Cover image for The dog who would be king : tales and surprising lessons from a pet psychologist
The dog who would be king : tales and surprising lessons from a pet psychologist
Wright, John C., 1947-
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Publication Information:
Emmaus, Pa. : Rodale Press, [1999]

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262 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
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Includes index.
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SF433 .W75 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
SF433 .W75 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
SF433 .W75 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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In these witty and entertaining stories about misbehaving dogs, John Wright, one of the country's top behaviorists--and probably the only one who's been making house calls for 16 years--takes you with him on his rounds to show how he helps beleaguered dog lovers come to terms with their misbehaving pets. Wright has used his intimate knowledge of animal psychology to solve behavior problems ranging from the serious to downright funny. A great storyteller, Wright shares hilarious and insightful first-person anecdotes to help clients understand and appreciate why their dogs act the way they do, and to solve some unusually knotty problems--and, of course, to keep Fido out of trouble in the future!
With the skill of a seasoned mystery writer, Wright gets to know the families and their lifestyles first, even the layout of their homes, before analyzing all the vexing doggy clues. He sheds expert light on topics such as coping with puppies and new dogs, right and wrong ways to discipline a pet, and specifically canine behavioral problems like aggression, having "accidents," phobias, and more.

Author Notes

John Wright is a pioneer in the field of animal behavior. A certified animal behaviorist, Wright frequently presents seminars and workshops on the diagnosis of feline and canine behavior to state, regional, and national veterinary medical associations, animal control associations, and humane societies. Wright is a professor of psychology at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, where he resides, and is a 15-year animal behavior consultant veteran.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Two new books on dog behavior take different approaches to the subject. Dodman, author of The Dog Who Loved Too Much (1996), hopes that his new book will become the "Dr. Spock" for dog owners, and in this goal he has succeeded admirably. Covering behavioral traits and problems from A (aggression) to Z (zoonosis), the author's accessible writing style makes difficult concepts easy to understand. Not only does he describe canine foibles such as chewing, barking, and eating everything they can find, he shows how these little problems can mutate into major behavioral abnormalities. Many of the definitions are illustrated with tales from the author's practice treating behavioral problems, making the book extremely user-friendly. The index will prove very useful for desperate dog owners. In The Dog Who Would Be King, Wright describes numerous dogs with behavioral problems and explains his methods for helping them learn new ways of interacting with their owners. Witty stories take the reader into a number of households with misbehaving dogs, and Wright, an applied animal behaviorist, describes how he ferrets out the roots of their vices. Starting with the chilling case of King, a German shepherd that bit his family whenever they did something he didn't like (the unraveling of this control freak dog's behavior is the entire book in a microcosm), Wright goes on to describe scores of stories about dogs of less than sterling character. Though this book is not a "how to" for readers to change their own dogs as much as a means of learning that help can be had from specialists (and that most dogs can be helped), it makes for fascinating reading. Dogs Behaving Badly, while just as fun to read, represents more of a practical approach to problem dogs. Both books have much to recommend them to all libraries. --Nancy Bent

Publisher's Weekly Review

What would you do if your dog was terrified of your new lover? Or if she ate her way through your new kitchen cabinets to hide from a thunderstorm? Applied animal behaviorist Wright's (Is Your Cat Crazy?) latest book tells how he helps exasperated owners solve these and other shaggy dilemmas, including the dog who left "voodoo" drawings on his owners' white carpet while they were away at work and the family that couldn't eat at home because their German shepherd would swipe their food from the table. Wright also covers more ordinary cases of doggy phobias, separation anxieties and aggression. In between cases histories, Wright donates valuable advice on topics such as choosing and training puppies, merging pet households and reading your hound's body language (hint: not every wagging tail is friendly). Best of all, Wright demonstrates inspired, and sometimes humorous, insight into the motives of mischievous canines and their befuddled owners. Agent: Jim Frenkel. Author tour. