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Blue Heeler Bites Strangers (longish)

Beetlecat
October 12th, 2005, 04:36 PM
Okay, now that the title sucked you in, maybe 'bites' isn't the right word since that conjures up pictures of dogs attacking children and such. My dog is not particulaly dangerous but, like any other ACD, he tends to be attracted to heels. With me, he'll pull my pant legs if he's excited to see me or sometimes try to grab them if I start running. He has never hurt me on anyone else that has played with him.

Some background information first, he has a history of nipping strangers on the ankles. It started when he was about a year old and when we were in a situation where strangers were walking often through or working on what he considered to be his territory. It suprised me since this tendency came on so quickly so I didn't act to stop it as quickly as I could have. He never hurt anyone (that I know about) as he would just dart over and nip an ankle.

The problem now is that today he nipped another ankle when we were slowly rollerblading down a busy sidewalk. I don't normally go that direction, but I needed to buy some bread. This was the first time he nipped someone since we moved back to the city and I had begun to get a little more trusting that he could handle himself around a largish crowd. I apologized and the guy said he was okay, but it's not something I want to let my dog get away with. And it makes me feel horrible as an owner besides.

I already know that, off the home territory, he nips because he's scared and, hence, feeling threatened. So I try to avoid letting him near situatuions like that, but it's sometimes unavoidable.

So my current thought is to get a head halter for him. That way I can atleast keep control of his head so there is no way for him to lunge at someone. No matter how tight I hold his harness, his head and neck are still free.

I hope this will also teach him where I want him to keep his head when we are rollerblading/passing someone, since the body follows the head. And right now our passing technique is a little willy-nilly.

Or I could get him a muzzle, but I'm scared that would label him as a dangerous dog and he would get 'bad dog' vibes off the people around him, which would only set back his human socilization skills. A high price for something he might do every other month.

My question is, do you think having a head harness will make him even worse as a nipper if the head harness is not on one day or will it be a guide to show him how to properly act.

He is a fairly timid dog personality wise, and somewhat protective, (and a blue heeler from working parents) so I really don't think his nipping/heeling behaviour is ever going to totally stop. I just want to make sure I can trust him around random strangers on the street. If I have to, I can work around it, but it would be easier for me not to have to worry at all.

Lissa
October 12th, 2005, 04:49 PM
I am really not sure about the head harness thing and I probably can't be of much help but I know what you are going through.

I have watched my friend trying to stop her Australian Cattle Dog from nipping at a joggers heels, or a bike or scooter etc...

He has been through tons of training classes and her trainer even had her dog wear an electric shock collar. Nothing has worked so he now has to wear a muzzle when he's off-leash...he has gotten better - he'll only nip when he's off-leash and at the joggers (no more chasing bikes, scooters, cars etc...)

My friend did try having him herd sheep, hoping that it might stop him from nipping at everything but he was way to rough with the poor sheep and wasn't welcome back!!

I really can't suggest anything to you but I hope you find a way to work through this! :thumbs up

Prin
October 12th, 2005, 04:57 PM
One of my friends is having that problem with her border collie cross and kids. He'll actually break free to run after a kid to nip the kid in the leg. She doesn't know what to do... I don't know either. He's fine with babies, but kids from about 5 to 14, he nips. :confused:

PetFriendly
October 12th, 2005, 05:09 PM
Maybe he needs a job, exactly what I'm not sure... There are lots of trainers here, I'm sure someone will have ideas.

I'm not sure if it would work, but maybe something like cart pulling or agility?!

Beetlecat
October 13th, 2005, 12:29 AM
He used to chase bicycles and rollerbladers (or try to atleast) and he absolutly detested skateboarders. But he's pretty much cured of that. If they pass really close to us, however, he might jump and nip. I'm not sure if he feels they're intruding on his space or he feel threatened or just has an uncontrollable instinct.

He's such an easily trainable dog, and the fact that the nipping is still constant, makes me think it will always be a problem, at least to some degree. It will hopefully lessen as I figure out what exactly sets him off.

And, really, as far as things go, it's a pretty minor problem. Otherwise, he's a pretty easy keeper.

Gazoo
October 15th, 2005, 05:45 PM
I don't think a muzzle is such a bad idea. It would end the most serious concern which is liability.

doggirl
October 16th, 2005, 07:47 PM
Maybe a stupid question but why is a leash not working? Are the streets very narrow where you are?

I'm not sure I follow why you feel that his heeling is related to fear or feeling threatened. He is a cattledog, and they got the nickname "heeler" because they heel. It is a predatory thing.

