Understanding My Pup's Thought Process

Posted by Ryan20
Aug 8, 2010
Hello everyone,
My wife and I have a 5 month old Golden Retriever boy, who is excellent 95% of the time! The remaining 5% can be painfully frustrating, especially since we know he understands what he is doing is wrong (more on this in a moment). As a little background, he has been almost through an entire puppy obedience course (we finish in a couple weeks), has plenty of toys around the house, gets lots of attention, and has between 1.5 and 3 hours of walk/exercise time a day outside away from the house. He is currently teething (and losing a lot of puppy teeth!), and also seems to be beginning to understand his hormones are starting! He is very socialized to people and other dogs, and is almost always an "excellent" puppy when meeting new people (no biting, but sometimes jumping up). He has no phobia with us against food, toys, touching him (like ears, paws, etc) - he's even learned what a bath is and jumps in the tub on his own! He also is excellent on the leash, and understands several commands that can get him moving or identifying the world around him (come, heel, wait, look at me, look over there, listen, smell - though he doesn't always want to go/listen to them).

I would not consider him an aggressive dog, but I think he definitely has aggressive tendencies that have been around since we got him at 8 weeks (he was very bitey when we got him from the breeder). The problems are happening when there is something that he wants to do, but we tell him "no" (but only 5% of the time; the same situation/command earlier or later could have a totally different outcome). It's almost like that word gives him the largest chip on his shoulder and he just wants to be sassy right back. His sass is in the form of biting our clothing, and sometimes moving to nip at the hands or feet. He bites, but not hard enough to draw blood (we taught him biting was bad early on). Other times, it'll seem like he's just decided to start biting us because we are in the room and his toys aren't interesting him any more (his tail is up and somewhat wagging, so we've been told it's playful, though still inappropriate). We've tried so many different techniques from so many different people, but nothing seems to get him to want to kick the habit. Giving him toys when he's biting us sometimes worked, but not for long. Yelping seems to get him more fired up. Saying "no" further (no bite as well), and leaving his area with our backs turned to him seems to have the best effect - he'll lay down and become calm (even whine a little sometimes), but even after several minutes it's a 50/50 spread as to what he'll be like when we go back in the room - good or bitey. It almost seems like he's bipolar sometimes since he can be nice and laying at your feet one moment, and then trying to eat a hole in your pants the next! And the aggressive fit ends just as quick as is starts a lot of times.

So, aside from so many other questions I plan to have, I think my main question is, "Why does he want to bite us?!" What should we do to stop it? Does it have anything to do with A) he being a puppy, or B) he's teething? Is there something we are doing incorrectly? He listens so well during that 95% time-streak... what is going on during the other times? And then, most importantly, will he move out of this as he gets older? I can deal with it if I know he's going to be alright mentally and he stops this later on (like after teething or neutering).

My wife and I are just really at a loss with what to do next because we want to make the right decisions now for him later on. We are really hoping to have a wonderful family dog (he is our child right now), and are glad to do what is necessary for him to be the best he can be. Any advice is greatly appreciated! Thanks!
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Aug 8, 2010
Hi Ryan20,

First of all, I should tell you and your wife are so lucky to have a puppy that is excellent 95% and bad only 5% of time. Puppies are adorable but full of troubles including potty training, biting, jumping, chewing, you name it!

Do you want a 100% perfect puppy? I would be very happy if my puppy is 95% perfect. I understand your frustration but let me tell you that your puppy will go through a teenager stage until he becomes 1 - 1 1/2 years old. Golden retrievers' puppyhood is longer than some other breeds, such as herding or working breeds.

It sounds like you are tired of him biting and it seems to me that is his way of getting attention. The best way is to give him time-outs. That will teach him that he won't get your attention unless he calms down and keep his teeth of your skin and your clothes. Yelling at him is no good since you are still giving him attention. Be very firm and consistent. When he bites say "Ouch!" and show him it hurt, grab his collar and take him to a room and close the door without saying anything. You will have to repeat this many times but he will eventually learn that he can not get your attention unless he behaves.

You have a very nice puppy and puppyhood will not last forever so enjoy it now
Posted by Ryan20
Aug 8, 2010
Thanks for your quick response!
I don't mind not having a 100% perfect puppy, but on the areas of misbehavior, I wish they weren't biting-related! Why can't we have a puppy that just hates to eat his Brussels sprouts?!

And thank you for the recommendation, but I need to ask some follow-up questions for clarification. The way our house is designed, there isn't really a room we can put him in for time-outs. I've built gates for the rooms he's allowed to be in, but because of this, our methods remove us rather than him, from the situation. Does this work better/worse/about the same? Is it slower for him to understand? Should I built a time-out pen for him?

