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Canine Behavior/Muzzle punching


Benji (tan/white dog)
Benji (tan/white dog)  
Hi Dr. Connor- I wrote a question a couple of months ago (Managing behavior between our two dogs 4/17/2015), but exhausted the follow-up feature (thank you for your help on that!!!). I have new question on a recent behavior.

A quick summary of Benji: Benji is a rank opportunist, almost 2 years old, neutered, pup. He is impulsive and has a very high prey drive. We have had him since he was 12 weeks old (neutered before bringing him home) and has been in some type of class since he was a puppy (obedience, etc). We also have a female (spayed) 5.5 year old pup. Attached a picture (he is the tan/white dog).

New issue- he goes to playday (excellent place I trust), a couple of times a week. He also boards there when we are out of town. They place dogs in very small groups with dogs with the same play style and use positive reinforcement only. He plays very well from feedback we have received. Recently thought (as of last two weeks) he has started to randomly muzzle punch a dog while he in a transition pen before going into the play yard. He muzzle punches (no teeth, no aggression) and then goes on playing normally, so nothing else happens after the muzzle punch. The staff is trying to figure out why he started to do this, so that's why I thought to write you, to see if you had any insight on this behavior. I should also mention they tried switching what dogs he interacts with, but he still randomly selected a dog and punched the dog with his nose. A staff member did mention that she can tell when he is about to do it, and has been able to distract him right before doing the muzzle punch. Since they mentioned no aggression, and this it's quick and goes on his way afterwards, could it just be excitement? Or knowing that he is a rank opportunist, maybe something to do with rank? It was hard for me to find any information online about this behavior.

Thank you!

First: I want you to DROP IN UNEXPECTEDLY at least TWICE (random intervals) to see where your dog REALLY is and what is REALLY happening.  Report back using followup feature (you know how to do that) if you see anything you don't like or catch these people in a lie.

I am unsure what a "muzzle punch" is.  If it is a quick poke, it is more likely out of excitement (and what, exactly, do they define as a "transition place"....I'd like to know more about THAT). Is he making a statement to the other dog?  Yes. It could be "I go first" or "Isn't this wonderful"....I can't see anything from here.  If there were an aggressive intent, there would have already been aggression (growl first.....a few days later, snap).

Redirecting this "muzzle punch" must be done properly and it is a mistake to "mix up" the dogs by placing him in this "transition phase" with a different dog.  So far, the "punchee" (so to speak) has not acted; this might not always be the case.  If another dog interprets this behavior in the wrong manner, a full blown fight can erupt in what might be tight quarters.  Redirecting an unwanted behavior is done with a clap of hands and an IMMEDIATE command to "sit", FOR BOTH DOGS.  If Benji is taking his opportunism to this social situation, the other dog must be asked to do as he is asked to do or his need to assert himself might increase.

Have you seen the training credentials of the person in charge here....with your own eyes?  Have you asked others whose dogs are in this place what is going on with THEIR dogs?  I would.  

Redirect by asking for "sit", ask other dog to "sit", then proceed with Benji going first IF he, in fact, DOES go first EVERY SINGLE TIME.  If he does NOT, that might be precipitating this behavior.  If you can get a VIDEO of it, upload to You Tube and insert link in followup.

Occam's Razor:  the simplest answer is often correct.  When we hear hoofbeats, we don't expect Zebras.  So the simple answer is: something is going awry here and it is not the dog's fault.

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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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