. She gets worked up a lot when she's playing and will try to bite at us playfully which is a lot more painful than I think she realizes. Or she'll bark excessively and run underneath our feet while walking. It makes playtime a lot less enjoyable. Also when she's around other dogs who don't necessarily want to interact with her she'll run around them in circles and pounce at them. She tries to paw at their faces and when they decide to interact with her she'll lay down and roll halfway over to show her tummy. I get nervous when we take her to the dog park or other places where I know she'll be around other dogs because I'm afraid that she's too aggressive or hyperactive with them, especially when I don't know what kind of behaviour the other dog has.
Any ideas? I'm a little stuck on these.
Thank you!

Greetings, and thank you for contacting All Experts!
Sounds like you have a handful! Fortunately though, the good thing about Jack Russell terriers is the fact that they are very smart and respond quite well in obedience training --when motivated enough. If we can channel those behaviors and shape them into something else, success may be on its way-- this takes some time and patience though. Here are a few tips:

--First and foremost ensure the exercise and mental stimulation needs are met. The hyperactivity is often due to pent up energy that needs to be channeled, otherwise this breed will find its own forms of amusement and they are not always --that amusing. A walk around the block won't cut it, this breed needs at least 30 to 45 minutes of vigorous exercise a day. A tired Jack Russell is a good Jack Russell.

--Even when exercise needs are met, once home, this breed may still be looking for mental stimulation. Provide your dog with interactive toys, hide treats around the home or save a portion of his food and use it when you are relaxing on the couch so you can ask for a behavior like a sit, down or a target and you can toss the kibble around.

Now to problem behaviors... Issue 1: Whining
It's always a good practice to see a vet for unexplained whining when it's not triggered by a physiological need or a request for attention. It's best to play it safe and rule out possible medical problems before assuming a behavioral problem. In many cases, whining is an attention-seeking behavior. Any type of attention is fine for an attention-seeker, even negative attention will do. If every time she whines you look at her, talk to her, or get up to check stuff or fill up her food bowl, you have trained her that whining works. Because an attention seeking dog likes negative attention as well, scolding won't work.It may not look like she is asking anything from you, but to an attention-seeking dog, even something as small as looking, getting up or talking is enough. This especially applies to bored dogs, or dogs who have been left alone for a part of the day and crave any type of attention.

Best thing to do? Ignore. Now, you say that when you ignore the whining, her whining escalates. This is known as an "extinction burst." In other words, it's her way to work harder for your attention. Because you likely attended to her whining before, the increase in whining is her way of saying "hey, I am here, don't you hear me?" You can go more in depth on extinction bursts by reading this article:

So what's the plan of action? Ignoring whining, and most of all, ignoring the extinction burst whining. If you attend to the extinction burst whining you will cause her to whine even more and more. If you are reading a book, keep reading, if you are watching TV keep watching. Ignore other behaviors as well. Some dogs will try another behavior to get your attention once they realize whining no longer works, they may bark or come paw at you. You may think "oh, gosh, things are getting worst." Ignore. Then, once your dog stops whining, you can get up (if your dog whines as you are getting up go back to sitting) and reward the silence by giving attention or checking if she needs something. You can also give her a toy you have kept away for a while and she has forgotten all about. Always reward calm!

Issue 2: Kisses
The kisses you refer to are often a dog's affectionate way to say hello. As with the whining, ignoring the licking can be the best course of action. The licking may have been encouraged in the past by giving attention. If you wish, you can ask your dog to replace it with another behavior. To make it work, ignore all attempts to lick and then when your dog stops, ask for a sit and then pet your dog. If your dog licks,  stand up and move away. When she sits give attention. You can read more about licking behavior here, in a post by Victoria Stillwell:

Issue 3: Aggressive Playfulness
Some dog try to activate owners into play by nipping. It's their way to encourage motion. Most likely, when your dog nips you quickly move your hand away which makes the game more entertaining! You can try to encourage alternative ways to play through tug or hand targeting. If your dog still manages to bite while you play with these toys, stop playing. I have a few games suggested in this article:
Some explanations about bite inhibition in adult dogs can also be found here:

If you are concerned about your dog's play style at the dog park, don't take her there. Not all dogs do well there and there's nothing wrong with that. Generally, Jack Russells don't fair too well with other dogs. They sometimes have a desire to bully and some may even get into fights with small dogs that don't back down. Sensitive dogs at the dog park may get traumatized by boisterous play, while the more resilient ones may try to correct certain forms of play. A better option may be perhaps to organize some play dates with some dogs you think she plays better with, but always supervise and learn how to watch for signs of trouble. A good option would be to have a trainer/behavior consultant supervise play and give you an opinion.

Don't despair! There are accounts of Jack Russells being a challenge even for experienced dog owners. If this is your first Jack Russell, you're not alone in feeling overwhelmed, if this is your second or third or even fourth, you may still feel overwhelmed! Additionally, your Jack Russell is also in that challenging young-adult phase-- where exuberance reigns!

May I suggest a great read? "
What About Jack Russell Terriers: The Joys and Realities of Living with a JRT" Other resources:
I also highly recommend classes at least for the obedience basics if you haven't done this before, so you can use sit,downs and stay to your advantage to teach self-control and use differential reinforcement. Even better, after basic classes try some doggy sports like agility, flyball in which these doggies excel in.
About differential reinforcement:

I really hope this helps! Let me know if I can be of any further assistance! Best wishes with Belle and kind regards!

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Adrienne Janet Farricelli CPDT-KA


I can answer questions pertaining dog psychology and general dog behavior. Why is my dog doing this? And what can I do about it? are common questions I am asked. I will not answer questions concerning health problems as this is out of my spectrum, but I can recommend a vet visit if there are chances behavioral problems may stem from a possible underlying medical problem.


I am a certified dog trainer (CPDT-KA) that has attended seminars on dog behavior. I am acquainted with behavior modification programs and have read several books from reputable authors such as Patricia McConnell, Turid Rugaas, Nicholas Dodman and Bruce Fogle to name a few. I have rehabilitated dogs affected by moderate to severe behavioral problems.

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