Also, saying "Ouch" seems to elevate his aggression, so we've substituted that with "No!" (which unfortunately also seems to elevate his aggression, so we are stopping that too!). From other suggestions in readings, it sounds like we should actually say nothing (no pun intended) and just walk out. Does this sound like a viable option? Does the dog need to associate something with the walking out to make it stick?

And finally, though I said in the original post that he's excellent on the leash (and I stand by that), I should've clarified that I was implying on the walks. When we take him out around the house, there are times where he'll snap and start attacking the leash, and then moving into his biting-on-us phase, with us standing in the open and no where to run. The biting phase sometimes takes it's course quickly, but other times he gets fully aggravated (either from us saying ouch, no, or even ignoring) and it doesn't seem like play any more. What do you do when your dog freaks out on the leash? Are there techniques that can calm him down? Walking him back into the house when he's aggravated gets him to the point where he's trying to jump and and bite, which is entirely not good. I feel like the puppy obedience course has taught him to hate his leash when it's holding him back from what he wants to do (they like to use the "training" [choke] collar - we've taught him EVERYTHING on our own without it, and as soon as it's on him, he instantly misbehaves).

Again, any advice is greatly appreciated and cherished! We just want to get him to not bite!


As I was just previewing this post, I heard my wife reprimanding him outside as they were playing (off-leash in a fenced in yard), because he went wacky on her and started biting her shorts, arms, and shirt. She said they were playing fetch, and when she tried to say "let's go inside", he lost it. It's this "5% of the time" that is super tough to handle!
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Aug 9, 2010
OK. Now lets make it simple - You want your puppy to learn not to bite, right?

By the way, my dogs like Brussel sprouts

First of all, is your puppy class being taught with a positive reinforcement method? In other words, do you praise and treat his good behaviors, rather than punishing him for his bad behaviors? I don't know why they use a choke chain, which is not recommended by most of dog trainers nowadays :confused:

You said you had tried everything but are you giving him enough toys, Kongs, bones, lawhides, etc.? Somehow, he needs to understand that he can use his teeth to any of those things, but not on human skins and clothes. That's why I would shout "Ouch!" and tell him that it really hurt me and show him that I would not want to put up with that particular behavior. Thus, he has to be time-out. He might be taking you "Ouch!" and "No!" as a squeaky toy and it makes him excited

You said that he would let people touch his paws, etc. but does he let you brush him or clip his nails? Doesn't he attack the brush or the nail clipper? If he does, that would be the perfect time to teach him not to bite. Make situations like that he would try to bite you and teach him "Leave it!" command. If he leaves the brush alone, praise him and give him treats. He will soon learn that stopping biting is a good thing since he gets rewarded.

Play with him using a toy or a rope, as soon as his teeth touches your hand, say "Ouch!" with exageration. You can say "Hey! It hurts" or something like that just so that he gets startled. Once he stops, tell him "Good boy!" and treats him.

As for the time-out logistics, if your situation doesn't allow, I guess you can just leave him alone and be gone for good 5 mins. What does he do when you leave? Does he whine, or bark? How does he behave when you are back?

Also for the leash problem, are you using a 6 feet or longer leash? I would recommend 4 ft leashes. You can also use a chain leash because he would hate to bite the chain when you walk him. Inside the house, put on a regular leash and let him drag it for 10 mins everyday, under your supervision. If he tries to bite the leash, tell him to "Leave it" and praise/treat when he does. Let him get use to have a leash attached to him.

I think daily obedience training will be very helpful, in addition to the puppy classes (again, please use positive reinforcement and NO choke collar).

Good luck
Posted by kjd
Aug 9, 2010

What MaxHollyNorth said about the choke collar? Do it! Always use the least control that will do the job.

The two of you have trained your puppy without the choke. Then he goes to class, which he should enjoy, and gets tortured! How much of his 5% behavior has started since the class and how much has he always had?

I've used a martinagale on my last two dogs. I like it because it widens to easily slip over the head, but can tighten enough so the dog cannot pull out. You adjust how tight it will be when pulled, so it doesn't choke the dog.

Your puppy has great teachers in the two of you. He'll get it in time.

Posted by Ryan20
Aug 10, 2010
Thank you for the encouragement, kjd! It's quite frustrating - especially when he seems irate and won't listen to any command. We agree that we don't want the choke collar on him; I've always wanted to try the martingale collar. We have class tomorrow, and plan to just refuse to use the choke!

To answer your questions MaxHollyNoah, yes, I want him not to bite! And by no means am I answering in disrespect to your input - it was/is greatly taken into consideration in our efforts!

