All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Family Dog is Biting Us! Help!

Dear Marie,
I hoping you can direct us so that we can save our family pet from being given away or worse. We have a year-and-a-half-old Jack Russell Terrier. She has always been aggressive on walks towards other dogs, or when uninvited people just reach down to pet her. Those things we can handle. Lately however she is turning into a beast against us, her family.

She will jump up into your lap and want to be petted. Then while petting her all of a sudden she growls, bares her teeth and tries to attack you by biting you. And she is NOT playing. She's done this on five separate occasions over the past week. Each situation has been different, but one second she is fine, the next she is going off on you, trying to attack you, and she is biting hard enough to draw blood! Then she will even turn to walk away then charge back and attempt to bite you again. She knows she is being bad, because almost immediately she will come up and try to snuggle to make up for her behavior. You can totally tell she knows what she did is wrong, it's almost like she can't help herself. Can you possibly suggest anything we can do, or where to go that will help us that isn't going to cost a fortune. This problem is beyond regular dog obedience and most behaviorists will cost a fortune we don't have. She's my 12-year-old's best friend but I worry she is going to cause serious harm to her or one of her friends if this behavior isn't stopped.
Thank you
Carol R.

Dear Carol,
It sounds like you have a very serious problem and one that you can waste no time in correcting. Before doing anything else, take your dog to your veterinarian to make sure that the problem biting isn't associated with an injury or another painful physical condition. You should also have her spayed if you have not done so already. Spaying and neutering dogs is one of the best and easiest methods for eliminating many aggressive
behaviors in pets.

Once you are able to rule out a veterinary diagnosis, then you will know that her acting our is behavioral. In the wild, dogs in packs frequently bite one and other. This helps establish a dominance order within the group. Obviously, this is unacceptable for family dogs and your pet must learn that her place is at the bottom of the household hierarchy.

Jack Russell Terriers are known to be high-energy dogs that tend to be snippy with other animals. They enjoy playing dominance-type games and unsuspecting owners who indulge their pets in such play head down a very dangerous path that leads to serious biting behavior. Avoid roughhousing, tug of war, trying to get balls away from your dog, and any other game that involves a combination of your dog’s mouth, face, and you. If your dog “wins” or perceives she has won any of these competitions, she will feel that she has
moved up a rung in your family’s chain of command and will assert her position whenever the urge strikes.

Children tend to enjoy playing with dogs in this manner because their pets seem to enjoy it so much. But it is especially important for children to retain their higher-level position over the dog and therefore they should interact with your dog only as its superior.

Jack Russells have a lot of energy and that is putting it mildly. Your dog needs to be worn out with exercise each and every day. This means that everyone in your family, and even your daughter’s friends (with their parents’ understanding of the situation and their permission) should take your dog out for vigorous walks and runs.

If your dog shows any inappropriate behavior, she needs a short time-out. Jack Russells love attention and if they are placed in a room alone each and every time they misbehave, their high level of intelligence will draw a parallel between the behavior and the consequence. You must also use a firm tone of voice and the word “NO” at any time she begins to get mouthy.  Redirect her to a chew toy or some other activity and when she exhibits good behavior, immediately praise her.  She needs to understand what you want from her before she can do it.

Consistency is a very important factor. You cannot let her get away with even the smallest amount of soft play biting. All biting must be eliminated. That means everyone in the family needs to understand the seriousness of the situation and follow through with their end of the training regimen.

It may take a few weeks to a few months to completely rid your dog of this problem behavior, but it can be done.

Best wishes.

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