Cattledogs are a *relatively* recent breed and they have significant dingo in their background, so of course they are a 'lot of dog' and they are known for being quite independent thinkers and very drivey. They are also mouthy. One common behavior I see in this breed is chasing car tires - literally, trying to bite the tires of moving cars. This chase/capture instinct is very deeply instilled in this breed.

As opposed to trying to extinguish the behavior, what I would do myself is focus on his obedience in all situations, get him listening better to you. When you see a trigger (something you think he may react to) start working him. Use treats, just keep him thinking, keep him focused on you. I would also up his exercise (IMO this is THE most high-end breed there is, as far as physical and mental stimulation needs). I have dogs with similar behaviors under my care from time to time and just have to make sure I shorten the leash enough to where they can't contact anyone. If the traffic is too heavy or the street to small to be able to do that, I would not walk them there...that's just my view, on the basis that this is a normal behavior for the breed and there's only so much you can realistically expect for a dog to change.

Another thing to keep in mind - it's very hard to extinguish a behavior on it's own - much easier to refocus the dog and teach them a different behavior for the particular setting...a common one is teaching the dog to pick up a toy and carry it. It occupies the mouth so they can't use it on people.

Beetlecat
October 16th, 2005, 08:45 PM
Maybe a stupid question but why is a leash not working? Are the streets very narrow where you are?

The streets are regular sized, but sometimes there's alot of people on them. And people tend to pass on the right but Ky was trained on the left and he always stays to the left of me, so I have to slow down and pull off the sidewalk if people are walking by. I'm trying to teach him 'gee over' (pull to the far right) but I never let him pass infront of me when leash walking, so it's a hard command for him to learn.

I'm not sure I follow why you feel that his heeling is related to fear or feeling threatened.

He is a timid dog and usually attempts to nip when there are alot of people around. He has a hard time adjusting to new situations, like if we walk down an unusual street or a person is using an unfamilar object (ie a rake) or does an unusual thing and suprises him.

As opposed to trying to extinguish the behavior, what I would do myself is focus on his obedience in all situations, get him listening better to you. When you see a trigger (something you think he may react to) start working him.

His triggers are so varied (he may nip someone on his territory (not something I gernarlly worry about), or when passing someone while rollerblading, or when cornered by a crowd of people) and he only does it occationally and he never gives any warning. The whole nip sequence is about half a second long - he lunges, nips, and pulls back. It's over before I even realize it happened.

If people want to pet him, I have to warn them he's a nipper 'cause once in a while he'll try to nip someone's hands. It seems to be some people's body language he likes and some people he doesn't. I generally try to keep him away from strangers.

(and one person I finally had to tell off 'cause he'd stand there staring down at Ky and, when Ky growled at the threatening eye contact, he'd loudly tell him "quiet" which usually got Ky barking. I finally had to tell him that Ky didn't know him or respect him so quit trying to tell him what to do :rolleyes: cause then I had to calm him back down)

Use treats, just keep him thinking, keep him focused on you. I would also up his exercise (IMO this is THE most high-end breed there is, as far as physical and mental stimulation needs).

The incident genareally happen when he's getting exercise. Cause he's in new situations and he's hyped up. He's safe off-leash though, in a dog park or similar. He used to try to heel the other dogs but seems to grown out of that.

I have the command 'watch me' but it's still hit and miss right now. He's very concerned about what it going on (and to a point I encourage that because I can trust him to tell me when somthing's wrong. I would prefer to know if there's some weirdo following us..). I will start carrying treats though, and start hard core 'watch me' training.

I have dogs with similar behaviors under my care from time to time and just have to make sure I shorten the leash enough to where they can't contact anyone.

When rollerblading, he's wearing a harness, and so his neck and head is still free no matter how tight I hold him. And the harness has enough slack for a small lunge. That is why I considered a head collar.

If the traffic is too heavy or the street to small to be able to do that, I would not walk them there.

I try, but stuff happens.

Another thing to keep in mind - it's very hard to extinguish a behavior on it's own - much easier to refocus the dog and teach them a different behavior for the particular setting...a common one is teaching the dog to pick up a toy and carry it. It occupies the mouth so they can't use it on people.

Again, since he's out running, this isn't possible 'cause he needs his mouth free to breathe. Besides, holding an object in his mouth is one trick he just doesn't seem to 'get'. And I can't think of anything else to transfer the 'nipping' behaviour onto.