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Wright, a professor of psychology and certified applied animal behaviorist, shares entertaining stories about misbehaving dogs from his personal case histories. Meet King, who wouldn't let his owners get out of bed at night. Then there's Wizard, who was so worried that his owner would abandon him that the owner had to leave for work every morning through the bedroom window. After 16 years of making house calls, Wright has learned to know the families and their lifestyles first before analyzing the dog's problem. This is not a "how to" bookÄthe treatments described are all custom-tailored for one particular animal in its home. Instead, Wright focuses on altering behavior rather than the pet's personality. Drawing from his experiences, he provides insight on topics such as coping with puppies and new dogs, the right and wrong ways to discipline a pet, and specific canine behavioral problems like aggression (biting) and phobias (fear of thunderstorms). This work nicely complements Nicolas Dodman's The Dog Who Loved Too Much (LJ 8/97). For large public library collections.ÄEva Lautemann, Georgia Perimeter Coll. Lib., Clarkston (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One The Dog Who Would Be King My friendly knock was greeted by an ominous, throaty growl. This was not the "doorbell bark" of the average pet. This was the growl of a dog with an agenda.     I get your message, buddy, I thought uneasily, and I really, really hope you're on a leash. I heard footsteps approaching, but no one was telling this dog to lie down or be quiet.     Unfortunately.     But that's why I was here. The dog was in charge instead of the owners, and I was supposed to turn that around. I hoped my uneasiness wouldn't show. After all, I was the professional "dog shrink" these desperate people were counting on to help their angry canine. I couldn't let them see that the beast scared me before I ever laid eyes on him.     Although my animal behavior practice at the time was fairly new, I had dealt with aggression many times. Usually, when I made a house call, the dog in question was leashed, crated, or in another room. Or the aggression problem wasn't linked to the dog being overly protective--it didn't go berserk when people came to the door.     So it had always been my habit to say hello to the client, shake hands, and sit down to start the session. I had never been attacked--so far. I hoped my luck hadn't run out on the doorstep of this modest bungalow in suburban South Carolina.     When the door to the Farley house opened, I came face-to-face with what turned out to be the most controlling dog I'd ever encountered. The young male German shepherd stationed himself just inside the door, barking, growling, and staring boldly into my eyes. His trio of owners stood placidly off to one side in the small entrance hall, and I quickly noticed two things that made my growing feeling of alarm even worse.     The first was that Janet Farley, her husband, Tom, and her brother-in-law Carl all sported a number of wounds in various degrees of healing on their wrists and ankles. The second was that nobody had a hand, much less a leash, on the dog.     "This is King," Janet stated without preamble. "Come on in before he gets you." The two men standing behind her chuckled nervously, King kept growling.     I moved my briefcase from my side and positioned it between me and King. Canceling the planned handshakes--almost certain red-flag attack signals--I greeted my clients with as much enthusiasm as I could muster and stepped slowly and carefully into the malevolent canine's kingdom.     King's body language told me everything. After years of studying dog behavior, I didn't need a textbook to recognize the classic signals of an animal who was about to lose control. If I didn't stoop or squat down immediately to defuse my threatening position at the door, I was fairly certain King would attack. So down on my heels I went.     Dogs can do a bunch of things with their bodies to tell you to back off before it's too late. And King was doing just about all of them. For starters, his tail was held high, swishing slowly back and forth.     Lots of dog bites are accompanied by tearful kids exclaiming, "He was wagging his tail!" It's important to know what a dangerous dog looks like, and there's a key difference between a warning swish and the typical exuberant wag. If people don't want to get nailed, they'll respect a dog's communicative displays.     King's ears were rotated toward me. His mouth was puckered with his lips brought forward--the opposite of the typical smile face of the calm canine. His weight was on his front feet, and he continued to stare challengingly into my eyes as he revved up his throaty growl. His nose was pointed directly toward me, so it appeared that his erect tail was growing out of the top of his forehead. All of these signals told me that King was in a highly aroused state and that my best move was to stay low and still.     