Winner: Best essay involving a Puppy/Adolescent Dog

Author: Barbara Shumannfang, PhD, CPDT-KA

Barbara Shumannfang, PhD, CPDT-KA
Barbara Shumannfang, PhD, CPDT-KA

Ann was feeling under attack by her 10 week old Labrador retriever, Callie. Thanks to Callie, Ann had marks and cuts all over her forearms and legs from Callie’s sharp puppy teeth, and bruises on her body from Callie body slamming her. A dog trainer had even warned Ann that Callie was not a normal puppy, but rather was on her way to becoming a dangerous adult dog. Ann was very alarmed and consulted her veterinarian, who referred her to me.

I met with Ann, Callie and Ann’s teenaged son, Brad. They explained that Callie seemed to be doing nothing but biting. When they attempted to restrain her, hold her collar, play with her, or touch her anywhere on her body, she became a crocodile. When neighborhood children stopped to greet her, she leapt up to bite at their hands. None of Brad’s friends wanted to be around Callie. The family wished they could just sit quietly with Callie and pet her soft puppy fur, but that always resulted in new round of biting. And Callie had boundless energy. Even though they were taking Callie on walks and letting her run around the backyard, whenever they interacted with her, she ricocheted off them, teeth flashing. No wonder Ann was concerned she had an aggressive dog on her hands.

During our first meeting, I observed Callie carefully and then reassured Ann that, although she had her work cut out for her, I was not concerned that Callie was on her way to becoming an aggressive dog. Instead, I explained that based on Callie’s breed, age, and particular personality traits, Ann needed to do three things: 1) make sure Callie was getting the right kind of touch and play to encourage good habits, 2) teach Callie how to control herself even when excited, and 3) give Callie appropriate outlets for all that puppy energy so she wouldn’t become so over stimulated. I was sure Ann could get the puppy biting under control with just a few tricks of the trade.

First, we made sure that everyone in the family touched Callie in a way that did not signal that she should bite them. Puppies bite each other’s ears and faces to start a wrestling match, so when we humans tousle a puppy’s ears, pat her on the head, or rub her face, we are inviting biting. This is just how Brad and his dad had been touching Callie, and they agreed they would switch to calming strokes under Callie’s chin and on her chest instead. I also made sure Ann understood that, unless Callie was feeling very sleepy, she would not be inclined to sit quietly with Ann for some snuggle time. Callie’s job description right now did not include lap dog, but rather she was in a phase of great exploration and experimentation as she learned about the world. Ann should hold on to a large plush toy for Callie to grab before she even entertained the idea of sitting on the floor with her.

I also showed Ann and Brad how to teach Callie to enjoy being held by the collar. In addition, they were to pair Callie’s meal times with a game to help her relax when touched anywhere on her body. They were to touch her for just one second on an easy spot, like her shoulder, over the next couple of weeks working up to actual restraint and gentle manipulation of body parts.

Second, we worked on exercises to teach Callie some self-control. Ann and Brad had already taught Callie how to sit, so they were to use this trick to get Callie to “say please” for access to things she wants. For a chance to have her leash put on, a toy thrown, or her food dish put down, Callie was to sit first rather than barreling headlong into the situation. Brad especially liked playing tug of war with Callie, until she got too wound up and started biting. So I showed Brad how to play the game with little breaks in the action, so that Callie would never get too over the top. If Callie could quickly calm herself, the reward would be more play, so both Brad and Callie were very motivated to get this right.  We also affixed a leash-type line to the foot of the sofa; Callie was to be tethered to this with a chew toy any time she was in the living room with the family. If her teeth touched Ann during a play session, Ann was to instantly turn and walk away, thereby showing Callie that nipping a human results in losing the opportunity to interact.

Finally, our plan included plenty of mental and physical energy burning games to help Callie settle down quickly in the house. Down and stay, plus a trick or two, were good for her body and mind. She learned to bop hands gently with her nose only, so that the neighborhood kids would have nothing more to fear. We worked on fetch, since Callie was inclined to go after the toy, but not bring it back. We also turned a very bad habit into a good one; Ann used to dread Callie charging her in the yard. The feisty pooch would come flying out of nowhere and launch herself at Ann. So Ann began carrying treats with her, and anytime Callie zoomed at her, Ann would turn toward her, call “Come!” and then reward Callie when she reached her. Ann could then engage Callie in a game of “toy on a rope” to get her running and biting at something appropriate.

By the time she was 16 weeks old, after just three training appointments, Callie’s behavior was vastly improved. She was ready to start attending group classes with Ann. At home, she graduated from her tether to simply a drag line that Ann could step on to prevent Callie from getting into trouble. Callie also became a pro at fetch, bringing the toy to Ann and Brad’s feet. Brad changed the way he interacted with Callie, and his friends began to enjoy her presence when they visited. Ann’s family and Callie’s veterinarian have had a much easier time taking care of her since she mastered the body handling exercises. Best of all, Anne’s arms and legs were free of cuts and scrapes.

The last time I saw Callie, what made the biggest impression on me was the change in Ann. She seemed confident, relaxed, and self-assured in her ability to train Callie. Callie, for her part, was showing great self-control. She sat calmly at Ann’s side, her chocolate brown eyes shining as she waited for permission to greet me.

About Barbara Schumannfang, PhD, CPDT-KA

Barbara Shumannfang, PhD, CPDT-KA helps people and dogs enjoy each other more through her training business, Top Notch Dog, LLC. She is the author of Happy Kids, Happy Dogs: Building a Friendship Right from the Start, and offers free dog training tips through her Top Notch Dog website and blog. To learn more visit


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