..
Actaully, I've been seriously considering a muzzle. A nice leather weave one so he could wear it exercising (and it would match his leather collar lol). I would probably use it only when exercising him on lead without a collar (rollerblading or cart pulling etc) where I cannot directly control him. And then I could do those 'dog jog' things too. Anything where there are alot of people and alot of commotion in one place. Right now I'd be too worried to even bother.

It might make him look dangerous, but that's better than him actually being dangerous. And I plan to always have heelers, so I'm sure the muzzle would never go to waste even if Ky settles down as he gets older.

Beetlecat
October 16th, 2005, 08:48 PM
I don't think a muzzle is such a bad idea. It would end the most serious concern which is liability.

I agree. That's actually my biggest worry, apart from Ky nipping a baby or grandmother someday. So far he's mostly gone for young adults, generally men.

mona_b
October 16th, 2005, 10:19 PM
I would suggest a halti.This is what my sister used on her Border Collie,Abbey.

Abbey is a working dog.She herds the cows.Abbey was quite the ankle nipper when she was younger.When the dogs went into town with either my sister or BIL,Abbey did go after peoples ankles.They decided to try the halti.Well it worked.There was no way Abbey could go after the ankles.Abbey has settled down through the years(9 now) and doesn't bother with the ankles anymore....LOL

I would suggest trying a haltie(not a muzzle) on Ky and see how that goes.It "should" work.

I would definately not have him off leash.With this,you are asking for trouble.

Beetlecat
October 17th, 2005, 04:20 PM
I would definately not have him off leash.With this,you are asking for trouble.

I've taken him to a few dog parks and he's a perfectly social dog off leash. Of course, I keep an eye on him and keep him close to me, more so I know what's going on than anything. We've gotten to the point where he won't even try to interact with other dogs until I've given the okay. lol, one girl with a pyrenees even thanked me for letting my dog play with hers :)

And we sometimes heel off leash just walking down the sidewalk. I keep him on the road side of the sidewalk (opposite the houses) and put him in a sit/stay if anyone is coming/passing by.

My only nipping issues with him is close quarters with other humans while on leash.

That is why I'm thinking a muzzle would work better than a halti, 'cause I don't really wanna have to hold the leash really tight. For one it would be uncomfortable and if someone brushed against us, he could still nip them. Or what if some 2 year old ran from out of the crowd to pet the 'doggy'.

And the other issue with a tight leash is that my tension and worry would be transfered to him and put him even more on edge. That's a cycle I certainly don't want to start.

melanie
October 17th, 2005, 05:27 PM
hes just doing what comes natural, he is a cattle dog after all. and if youve ever seen a cattle dog rounding sheep or cows, it will bite their heels to get em moving. hes jsut being himself.

try dog trialing that may help, cattle dogs are exceptional at it. :angel: and i would certainly reccomend this to a muzzle, why should he be muzzled for doing what comes natural, thats what you get with cattle dogs in cities, they still hark back to their cattle dog root no matter what environment the human puts them in..

good luck.......

doggirl
October 17th, 2005, 09:25 PM
I've gotta echo Mel on this one, find him a job, up his exercise, and consider instead of trying to make him fit the environment, trying to avoid putting him in environments that don't mesh with who he is.

I would say you can take the cattledog out of the cattle, but you can't take the cattledog out of the cattledog, you know what I mean?

He is a timid dog and usually attempts to nip when there are alot of people around. He has a hard time adjusting to new situations, like if we walk down an unusual street or a person is using an unfamilar object (ie a rake) or does an unusual thing and suprises him.

(...)

The incident genareally happen when he's getting exercise. Cause he's in new situations and he's hyped up. He's safe off-leash though, in a dog park or similar. He used to try to heel the other dogs but seems to grown out of that.

I'm getting conflicting info here. On one hand you are describing a fear-based behavior that's not entirely "normal" (using that term loosely), and on the other hand you're describing perfectly normal predatory herding behavior. Without actually seeing the dog and you, I wouldn't want to speculate on what's going on - one or the other, both or something entirely different.

I have to say EMPHATICALLY that this dog SHOULD NOT BE OFFLEAD. Period. Any dog who is having a human-aggression related problem needs to have that issue RESOLVED before being offlead. Take what you've written below:

His triggers are so varied (he may nip someone on his territory (not something I gernarlly worry about), or when passing someone while rollerblading, or when cornered by a crowd of people) and he only does it occationally and he never gives any warning. The whole nip sequence is about half a second long - he lunges, nips, and pulls back. It's over before I even realize it happened.

