You are here:

Canine Behavior/Puppy plays rough


QUESTION: Hi Jill , I have a question about my new puppy and my other dogs.

Hes with me since he was 4 weeks old , to soon I suppose , I found him on the street.

Hes a mixed breed , 10 months old , and when he pplays with my pitbulls , hes very rough , he likes to play nipping and jumping over them and using his paw to punch their faces , it gets very rough very quickly so I have to stop the game. Hes 53 lbs. now , the same as my other dogs.

I have begun to use the clicker on him , I show him a treat and he wants to grab it from my hand , or to bite my hand to get the treat,  he quickly figured out that that behavior doesnt get him what he wants , and he sits so I treat him , very easy.

But my goal is to use the clicker to stop the rough playing , and the possesivenes with his bowl , he will bite you if you attempt to aproach him , when he eats.

He loves to play with the dogs so much that the reward he gets from playing in that manner is higher than any treat , how can I encourage him or lure him to prefer my treat than the other dogs ?

Today I tried to stop the digging behavior in the garden , so I bought a bag of treats but as soon as he saw me , he stopped digging and started offering me the "sit" many times to get a treat , how do I make him dig again to clicker train him ? how can I go beyond the sitting , he only sits to wit for the treat.

Thanks Jill I hope I made myself as clear as possible

Take Care


ANSWER: LOLOL to the digging.....hahaha this is pretty funny actually, think about it.  This dog has figured out a way to MANIPULATE YOU to CLICK/TREAT!  You're not even ASKING for a behavior, he's just rushing over, sitting over and over again LOL.  This is called "superstitious behavior" and it means: we are trying to teach our dog ONE THING but our dog is LEARNING something TOTALLY DIFFERENT.

How to correct this?  GO BACK TO KINDERGARTEN.  Find out how to use a clicker scientifically, see this video as an intro:

What I want you to do in the next week is this:  stop giving commands of any sort and withdraw the clicker totally (as well as the treats).  Find a friend or two or three and have a party (beer is allowed, in fact, encouraged LOL).  USE YOUR CLICKER on your friends, one by one, explaining to them that you will click when they get close to a simple behavior you want from them (walk next to that chair).  Click when they get close, turn your back when they are not ("hot" and "cold").  Your friends (being Human I hope, no extraterrestrials allowed) WILL BE ABLE TO TELL YOU that they are confused and will be able to help you to TRULY sharpen your skills with that clicker.

Now:  go to Karen Pryor's site:   On that site you will find articles, videos, information regarding the basic science of operant conditioning and how to condition the dog to the clicker so that he is WORKING FOR THE CLICK and not anticipating the FOOD REWARD.  The clicker must become the PRIMARY REINFORCER.  This is a preview of the enormous help you will get from this site:

Karen's site (I believe) has referrals to trainers with credentials in the use of clickers and it might be worth your while to pay for a few sessions just to get your dog back on track.

As for his aggressive "assault" on your Pits:  Is this your observation?  Think about this and report back:  DO your Pit Bulls react in kind with actual aggression or is this just very loud and very hysterical "play"?????  Remember that "play" among or between dogs can be "fun" but that is not its purpose: its purpose is to establish social hierarchy.  At ten months, this dog is TESTING social hierarchy.  Whether or not "rough play" (vocalization, growling, "biting") is a problem is determined by THE INJURIES SUSTAINED.  If no injury is sustained, then your other dogs are not threatened.  I can't see anything from here but this 10 month old has NO bite inhibition (removed so young from dam and littermates that it's a miracle he even survived).  He has NO IDEA that "teeth HURT".  YOUR older dogs appear to be dealing with this in a calm and mature manner.  This might change.  Put a house tab (lightweight leash) on the 10 month old.  If you become uncomfortable with the level of "testing" during "play", without eye contact, with no words, pick up the house tab and put this 10 month old behind a closed door for about 30 seconds, then release him.