As I squatted down and continued to smile--a decidedly strained smile at this point--deliberately at the owners, King approached me. I made a concerted effort not to look at him. If you move your gaze toward a dog who is staring at you, the animal will become even more aroused and potentially dangerous.     I usually demonstrate this point to help owners become more familiar with what their dog is trying to tell them. If the dog is 10 to 15 feet away and staring and the owner has control over him, I'll say, "Has he always stared at people like this?"     And they'll usually shrug and say, "We don't know; we never noticed."     At which point, I'll say, "Watch what happens when I stare back." As I'm talking to them and smiling, I'll move just my head toward the dog and direct my gaze at him. The dog almost always increases his barking or growling and arousal level.     When I take my eyes away from the dog and look back toward the owners, the dog will quiet and relax to some extent. I do this demonstration to show how eye contact with an aggressive dog is very provocative. It is one of the worst things a person can do, especially in a situation like the one I found myself in with King.     But since King was about to tear me to shreds and was not under anyone's control at all, I thought it prudent to forgo the demonstration and explain this point to the Farleys at a later time. As I continued to look away from King, smiling nonthreateningly at the owners to show him I meant no harm, King did something no unfriendly dog before or since has ever done to me: He walked right up, still growling, and set his chin on my shoulder.     I froze. He put his nose in my ear, with his mouth about an inch from my jugular vein. Now, I could actually feel his low, terrifying growl.     I had had enough.     Very quietly, I said to the Farleys, "Would you mind getting your dog away from me?"     The three of them looked at each other for a while. Then Janet replied in a dubious tone, "I'll try."     And with that, I knew this was something I would never do again. If I got out of this alive, I would never fail to instruct each and every client that the aggressive dog must be under restraint before I would take one step into the lion's den.     I was lucky this time. Janet was able to put a leash on King, and I gingerly made my way to the living room sofa and took a seat at one end. With a big coffee table in front, King had very little access to me, and I began to regain my composure. I set my briefcase against my legs. The leashed King came up and sniffed my knee, then sat down some feet away. He never took his eyes off me.     I took a deep breath. Feeling a little like a priest at an exorcism, I said, "Shall we begin?"     From our initial conversation over the phone, I had already tentatively diagnosed King as a head-of-household dog. These dogs take total responsibility for running the family. When a visitor comes to the door, they position themselves between the residents and the visitor, as King did, and attack if they feel it's necessary. It was King's self-appointed job to protect his people.     But he also needed to control them. Head-of-household dogs want to be in charge of the type and level of activity that goes on in the house. They generally don't like people moving too quickly, and they'll run over and bite their owners' feet to stop them. Everything must be done on their terms. King, I was told, would bite anyone who didn't do what he wanted.     King's veterinarian had referred the owners to me when King attacked him. He thought it was a hopeless case and handed them my card when the owners rejected his suggestion to destroy the young dog.     To determine whether or not King was really a control freak, it was necessary for me to find out if he was aggressive to strangers and the family in a variety of situations. This was the diagnostic phase: Describing what the dog does is at least as important as tracing the development of the problem.     "Would you tell me about a typical day with King?" I asked.     With King glaring from a distance and Tom and Carl occasionally adding details, Janet sat next to me on the sofa and matter-of-factly described their lives as subjects ruled by a canine king.     At 7:00 A.M., King awakens and goes to the sliding glass door in the kitchen. He scratches on the door until Janet gets up and lets him out. Nothing undesirable about that, I thought, as we began the session.     "But if I keep him waiting, he just chomps on my arm and brings me over to the door," she said. She glanced down at her left wrist, covered with scabs. "That's where I got most of these."     Okay. So King wasn't Lassie. I took out my pen and started taking notes. Figuring that most pets go out two or three times a day, I asked Janet how often she let King out.     "Whenever he wants to," she said, stroking her wrist gingerly. Seven or eight times a day was all she was willing to admit to, but I had a feeling it might have been more.     While King was outside, Janet would take treats from a box and line them up along the edge of the counter on either side of the sink. This routine came to light when I asked her if she had King sit or do anything for her when she brought him back into the house.     "No," she said. "King doesn't obey any commands at all."     "But do you try to reward him for things that you want him to learn to do?" I asked.     "Oh, yes, we reward him all the time!"     "How do you do that?"     "Well," she replied, "I line up these snacks on both sides of the sink, and all day King will go and get them."     "I see," I said. Then I thought for a minute. Her routine didn't really constitute rewarding King for something he was doing right, but it certainly did reward him. Every now and then--often enough for King to make the connection--he would bite his owners, jump up and put his paws on the sink, and take a biscuit. Here was the ultimate head-of-household dog: He was even in charge of rewarding himself for biting people!     But Janet never made that connection. In fact, she frequently reinforced King's aggression by giving him food. "Sometimes," she said, "I feed King a tidbit in order to keep his mind off doing bad things," which was sort of the right idea, but her execution was off. There's a difference between feeding a dog treats to put him in a mood not compatible with aggression and giving him treats because he was aggressive.     King had essentially learned, If I bark, growl, or bite, I'll get something to eat. Cool! And so he would do bad things to get his treats, thereby earning himself a reward for misbehaving. The Farleys, however, hadn't thought of it this way.     During the day, King would get bored and want to play. The way he started playing was to nip someone's ankle or hand. The owner would draw back, which elicited more nipping because a dog will try to bite that which is moving. When people got frustrated enough, they would strike out.     Great , King thought. This is a play session . The more excited he got, the more likely he was to bite, sometimes severely. Nor could he be controlled on a leash. Tom, I learned, had taken to hitting King on the nose with the handle of the leash. Eventually, the leash itself started to stand for something that predicted the aggressive play.     While many dogs will accept a pull on a choke collar and react obediently, King would bite his handler on the arm, which would stop the pulling or punishing. King made this connection, too. Biting would stop the uncomfortable behavior. The sight of the leash, rather than calming him, actually made him more excited. His owners couldn't start to train him because he would bite.     Strangely enough, the Farleys were totally devoted to King. He was aptly named: Here was a real king of the castle, and his human family treated him royally, with a respect born out of love and fear. Any hint from the veterinarian or me that King's behavior might be intractable or that the ultimate issue of human safety might make euthanasia an option led Janet into heartfelt rivers of tears.     "He's a real mean dog," she admitted when I brought up the subject on the telephone. "But we still like him." I never take it upon myself to recommend to an owner that a physically healthy animal be put down, but it is an alternative that responsible people must be made aware of, especially in the occasional sad case of a dog who won't respond to the best efforts to control aggression.     So we had already ruled out euthanasia in this case. These folks were in it for the long haul, which increased the pressure on me to figure out what was up with King and to make sure he could change. I admired their unflagging devotion and hoped I could somehow make King less dominant and their lives more pleasant--as well as safer--since they were determined to keep him.     "How is King around his food bowl?" I asked. "Does he seem to guard his food or growl at you when he's eating?"     "No, he's fine," replied Tom.     Good, I thought, making a note. Finally, one area where King didn't need correcting.     "It's our food bowl that's the problem," Tom added. "Can't even eat a meal at home anymore."     I looked up from my note-taking. The three nodding heads told me he was not making a joke.     "Are you serious?"     "You bet," he answered sheepishly. "Dog's got us trained."     It seemed that when the family sat down to dinner, King would get up on a chair or put his chin on someone's legs and stare up at them, much as he had done to me at the door with his chin on my shoulder. He had done this as a puppy, and everyone thought it was cute. Naturally, they had had a rule that no one would feed the puppy at the table, but of course, every once in a while someone did anyway.     Now, if King didn't get some action, he would jump up and scratch them, putting his front feet across their laps, until someone fed him something from the table. If he didn't get food, he would playfully bite them. Then he would jump down, go to the next person, and do the same thing until he was fed.     They all agreed that it wasn't cute anymore.     One night, according to Janet, King reached up and grabbed the barbecued chicken the family was about to enjoy. He ran around the house with it, and they chased him. But they weren't able to get it back. King thought they were playing, and they all knew how playing always ended up.     