If people want to pet him, I have to warn them he's a nipper 'cause once in a while he'll try to nip someone's hands. It seems to be some people's body language he likes and some people he doesn't. I generally try to keep him away from strangers.

(and one person I finally had to tell off 'cause he'd stand there staring down at Ky and, when Ky growled at the threatening eye contact, he'd loudly tell him "quiet" which usually got Ky barking. I finally had to tell him that Ky didn't know him or respect him so quit trying to tell him what to do cause then I had to calm him back down)

This is a dog that SHOULD NOT be in offlead parks. It is not fair to anyone else there, human or not, to have this dog in their space with these behaviors. I realize you say he's fine in dog parks but with what you've written above IMO this is a recipe for disaster. He could not be giving you more clear signs, based on your descriptions of his behavior, that he can and does behave aggressively towards people, that this originates from fear and/or predatory drive and/or territorial drive and/or dominance, or all of the above, that he is not predictable and will do this quickly and without warning that you have been able to identify, his triggers have not yet been fully identified, and that you are at least at this point, not able to control him.

I AM NOT trying to lecture you, although frankly I would not appreciate having him around me or my family with these behaviors not yet in check...I am VERY concerned about what could happen. What happens if this dog bites someone? You cannot say you had no warning because he's been giving you loud and clear warnings that he WILL aggress towards people in a variety of situations. You have witnesses who have experienced this. If you were sued over a dog bite (and cattledogs are quite capable of doing a good bit of damage if they are so inclined) how are you going to look if there are witnesses that could be brought forward that show a pattern of human aggression, and yet you had this dog off a leash. What is going to happen to the dog if he hurts someone, esp a child or a serious bite. Lastly what about the safety of the people in that park who may unknowingly trigger a bite, JMO but I believe virtually all bites are a result of human error, not necessarily faulty temperament, and this is a textbook situation, IMO. Again I'm not trying to put you down but we often don't want to see the magnitude of problems our dogs may have, I think it's in our nature to excuse, minimize, defend and deny to a point. The bottom line is please protect yourself and your dog, and the people you are around, and bypass the dog parks until/unless you can get a GOOD FIRM HANDLE on these issues, and do not take your dog ANYWHERE unless you know you can keep him out of bite range of people.

Fallouts of dog bites is so huge - not only could you have people suing you and calling for your dog to be destroyed, but it's bad publicity for dogs and dog owners, and I could go on.

If the traffic is too heavy or the street to small to be able to do that, I would not walk them there.

I try, but stuff happens.

Again I am only saying this out of concern...but how would this sound to a judge if the context was a courtroom, and you were being asked why you took a dog who had consistently shown aggressive and unpredictable behavior towards people out in public. I am not trying to be hard on you but either you bring him ONLY to places where you know you can keep an accident from happening or you don't..."try" won't count if something happens.

Again, since he's out running, this isn't possible 'cause he needs his mouth free to breathe. Besides, holding an object in his mouth is one trick he just doesn't seem to 'get'. And I can't think of anything else to transfer the 'nipping' behaviour onto.

Sure it's possible, dogs can run with a toy, ball, or stick in their mouth. Tennis balls are great for this. All dogs have the innate instinct to fetch and to carry; some dogs do it naturally, others it needs to be coaxed out, but it's there - it's a core instinct, not a trick. This is what I would work on.

It's your choice about the muzzle; personally I am totally against it in this situation...yes, it keeps a bite from landing but it doesn't stop the action itself, plus IMO muzzles are a band-aid only - they prevent injury but at the expense of exacerbating the real problem. Plus as Mel said much of what he's doing is very normal behavior. Not to mention the image put forth and the negative effect that his muzzled appearance will have on human interactions (and probably further decrease his trust of strangers). And DEFINITELY it is absolutely unfair to bring him to a dog park muzzled; it's handicapping his ability to interact normally with other dogs and it makes him a sitting duck with no way to defend himself if a dog goes after him. A more reasonable way to prevent him from biting is to not put him in high-risk situations for him.

I think Mel's words below say it best, "thats what you get with cattle dogs in cities, they still hark back to their cattle dog root no matter what environment the human puts them in.."

Do you have a cattledog rescue locally? I bet speaking with someone very knowledgable about the breed would help you a lot. Good luck.

Prin
October 17th, 2005, 10:26 PM
great post doggirl. :)

Beetlecat
October 18th, 2005, 02:09 PM
I fear I've painted Ky with a bad brush here. Since this is a thread only about his nipping, it overrides everything else good about him and totally blows his faults out of proportion.

