This puppy's nicknamed 'Munch Rat' for a reason...
July 28, 2006 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Puppyfilter: My lady-friend has three dogs: a male Great Dane, a male Boxer mix, and a 18 week old female Rhodeisan Ridgeback mix puppy. All are fixed. The Ridgeback has the other two dogs terrorized. How do I get them to play nice when I'm not around to supervise?

The puppy gives new meaning to 'ankle biter' -- The three dogs are most commonly seen with the puppy latched onto someone's ankle by her teeth. The bigger dogs aren't TOO disturbed by it, but even when they tell her in No Uncertain Terms that it's not polite (A growling snap and nose-shove that sends her spinning), she picks herself up, dusts herself off, and comes right back for more. She'll even eat out of their food dishes without a worry.

All three are left outside with the run of a large, fenced yard during the day. They all get as much playtime as we can spare out of our lives, and receive a lot of individual and group companionship (going for runs, chasing sticks, training exercises) in the evenings. I understand that Ridgebacks are *not* low maintenance dogs, and are hyperactive dogs that really need to be worn out (and need to be two years old...) before they settle down a bit.

I'm concerned for two reasons: 1) The puppy is growing rapidly. She's doubled in size every four weeks or so, and will likely be larger than the Boxer when she's done growing. She hasn't done anything that's more than scratched the other dogs *yet*, but they're getting more used to submitting to her as she's growing. I'm afraid that she'll really hurt one of the boys these days, and they'll be so used to submitting to her that they'll let her. 2) The submission thing -- the two bigger dogs are displaying incredibly submissive behaviour towards the people in their lives right now. They're not as interested in playing as they usually are, and will take any opportunity to be in close contact with a human -- who will then fend the puppy off or put her in her kennel.

The puppy respects us, and is already trained to sit, wait, come (within a close distance) and get in her kennel without reinforcement. I can break the puppy from biting the other dogs with a 'sit' command while I'm within earshot, but ...

... how do I get the puppy to stop trying to gnaw her brothers' legs off?
posted by SpecialK to Pets & Animals (13 answers total)
I fear the electric collar may be the answer? I know it seems cruel, but it worked for a difficult dog a friend had when nothing else would.
posted by A189Nut at 1:11 PM on July 28, 2006

Until Biscotti shows up, I'd just say that this is pretty normal for puppies. It sounds like the big dogs are being appropriately tolerant too.

Dogs can take a lot of pretty rough play without batting an eye. Other than keep a close eye on them I think the humans should let them work out their limits themselves.
posted by timeistight at 1:19 PM on July 28, 2006

Response by poster: Oops, and I calculated age wrong -- she's 14 weeks instead of 18 weeks.

Thanks so far!

Good puppy training resources are also great.
posted by SpecialK at 1:26 PM on July 28, 2006

A189Nut, there is no situation where using a shock collar on an 18 week old puppy would be "the answer". Please don't give out such terrible advice.
posted by Sirius at 1:31 PM on July 28, 2006

Sounds similar to my situation. I have a 4 year old 1/2 Boxer (female) and an 8 month old pure Boxer (male). He used to gnaw all over her...especially her legs and feet. It would actually make me mad at times since she would more or less just let him do it. "Roxie, please just bust his a$$!"

It seems to have gotten better although not gone completely. I believe that part of it just being a pup. The other thing I've done is take a page out of The Dog Whisper's book (from watching his show) and started dominating him when he does it. Nothing harmful to him, just break his attention away from the act and make him lay all the way on the ground (completely on his side) in total submission until he's totally calm. He has to stay like that until I tell him he can get up. I never hit him or anything like that, but I make sure that he knows that the gnawing isn't tolerated for a second. He's gotten way better. When he does act up, a simple "Sssstt!", and he stops.

Good luck with it, though. I feel the pain.
posted by MrToad at 1:37 PM on July 28, 2006

I fear the electric collar may be the answer? I know it seems cruel, but it worked for a difficult dog a friend had when nothing else would.
posted by A189Nut at 1:11 PM PST on July 28

This is bad advice.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:01 PM on July 28, 2006

Also as a placeholder until biscotti shows up:

(1) Make sure there's lots of better things to chew on.
(2) In your interactions w/ the pup, make it very plain that chomping is bad. The usual way to do this is to screech OUCH! in a very loud, high-pitched voice and then shun the puppy for a minute, and maaaaybe to not play with the puppy again until it's done a sit or some other token command.
(3) No shock collar. There are no puppies that need shock collars. If a puppy were so nuts that it could only be dealt with via a shock collar, that puppy should be put down.
(4) This mostly sounds like something the dogs need to work out for themselves. It's not a problem if the males are very tolerant of the little girl, or if they end up being submissive to her. If they want her higher on the totem pole than they are, who are you to argue? Unless they're crazy, the males can tell the difference between normal play, play that's rougher than they'd like, and an attack. The only thing here is that arguments between dogs, or just one dog telling another dog off pretty firmly, might look kinda like a fight but is emphatically NOT a fight. At some point, either or both males will probably want to shout at the puppy to make her stop doing something. That's okay, as long as it doesn't turn into an actual fight.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:29 PM on July 28, 2006