1) Bodhi too, loves his veggies!
2) The class does work on praising good behaviors, but correcting with the choke collar is their way of bringing them back in to position (whichever they are going over).
3) He has more toys than he can think of - all kinds and types. And we often try to change his attention with one of them when he's biting us. It sometimes works, but he often drops them to bite us as we are praising him to bite the toys. And he knows the names of his toys (he can retrieve them on command), so he is aware that we are praising him for using his toy.
4) "Ouch" makes him even more fired up.
5) He does let us brush him and touch his paws, etc... He also knows "Leave it" on walks, and does a fairly good job of relinquishing his attention to the item when we use it. It often does NOT work off-leash.
6) For "Time-outs", he will wander for a few seconds, and then usually lie down, sometimes whining, but not usually. When we return to the room after a couple minutes (which feels like an eternity), it's a 50/50 chance of what he'll act like. *I would like to know what to do in a situation like cooking for instance (because the kitchen is one of his "allowed zones") when he starts to bite?
7) We us a 6ft nylon leash that is usually shortened by using two hands so he's guided with the left hand, and slack taken in with the right.

As an addon to what I've mentioned before, today, again for no reason, he full out became aggressive to me on our afternoon walk... so much so that he was biting me after I got his attention and restrained him by holding his collar and immobilizing his body from jumping by holding him. I know this isn't the correct method for dealing with his jumping and biting me, but until someone can give me actual technique that works in that situation, I have to go instinctual!

Speaking of which, we've heard good things about Bark Busters, but when we looked at them online, reviews were very mixed. The person for our area seems very reputable with several degrees and certificates, and when I spoke to her on the phone, she seemed knowledgeable, but hesitant to speak of the methods. It seems like a very similar approach to what's in this book, but $625 with additional things to purchase. Does anyone have any experience with this group? Better yet, does anyone know of any books that offer detailed step-by-step methods for teaching owners to get through these specific situations?

As always, thanks!
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Aug 10, 2010
Hi Ryan20,

I might have totally misunderstood your puppy's biting problem. I thought it was a puppy bite. However, when I read your post today re: your afternoon walk, I got a feeling that you were almost afraid of being bit by him sine he was so out of control. It doesn't sound like a playful bite

If it is in fact a sign of aggression, you might need more serious and robust approach. I would also grab his collar and immobilize him too in that situation. I would also end our walk right there and go home. When he misbehaves that means the end of fun. By doing this, you will establish your own authority. I don't know if this will work with puppies but my adult dogs understand the consequences.

I am sorry I don't have much experience with biting puppies so maybe someone like KOPcaroline can help you with your problem.

Also, all problems are not identical because each owner and each dog are different. Furthermore, the relationship between the dog and the owner is different. Also, it is hard to come up with a solution by just reading posts/questions without actually examinining the dog and the problem area, therefore, I am afraid there is no magic in any of online training services. It can be a good resource for general information but in my opinion, YOU, as the owner/leader of the dog, should know the best solution at the end. Good luck.
Posted by KOPCaroline
Aug 10, 2010
Hey Ryan20,

Sorry its taken a bit to respond, silly technology! But looks like you've been getting heaps of great advice and encouragement from other members!

I'd say most of your pups bites are plain old puppy "pay attention to me" bites. Some dogs are just mouth-ier than others. Even when he gets moreso riled up, it might not be actual aggression. My flatmates dog, a Goldie, can get super worked up and excited, and it sounds like he could take something limbs off, but its just playing.

I'd say the best thing to do, which you said you've been doing, is to completely ignore him when he starts the biting. If he bites your hand, clothes, anything, drop your arms or fold them across your chest (dropping them is less likely to make him jump after them...) and turn your back to him. Don't say anything, especially if any verbal feedback reinforces his behaviour. You say he usually calms down with this approach, but if you come back to him and he's in that 50% of the time bitey mood still, just repeat it. Ignore and turn your back to him. Or leave the room. Keep doing it until he calms down for good. And do it EVERY time he starts biting. Once he's calmed down you can offer him something appropriate for his mouth, like a toy, or just give him verbal/patting praise. This seems to be the best way to get a dog to keep his mouth off you, at least that I've seen. My own dog got the idea from verbal warnings, my flatmate used a counter attack technique where she would turn and open her hand in the dogs' mouth so that he couldn't do anything with his mouth (close it, chew, move at all really). A few bouts of that and he stopped putting his teeth on us. I'd hesitate to recommend that with your dog, as he seems apt to just getting more excited with feedback

If you're almost through your puppy class, I'd recommend to keep on with what they've been teaching. Changing techniques as far as choke collars and correction at this point will be confusing to your pup. I personally don't whole heartedly say yes or no to choke collars, I think with some dogs they are the only tool that works, but you should just remember to use it appropriately.

Let us know how you progress, or if you dont, definitely tell us! I hope this works, it seems to me the best answer. Either way, I do think part of it is just plain puppy behaviour that he'll grow out of, so I wouldn't write him off just yet