And I am probably mixing an incident or two where he has tried to nip somewhere who was moving quickly away from him. That's a prey thing and less of a concern to me as it has an obvious trigger.

I really hate it if I sound neglegent, 'cause I don't believe I am, but I don't believe nipping automatically translates into biting. He has never drawn blood or even hurt anyone. It perobably hurt more when my folks miniture donkey nipped me.

That's not to say it's an allowable behaviour, which is why I first posted asking for help. The day I first posted was the first time he nipped a person in the city and it really suprised me. But he was excited and scared and we were walking down an unfamilar street with lots of milling people and I really shouldn't have taken him there in the first place.

Offleash, He is very people freindly, and will often check out the owner before playing with the dog. He has never nipped people he knows and he has never nipped in a park.

He does not automatically trust stangers but I've never had a problem with introducing him to people I know and trust.

We often rollerblade for an hour or more at a time and I think having him carry a stick for that long is not a solution, even if he could be trained to do it. I simply don't believe he could pant properly. And I don't see how him getting more exercise would help. It's not like he's a nusence barker, his nipping is not related to his energy levels.

He's a very trainable dog and listens to me very well. If anything, I micromanage him. The nipping is about the only thing I have been unable to train away from because it happens so infrequently and is over so quickly. I see no reason to punish him after the fact. And all the books cover only dogs nipping in the home, not outside of it, another reason I asked for help here.

One thing that has occured to me recently is that he may figure he's simply protecting me. That could also be why he has never nipped offleash, I'm not behind him to be protected... I will look into this.

Basically, he's a normal heeler who I am, admitedly, forcing into a situation nature did not prepare him for. And we both will simply have to make the best of it.

I will seriously think about all the posts I have recieved here, but I also think it's okay if I disagree with some of what is said. All dogs are individual and so I have to relate to and train Ky on his own basis and own merits.

But I will certainly do whatever I decide is best for him, me, and the public at large :thumbs up

melanie
October 18th, 2005, 06:49 PM
quote 'He's a very trainable dog and listens to me very well. If anything, I micromanage him' EXACTLY

he is very smart, just as all cattle dogs are, to me they are one fo the brilliant breeds, living in australia you see a lot of cattle dogs and being in the country i have had numerous opertunities to see them in action, both in a work role for cattle or sheep and as a fun thing in dog trials.

and needless to say i am never disapointed by the brilliance of this breed, they are very special dogs to me and to this country, they have played an intergral role in our industries for many many years and form a vital part of our heritage.... can ya tell i love cattle dogs :D :D

so you know he is brilliant, so you can do anything with him, just give him the time, love and try thinking like a dog too, that always helps....

but also many cattle dogs here are not overly social animals, they have been breed for a role (nothing wrong with that and they do it sooo well) and i often find they tend to be that type of personality too. especially the red cattle dogs which may soon be under BSL here if were not careful...

so mate youve got yourself one smart baby there and i hope you make the most of it, hey not all dogs are park dogs, not all dogs are socialites, not all dogs are social butterflies and many a cattle dog has fitted this role well...

so dont be sad iwth him if he does not do well in public or at the park, just keep him on leash in parks and those sort of areas you know he does not feel good in. or try a diff time of day.

but please consider a muzzle only as a last resort, its not fiar and i imagine hard for a dog to understand.

i say trialing, have you ever seen a cattle in a trial, oh is just brilliant and so adorable, not to mention it is great training and may assist in this problem by tiring him out and using his big brain....

hes a hearder, let him use his instincts even if its only in a trial or for doggy relays (trialing if you ahve not seen it is wehre your dog does a course of jumps or through rings and such, its just amazing to wathc and most dogs can do it too)..

kiss your dog for me, tell him hes tooo cute and enjoy this experience, you enver know where yo u2 will end up...

and as dog girl said, go to the local cattle rescues or ring one for a chat, they may also be able to hook you up with a trialing group or such....

good luck with it....

Beetlecat
October 19th, 2005, 02:03 PM
I looked into getting him into flyball locally, but they have not answered my email :sad:

I do not consider a muzzle a bad thing or a bad experience for a dog if approached properly (and he would only wear it while leashed), but I agree that for the near future I will simply keep him out of situations he cannot handle and leave if a situation escelates into something he can't handle.

I expect that as he gets older and more and more people-socialized, he will learn and understand what body language distinguishes a 'good' person from a 'bad' person. And then this will just be a blip on his wonderful life.