So nowadays, they just stood at the kitchen counter and ate their takeout or went to town for dinner. Things were easier that way.     "Well, King is certainly very assertive," I said lamely as I finished writing about that part. Assertive, my foot. Dogs like him were the reason people bought goldfish as pets.     "Let's move on," I said. I was beginning to feel very sorry for these people. But despite the horror stories, a picture was emerging of a dog I thought I could help.     "What about bedtime?" I asked, since no one had complained about King's behavior during the night. "No special problems?"     "Oh, boy," Carl piped up, slapping his knee. "That's a good one."     My heart sank. I suggested he tell me about it.     The family almost always spent a quiet evening at home by themselves; because of King, people didn't visit much. So they would play cards, talk, or watch TV--anything that didn't require them to move around too fast because King didn't like that and would nip their ankles.     When Janet went upstairs to prepare for bed, King would follow her, jump up on the bed, and wait for her to get in. Then Tom would go upstairs. King would jump down and lie in the bathroom while Tom got ready. Then King would get back into bed when Tom got in. In King's mind, he was doing his duty by putting his family to bed.     Part of his job, as King saw it, was protecting his immediate family. If by chance Carl were to poke his head in to say good night, King would jump down from the bed and stand guard at the bedroom door, growling until he went away The poor fellow was not permitted to enter the room.     Nor were Tom and Janet allowed to leave. Once King had put them to bed, they were virtually prisoners in their bedroom. King made sure they stayed put. In fact, one of the reasons they finally called me was a disturbing bedtime incident.     Tom tried to come downstairs at midnight to get a glass of milk. King was lying at the foot of the stairs, where he stationed himself after everyone was asleep. Getting him to move was out of the question, and King growled so menacingly that Tom was afraid to step over him. He went back upstairs without his milk.     The next day, the family discussed the fact that if there were ever to be a fire in the night, they would be trapped upstairs because King would never let them pass. They were willing to put up with a lot more than most dog owners, but they weren't going to put their very lives in jeopardy That's when they decided to ask for help.     Some people call me with alarm the first time their dog looks at them cross-eyed. Yet after months of living with King, it took the thought that he might kill them for these folks to dial the canine equivalent of 911.     I asked about the obvious possibility of shutting King out of the bedroom at night and keeping him away from the steps. Janet shook her head.     "We can't afford it," she said, motioning for me to follow her into the family room, which adjoined the kitchen.     "This is the last place we tried to shut a door on King."     From the kitchen side, the door was okay. But the family room side of the hollow door was splintered and wrecked all along the bottom 10 to 12 inches. I also noticed that the carpeting around the door was scratched threadbare.     "You can't shut King in," Tom said as we looked at the damage.     "Or out," his wife added.     "And he sure doesn't like his leash," Carl said.     I looked at King, who was now pacing back and forth in the family room like a caged tiger, still eyeing me suspiciously. I hastily told the Farleys I'd appreciate it very much if they would leave the leash on until the session was finished and I was out the door. Or better yet, out of town, I thought to myself as I eyed the unhappy canine. * * * That was about it. They couldn't think of any other major problems right now. Since they had amply demonstrated that King was running things, my next task was to get a handle on why he was acting this way.     I suspected that King's litany went something like this: I'm taking responsibility for my people. You have to play by my rules--or else .     King basically had control of when and how he played, when he went outside, where he stayed, how he got a treat, and how the family moved about, socialized, ate, slept, and so on. It was a horrendous situation.     "You've had dogs before?"     "Yes, sir," Janet said. "Good dogs. Not biters. And we treated them all exactly like King."     "But none of them acted like this one," added Carl. "He's just plain mean--born a bad apple."     Was King born mean? I hoped not. Temperament problems are difficult if not impossible to reverse. They're also not usually the problem.     In order to do a good diagnosis, I had to put on my pet-detective hat. I needed to backtrack to find out what happened during the onset of these misbehaviors. That would help me understand what caused them and why they lasted so long. Would we be able to quickly squelch one or two bad habits, or were King's problems so pervasive and entrenched that resolving them would require a total reversal of King's handling and routine?     