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Canine Behavior/Aggressive Puppy


QUESTION: We just recently got a german shepherd pit bull mix puppy. She is really sweet but when she plays she can bite really hard, the point where it now draws blood. When she does that she also growls. I'm worried when she gets older she could be a very badly behaved dog. So far we have tried pushing down with our thumb underneath her tongue when she bites. Do you have any advice?

ANSWER: Bad "beeder", one of two things happened:
1.  Dam (bitch) was unable to adequately care for, and naturally discipline, her puppies
2.  Puppies were removed from dam far too early and did not learn that TEETH HURT.

Do not fear this puppy.  Instead, TEACH HER.

She has little bite inhibition; her growling is meant as "play".  No neonate (puppy under four months of age) would growl with intent to harm unless it was FERAL and terrified.  Your puppy is not feral, and she's not terrified.  SHE IS WITHOUT A CLUE.  Try this first:

Every single time this puppy uses her teeth, whine and cry like a dog and LEAVE her.  Meanwhile, teach her to "sit" using this:

and, read this:

As a new dog trainer, while continuing my studies in post graduate school, I was "given" a Doberman Pinscher puppy. This puppy was already 14 weeks old and had been in a PET STORE (the person who gave her to me really had no clue; well, few did those days back in the late 70s).  I had so many puncture marks on both arms that I looked like a junkie.  :o/  She, too, growled a lot in normal "play".  What did I do?  I slowly trained her and slowly redirected her to a trained behavior when she "bit" because she had no bite inhibition due to terrible breeding and having rotted in that pet store for far too long!  Ultimately, this was one of the best dogs I have ever had (and I have had a lot of dogs).  Her name was Rosebud.  

SO:  fear not.  I want you to try the whine and cry and self removal and I want you to teach her to "sit" and read the other information I provided.  IN ONE WEEK, re-post USING FOLLOWUP FEATURE (I can then see original post and my answer to it) and tell me what has changed, or what has not changed, and we will go from there.  

Is this particular hybrid (a mix of two breeds or breed types) optimal?  Well, each have their own issues but that doesn't mean a thing.  Both the Pit Bull AND the GSD can be wonderful companions.  SOCIALIZE THIS DOG HEAVILY right now: if she's too young to go to a puppy kindergarten, meet/greet other people's dogs (friends) outside; walk the dogs parallel to one another (be sure your friends' dogs ARE FRIENDLY and TRAINED); also, take this puppy OUT on harness (no choker collars) and let her meet/greet Humans of every size shape and age, at least THREE TIMES A WEEK (optimally, every day).  Carry tiny treats; instruct people to put treat on the palm of their hand, crouch down, open their hand and let the puppy take the treat.  She will NOT "attack" anyone.  What you are doing is conditioning her to see people as rewarding, all the time.  If you must (seems weird but I've done it) wear a home made sign around your neck that says : SOCIALIZING MY PUPPY.

Do your homework, report back, one week.

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

QUESTION: This past week or so she has done much better!! I used the whine and cry technique at first and it might have helped a little, but what made the biggest difference I think was that we put her outside with our older puppy and she plays with her now and doesn't bite as hard, if at all on us. We need to work on socializing though.

Your older "puppy' is teaching her bite inhibition BUT HAVE YOU FOLLOWED MY INSTRUCTIONS?  Doesn't sound like it.  You must teach her bite inhibition with you in a humane way, and teach take it/leave it and read other highly instructional materials on Dr. Dunbar's web site,, as I instructed you.  What you are DOING NOW is BONDING THAT PUPPY TO YOUR OLDER DOG/PUPPY, not to YOURSELF.  "Socialization" ends at 14 weeks of age; the rest is rehabilitation.  This puppy has to be taken OUT at least three times a week, alone (without the other dog), exposed to children, people of all ages, types, races; toddlers (but not too close, I wouldn't let you if I had a toddler); stand outside a playground, carry small treats, every time a child passes and YOU SEE that your puppy is not OVERLY EXCITED but is happy and calm, reward her.  You have a lot of work to do with this puppy.  You can't just stick her out in the yard with the other dog and expect magic to happen.

This puppy also needs a professional puppy kindergarten in a training venue that uses ONLY positive reinforcement and with a trainer who restricts puppies in age and type (in other words, they don't put 3 month old puppies with 5 month old puppies).  She needs to learn to remain calm, on and off leash, in such a venue where the trainer (look for educational credentials and observe a class before signing up) can help correct any inappropriate interactions.

Every puppy is A LOT OF WORK.  A puppy with a difficult breed type/hybrid needs even MORE work.  Putting a dog out in the yard DOES NOT DO THE WORK. If you do NOT do the work, you will be writing to me again in about 18 months and it won't be a pretty picture.

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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.

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