Behavior

Biting -- What You Can Do For Your Pet

Though dogs and cats are naturally inclined to use their teeth, it is up to you to make sure that they use them in an acceptable fashion. The next time your dog gets a little nippy, quickly offer him a chew toy. "This is a way to teach him to keep his mouth focused on toys instead of you," says Dr. Hunthausen.

Dogs are very respectful of their leaders. With puppies as well as grown dogs, it is essential to let them know that you are the boss and that you won't tolerate biting. The next time he bites, simply leave the room and ignore him for a while, says Dr. Hunthausen. When he starts craving your attention again, give him a command, like "Sit" or "Heel." When he obeys, reward him with a lot of love and perhaps a treat. Eventually, he will learn that biting has unpleasant consequences and that obeying has very pleasant rewards.

Another strategy is to keep your dog on a short lead with a training collar even when he is in the house. When he attempts to bite or even to "mouth" your hand, tell him, "No!" If he stops immediately, give him plenty of praise. If he continues biting, give a sharp pull on the lead and, again, praise him when he quits.

Some dogs are naturally aggressive, particularly toward other dogs. You can't change a dog's personality, but you can prevent problems when two dogs happen to meet.

Watch the signs. "Look for growling, erect hair, ears directed forward, and any sign of teeth," says Dr. Hunthausen. These are signs that a fight is about to begin, and you will want to get away from the situation before an actual bite occurs.

Distract him. Another way to prevent fights and bites when you see trouble coming is to make a sudden turn or to speed up or slow down your walk. This will make him pay attention to you and forget about the other dog.

It can take patience to train a cat not to bite. What you can do is change his mind before he makes the move. Dr. Hunthausen recommends that you keep a squirt gun nearby. If your cat begins an attack, give him a quick spritz. Nearly all cats hate water, and this will cause your cat to quickly retreat -- and if you do it often enough, he will gradually get the idea to back off.

When squirting a cat, don't look him in the eye. Instead, pretend that the squirt of water had nothing to do with you. "You want to be as covert a possible so that he doesn't associate the punishment with you," Dr. Hunthausen explains.

Most cats adore human contact, but only on their terms. They will often scratch and bite when they are tired of being petted, he adds. Keep an eye on his tail: When it starts lashing back and forth, that's the signal that it is time to move your hand and let him be.

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Copyright 1999 Rodale Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

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