Regarding food aggression: this dog suffered severe malnutrition as a puppy and was most likely HAND FED.  Hand feeding requires that the puppy be weaned carefully and slowly as would its dam do so.  There's no reason for you, or anyone else, to mess with this dog's food.  He may always be resource guarding of his food dish.  It may take months, even years, before this extinguishes.  Feed him separately twice daily, put the bowl down, leave the room.  In the dog culture, when it's "Mine", it's "Mine".  Yeah a great many dogs are quite tolerant of idiotic owners who think they should be able to stick their hands into a dog's dish but that's just the nature of the species.  No domestic dog would survive in our present time if that species had not rapidly adapted to our way of "life"....OUR "culture".  

Once you've re-conditioned your 10 mo to the clicker and started again, from scratch, he will not attempt "snatch" (ouchie) treat from your hands.  Also you will have learned that staggered food reward enhances learning in the dog.  SO NOW put on your thinking cap and DO YOUR HOMEWORK.  You have done a marvelous thing by giving this dog a home and you are obviously far from ignorant regarding dog behavior or you would not be successful in a home with multiple Pit Bulls.  YOU CAN DO THIS!


This "puppy" has now acquired the behavior of digging as a way to get your attention and then "perform" over and over for the click/treat.  Let's do something I call 'AND NOW FOR SOMETHING TOTALLY DIFFERENT."

When you see him digging outdoors (your other dogs must not be present: this means, give this dog an opportunity, daily), go outside, get into a fetal position, moan and groan OH NO OH NO OH NO OH NO.  The dog will be startled.  He will STOP digging.  He will come to you: he will snuffle, he may paw you, he may chew on you (lightly), once he has stopped and is clearly confused, stand up and go back in the house (no eye contact, no words used).  The dog will follow you.  After approximately three repetitions of this (once a day, randomly), the dog will see your appearance outdoors while he is digging as worrisome and come to you.  He will then CONNECT HIS BEHAVIOR to your distress.  The moment that happens, you will know it (you'll "see" the "light bulb" go off over his head lol).  Have a leash with you in your pocket.  When this happens, put the leash on him.  No eye contact, no words: begin to circle left, right, figure eight, all the time saying something nonsensical (I use "ticaticaticaticaticatica").  Dog will at first be confused but his cognition is now involved: HE IS THINKING and PROBLEM SOLVING.  He will, when you stop, stop moving and look up at you.  Point to the ground and take a step forward: he will sit (automatic body response), praise him, bring him indoors.  I think unless there's a very good reason for his digging (little underground visitors), and even IF there is a very good reason, he will stop digging.

Further questions AS YOU GO, use followup feature.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Jill thanks a lot for you help ,

Ive watched the video and been reading some articles on Karen Pryors website ,
I will implement the recommendatiosn you gave me , about the digging and about the food guarding , as well as the beer exercise with friends...thanks for that one !
but I still have some questions.

The play with the pitbulls is really rough , the male pitbull grabs a toy with his mouth whenever the puppy comes to play and he chases him , but the puppy is much faster , he becomes anxious because he cannot reach him , then when the puppy aproaches him , he tries to bite him , but since he has a toy in his mouth nothing happens , but I can see he really tries to bite , what would happen if he drops the toy ? and with the female , he paws her face, jumps over her and tries to bite her but in playing style , but she also starts to dislike it after some time. I always imagine that as time passes by he will want to dominate the other dogs and then they will really fight , my pitbull is 11 years and  6 months , so he might not have a chance to defend himself.

And how can I encourage the bad behavior many times and then work it with the clicker (for example the jumping over me). Should I only use the clicker in a programed session , or should I use it whenever he does something hes not supposed to , or rather to change it to a good one.