Interestingly, the family had previously raised four German shepherds. I had to consider them to be fairly savvy about the breed and its behavior. This is an important point because many people will argue that a dog wouldn't turn out badly if it weren't the owner's fault. Others believe that the genes determine the behavior. It's the old argument of environment versus heredity.     Certainly, good breeding (good genes) makes a difference, which is why breeders are able to produce desirable physical traits and behavior. However, in some cases, the same mild rough treatment is likely to cause one puppy to "go off," and a similar (but genetically different) puppy to inhibit her aggression. Thus, both genes and rearing contribute to the likelihood of biting.     In this case, if I took the Farleys at their word, they raised all their shepherds the same way, played the same games, and provided the same environment. But this time, they came out with a totally different kind of dog than the good-natured bunch that had come before.     My belief is that in many cases, not including those involving deliberate abuse, well-meaning owners unintentionally contribute to the onset of aggressive behavior problems and, in some cases, may actually cause it if the animal has those underlying tendencies.     Parents might spank a child, for example, and end up with a well-behaved kid who knows what the rules are. Or they might spank a sibling for the same transgressions but find that this child tends to hit back or use physical aggression on the playground. The difference in the outcome most likely lies within the differences among individual children. And it is the same with other mammals.     So what happened to little King, a puppy brought home from a backyard breeder at about six weeks of age? I wanted to find out in what situations King first started biting. I wished I could turn back the clock and make sure King stayed in the litter until he was seven to eight weeks old. These are weeks of rough-and-tumble play among puppies, when they learn from their littermates and their mother, if she's around, that hard nips from sharp little teeth are met with hard nips back.     In my early research, I compared puppies who were hand-raised by people from birth with those who were raised with their littermates and their mothers. One of the most striking differences I found was in play-fighting and aggression. The human-raised puppies--handled by people but not exposed to play with their siblings or their mothers--tended to show more aggression. They sometimes bit too hard because, when they played with people instead of other dogs, nobody was biting them back.     Within the first eight weeks, pups develop an inhibited, or gentle, bite with their littermates. This allows them to play and play-fight without hurting each other. Usually by around six weeks, they are starting to get the hang of it, but it's not until seven to eight weeks that they'll have learned pretty much what they can and can't get away with in play. By about eight weeks of age, behavior patterns and interactions with littermates become more consistent and predictable.     When a puppy is taken out of the litter at five to six weeks of age, he is being asked to learn to inhibit his bite among human family members. But it's up to the people to teach him how to do that. This is when the trouble usually begins, because people don't realize that's their job, much less how to do it.     Here's what probably happened with King. He nipped his owner, and it hurt. So his owner whacked him on the nose or smacked him across the mouth. Over time, King began to get hand-shy. When he saw hands, he became overly aroused and excited. This may have caused him to either bite his owner first or to mouth the hand before it could hit him. And this, of course, led his owner to hit him again.     This is apparently what started to happen in the Farley family. Tom and his brother would play tug-of-war with King, using a little towel or an old T-shirt. As one of the Farleys was pulling with the right hand, for some unfathomable reason, he would try to smack King on the head with the left. Or he'd shift the towel from the right to the left hand, and when King wasn't paying attention, he'd get whacked with the other hand.     I see lots of toys in pet shops designed for tug-of-war games. I realize this is an old traditional form of play between dogs and their owners, and it can be fun for all involved, but my advice to dog owners is to instead consider engaging their canine buddies in games of catch the ball, fetch the stick, or jump for the Frisbee. For puppies who show early aggressive tendencies, teaching them rough games that encourage aggression, like tug-of-war or any kind of wrestling, can be asking for big trouble.     A recent study did show that tug-of-war isn't more likely to produce aggression than other types of play. But in my experience, a significant number of cases where dogs bite their owners have tug-of-war as part of the play scenario. So if a dog begins to get aggressive toward anyone during tug-of-war games--even if the bite is accidental--I recommend discontinuing the contest and substituting a less confrontational form of play.     