I think this is something best left to the dogs themselves to sort out.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:50 PM on July 28, 2006

I think this is something best left to the dogs themselves to sort out.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:50 PM PST on July 28

Not neccessarily. While there will be dominant and subordinate animals in a household, you can and should ensure that no one becomes a bully. Unfortunately, I am a cat person and not a dog person and don't have specific advice.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:12 PM on July 28, 2006

My brother has ridgebacks, they're excellent dogs, but they do require patience and training. Off the top of my head, I'd say the best advice would be to seek out a ridgeback owners group in your area for training specific to them. I've never actually seen dogs that require such high levels of early maintenance and training, but the payoff is worth it. Once the dogs are trained they are very easy to handle and are generally good around other dogs.
posted by efalk at 3:34 PM on July 28, 2006

Honestly, my first concern here is how close in age the two males are. It is very usual in the dog world for males to defer to females, and many males also defer to puppies as a matter of course, so this wouldn't necessarily worry me all that much in and of itself (I would still do something about it, however), but I worry about its potential for being a catalyst. Dogs of similar age and the same sex is a potentially explosive situation at the best of times, and the addition of a high-energy female dog could very easily start causing problems with the males. Use of a painful aversive stimulus like a shock collar is precisely the opposite thing from what you want to do to solve this kind of issue: displacement aggression is what you will get, and you'll find that the dog being shocked will start wanting to actually kill the dogs it's being shocked for nipping. Pack dynamics are very poorly-understood by humans (one of the many many reasons that dominance theory is so completely outdated and inaccurate, and why you should ignore that part of Mr "Dog Whisperer"'s top sekrit recipe), so I don't personally agree with trying to manage the pack behaviour too much either (however, I would definitely stop leaving all three dogs alone together, you could come home to seriously injured or even dead dogs if the wrong things happen one day).

In general, dogs who are well-socialized with other dogs and who aren't crazy will usually sort things out for themselves much better than we can with our interference, and if they actually need to sort something out, it is MUCH better to let them do so at the "argument" stage, than force them to wait until they've reached the "right, you fucker, you're going down" stage, because dogs only rarely get hurt in arguments, and they are often injured or killed in an actual fight. I would allow them to deal with this themselves unless there is actual injury taking place, or unless you can see that the males are really being overwhelmed, in which case I would just crate the Ridgeback for a while and let her brothers have some respite.

Were I to be asked, I would guess that these dogs spend most or all of their time together. This is a far from optimal situation for many reasons, and I think they should be spending some time away from each other every day (mealtimes at least should be crate times, you are just asking for trouble feeding them all together). I would think that the other effective things you could do for these dogs would be to increase their exercise (these are all high-energy dogs bred to work, they are probably not getting enough exercise), be sure to spend one-on-one training time with EACH dog at least every other day, and increase the training you're doing with the Ridgeback, keeping it fun and positive, but she needs to exercise her brain more, as well as her body. (I also worry that you're looking to do ANYTHING at this stage "without reinforcement" - the fastest way to kill a dog's desire to work with you is to stop reinforcing things, especially with a puppy. You may think the behaviour is trained, but it probably isn't really set yet, and besides that, you need to reinforce occasionally anyway, would you work for free?).
posted by biscotti at 4:25 PM on July 28, 2006

I understand that Ridgebacks are *not* low maintenance dogs, and are hyperactive dogs that really need to be worn out (and need to be two years old...) before they settle down a bit.

A coworker of mine only has ridgebacks (on #5 already) and we've often talked about the different characteristics that make them unique. The one thing she has said on more than one occasion is that, being hunting dogs by nature, they have incredibly strong wills, and need a very dominant "master" -- not just an "owner."

I would suggest that *both* the ridgeback *and* your lady-friend need supervised, structured obedience training courses. You need to do this soon before it grows too much and its personality gets more set in stone. The dog has to be conditioned to be completely and utterly subservient to the master's wishes, so much that it feeds off the approval of your lady-friend like dogfood. If she can't manage him now, I can tell you it's not going to get any easier when he's 80 lbs. of pure muscle and willpower.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:42 PM on July 28, 2006

From what you're describing, it seems like the puppy thinks that you and your gf are the head of the pack and in seeing the other dogs defer to you two, that they are inferior. I would hope professional training with all three can sort it out.
posted by brujita at 12:00 AM on July 29, 2006

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