Thanks a lot



ANSWER: You NEVER use the click/treat (and there must be a TREAT, if other dogs are in ear shot they must receive FREE treats = tossed to them, RANDOMLY.) to ENCOURAGE "bad" behavior.  "Bad" behavior must be IGNORED, or interrupted (redirected to "good" behavior that can be rewarded), NEVER click/treat "bad" behavior.  DO NOT use the clicker as an "attention getter"...John Fisher once said "We know what we want the dog to learn but WE HAVE TO KNOW WHAT THE DOG IS LEARNING".  This means: you cannot REWARD any behavior unless you know WHAT THE DOG IS THINKING in that second (and that corresponds with re-direction of behavior).  "Jumping over you" will extinguish totally if you put this puppy on Nothing In Life Is Free but I can't see anything from here.  YOu have a multiple dog household!  It requires EYES ON, in action, by a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (NOT a dog trainer).  Because of the multiple dog household and the complex social hierarchy, you cannot use a simple "negative reinforcer" (such as saying "BAHHHHH" and removing yourself immediately) because your other dogs will respond to your perceived DISTRESS.

Your Male PB, with his toy, is re-directing his aggression.  This demonstrates BITE INHIBITION.  It is unlikely he will actually "attack to kill" although at some point he may really "discipline" (pin the younger dog to the ground).  Your PB bitch is doing the same thing, patiently accepting but that does not mean she's not going to get up and "act" (again, with no threat of death).

You've got a complex situation with a breed type sufficient enough for me to encourage you to find a CAAB at least for one visit to observe and counsel you:

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Jill , thanks again for the recommendations on how to extinguish or ignore the bad behavior.

About my pitbulls , I live in Peru , and I dont know any certified trainer that uses a clicker or that can help me.
There are many trainers who say they know , but they dont.
And use classical conditioning , with little or no success , I have been struggling looking for an american trainer here ,or any certified trainer but I have had no luck , Im thinking as a last resort on asking in the US embassy.

Anyway , thanks a lot for your help , I appreciate it

Take care


Oh so sorry, I had no idea you lived in Peru!  I offer a site of international behaviorists but know this: I have no idea how competent/qualified they are or what criteria are necessary to get on this list:

Meanwhile let us work together:

Put a house tab on the "puppy" - this is a lightweight leash.  Your male Pit is CHASING the puppy and I want to know WHICH DOG INITIATES THIS so observe carefully.  If it is the "puppy" (for future reference let's call him P), the moment the older Pit responds by grabbing a toy and chasing, pick up P's tab and just sit quietly with him.  No comment, no eye contact, no comment to other dogs.  Sit quietly until he is calm.  Stand and ask for "sit" (you can easily acquire the skill for this by watching Karen's videos), c/t.  Then toss treat to both of your other dogs "for free", drop the tab, walk away.  IF the older dog (Pit) initiates the chase, the problem here is the P is faster, thus provoking a struggle for social hierarchical order.  (If I'm faster than you are, then I'm the "winner").  Calmly follow the P and step on the tab so he cannot run further.  Say nothing, make no eye contact; turn to the Pit (who may still have the toy).  Ask him to "drop it" ("Give" and "Take" can be found here:

Work with the male Pit AWAY FROM THE OTHER DOGS when you teach him this skill.  When he is ten out of ten times cooperating (for reward), this should mean approximately 35 or more "trials" (training events) done over a week or so at random intervals ONLY WITH HIM.

When the male Pit drops the toy, have a party (ignore the P).  Praise him lavishly, drop the P's leash and lead the male Pit to a place where you can ask for "sit" and give reward.  Then casually toss reward to the other dogs (for FREE).  This is our first effort and is addressing the most serious problem.  Your Pit bitch should, and will, put this P into his "place", hopefully in a manner that is not seriously injuring, so keep an eye on that situation.  But she is observing the male Pit interacting with P and learning from it.  Once both your Pits understand that P is not being warded for his bodacious adolescent grab for attention, things should calm enough to work on the rest.

PS: when you toss treats for FREE, make sure the male Pit gets one first, then the bitch; pay attention to them in that order, also.

I think your followups are pretty much used up so I suggest you copy/paste the entire thing to a .doc so you can include it in a new question next time you want to correspond with me.  Put in new question "Problem P Further Question".  Thank you.

Canine Behavior

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

©2017 All rights reserved.