In the Farley family, tug-of-war usually ended with the owner winning. It became clear to me that it was important to the Farley men that King not get the better of them. They characterized just about every situation with King as a contest that "I win" or "King wins." Sometimes, when King had too good of a hold on the towel, Tom would give it a powerful tug and little King would go tumbling against the wall. Tom would win.     But as King got stronger and his reflexes improved, he was able to hold on a little bit better. That's when the nips started. As King would chew his way farther up the towel, he'd eventually get to somebody's hands. After a few months, King was getting pretty adept at nailing a hand before the owner could move it. He was learning that the only way to stop getting hit on the head or thrown across the room was to bite first.     Tug-of-war was more than just a game for this family. For example, sometimes King would get up on the sofa, and the only way to get him off was to offer to play with him. Enticing him with tug-of-war, the men would drag King off the couch with the towel. King eventually learned that any time he got up on the sofa and the people had a towel, it was time to play. During play, he bit and they hit.     King started to interpret all kinds of physical reprimands--hitting, slapping, and even the word no --as predicting play. He was willing to put up with the pain of being hit because he interpreted it as play, as long as he could bite back.     That's why physically punishing this dog wasn't an answer. Trainers used to recommend tackling and pinning a dog to the ground in order to stop aggression. This never worked very well, and it isn't recommended anymore. To do it with an unaltered male whose sex hormones, called androgens, are beginning to kick in is even less advisable, and it certainly wasn't going to work with King.     Of course, many dog owners wouldn't think of hitting a puppy under any circumstances. And it seems logical for nonhitters to conclude that it was understandable that King turned mean; he was being abused. But when I questioned the Farleys, I discovered that these were the same games they had played with their other shepherd puppies, and none of them became biters.     This is where the genes part comes in, and I can only theorize that King probably had a different genotype or genetic milieu than the previous dogs. He was more genetically prepared to respond to this kind of treatment in an aggressive fashion. King is a prime example of how each dog or cat must be treated as an individual, because even within the same breed there are often puzzling differences that emerge.     I am not always able to figure out why an animal started doing something he shouldn't. Fortunately, it isn't usually essential to know the why in order to help the pet and his owners because sometimes the root of the problem is impossible to ferret out.     Janet didn't play tug-of-war with King, but he bit her anyway. And she learned that if she brought her hand up in order to hit King, he got extremely excited and would lunge at her hand or dart back and forth biting her ankles, depending on which was most available.     "But I found one way to stop him," she told me. She bent over and took off a worn brown loafer. "I used to have to whomp him on the nose," she reported, "but now he goes and lies down when I raise it up here." She whipped her arm up over her head, waving the shoe in the air.     I wasn't surprised that King had learned to back off at the sight of the shoe. A dog's nose, where the olfactory nerves form a pathway to the brain, is very sensitive. Even so, this was unacceptable. It was abusive to King. And who wants a biting dog--one who can only be stopped by whacking him across the nose with a shoe?     Although the veterinarian had expressed the fear that King would be impossible to rehabilitate and should be euthanized, I left the Farley home that day believing that there was some hope, especially in light of their determination to keep King. I believed that King was not born mean but that most of his problems came from two sources: His distorted concept of play, going back to his early separation from the litter, and the Farleys' misguided attempts to win control over him through inappropriate games.     First, in consultation with the veterinarian, we decided to have King neutered, which can help lower non-fear-related aggressive tendencies in young males. After the surgery, I asked the vet to administer a female hormone to further calm King while he learned his new, more appropriate behaviors. We planned to reduce the dose over time as King's behavior improved, since the long-term use of hormones can lead to unpleasant side effects. (Today, safer drugs have replaced hormones for this type of problem.)     Now King was in better shape to learn some new habits. But it wouldn't be easy. To start with, I had the family stop all physical punishment. No hitting, tug-of-war, or any of the things that King used to escalate into play, aggression, biting, or threats. I felt that if we could remove the pleasurable consequences of doing these things--the fact that King always got what he wanted--we could stop the bad behavior. This wasn't a dog who could be forced into doing something by the jerk of a leash; that would cause him to latch right onto the person's arm or leg. So we had to do something called submissiveness training.     When King showed any kind of submissive behavior, the Farleys were to praise him and pay attention to him. They had to learn a little dog body language for this exercise to work. I taught them the kinds of activities that would cause King to demonstrate a subordinate relationship to his human family.     The Farleys needed to watch for submissive signals from King, such as laying his ears back against his head. If they saw any, I told them that they were to pay attention to King and praise him. We started by praising King with a soft, low "Go-o-od bo-oy." I asked the family not to look directly at him for the first few days. Eye contact was arousing to King, and we wanted to de-arouse him, especially during these early learning sessions. If he were less aroused, he'd be more likely to absorb what we were trying to teach him.     Very gradually, from week to week, the Farleys would have to continue to praise King whenever he did something submissive and ignore him when he nipped or tried to escalate an encounter into aggressive play.     Initially, this praise-the-good, ignore-the-bad strategy led to more bites, not an unusual outcome when a dog is first learning new behaviors. But when King found that he wasn't getting positive consequences--food or play--he began to stop misbehaving. He learned that his aggressive play didn't get him what he wanted. Only being submissive paid off.     At mealtimes, for example, he was encouraged to sit. No matter how much he carried on--yipping or putting his head under their elbows--he was ignored until the end of the meal. Then the family decided whether or not they wanted to give him a treat. Eventually, King learned that he didn't have to bother the Farleys while they were eating because he would get something when they were finished.     After a couple of months, the Farleys took King to an obedience trainer to see if he could learn some basic commands beyond "Sit." I explained to the trainer that this was not a dog he could jerk with a choke collar if he valued his life. The trainer had pretty good results, probably because he was not on King's turf during the exercises and King was willing to cut him some slack.     Upstairs, King was put on the leash at bedtime and made to sit while Carl stood in the doorway and talked to Tom and Janet. King's initial protests were ignored. When King was able to accept this intrusion calmly, Carl gradually made his way into the room, progressing a few steps a night until King no longer objected. At the same time, King learned to let people pass on the stairs without biting or growling, and he received a reward when Tom reached the kitchen unscathed.     Similarly, King was leashed when people came to the door. He was sent outside for time-outs if he became overly aroused or aggressive. Since he was not being fed anymore when he was in an excited state, he learned that being calm led to praise, a treat, and entry back into the house.     Because King was earning all these treats, being fed a new high-protein dog food (protein was believed at the time to increase levels of a neurotransmitter in the brain that has calming effects), and taking hormones that, as a side effect, increased his appetite, he gained more than a few pounds and got a bit lazier. This was okay because with a little less energy, he tended to lie around more and had less interest in controlling or biting people.     Unfortunately, Janet projected magical powers onto the new dog food. She credited it with most of the behavior changes and refused to cut back or replace it as King grew rounder. There was no way the vet and I could convince her otherwise, even when we talked about the potential physical problems an overstuffed shepherd might encounter. King continued to have a weight problem, but at least he wasn't biting people. * * * This was a very lengthy case, about four months from start to finish. Most of the problems I deal with are resolved, or well on their way to significant improvement, within six weeks. But considering what we were up against, I was amazed at our success. All three family members had been retrained along with King. They went right to work with determination and reminded each other that they weren't supposed to do certain things and that they needed to do other things. We consulted regularly by phone.     After four months of constant effort, King was safer to be around and had relinquished his stranglehold on the household. The Farleys began to have people over to visit again. They ate at the dinner table, said good night to one another wherever they pleased, and walked downstairs for a midnight snack--activities that most people take for granted, to be sure, but in a household where a dog was King, simply a small miracle. Copyright © 1999 John C. Wright and Judi Wright Lashnits. All rights reserved.