Pet Lady Question
The Demanding Dog
Q: Our dog is very demanding and nudges us with his nose when he wants a bone. If that doesn't work, he grabs our arm with his teeth. It's so annoying so we end up giving him the bone, but now his behavior is getting worse. He tears the newspaper and spills our coffee. He even does it to guests. I'm afraid we've created a monster by always giving in and letting him have a bone, but I don't know how to stop him from grabbing our arms!
Well, as you guessed it, you rewarded the behavior by giving him the bone, so now he's going to do it more. It worked in the past, so why not keep doing it? Now you are going to have to turn the dog's behavior around. When you see him coming, be prepared. Body block him by turning your body, or getting up and walking away. The key is to totally ignore this kind of behavior. Act like he doesn't exist, which is going to be difficult in the beginning because he sounds pretty persistent. Have the newspaper ready and put it between you and the dog when he approaches. Cross your legs, put out a foot, anything to body block him but do it without looking or talking to him. Make it a casual move that stops his actions. If he gives up and goes away, make sure you go over and praise his behavior. THAT is the time to give him the bone. Pretty soon his little doggie mind is going to realize that lying down gets the bone, not being obnoxious and grabbing at his humans. It takes a while to turn this kind of behavior around, but consistency is the key. Set it up so you have guests that know what's going on. Let them know the rules so the dog sees that all humans have changed their behavior. If he's being too obnoxious for body blocks to work, get up and walk away. DO NOT SAY ANYTHING TO HIM. Don't look at him, don't talk to him, the dog does not exist when he acts this way. Your change in behavior will throw him for a loop. His ill-mannered behavior may actually escalate at first because it worked before, so maybe doing it more will work now. When he sees that tactic not working, he'll try different behaviors. Wait for the behavior you want, and be sure to praise and reward that behavior immediately. Patience and consistency is the key. If he's a really big dog and walking away and ignoring is not working too well, have a little can of Binaca breath spray in your pocket. When he comes up to grab your shirt, spray a little Binaca in his mouth. When he stops pulling on you and hopefully walks away trying to get the taste out of his mouth, you can then set a biscuit on a pillow (dog bed, mat) away from where you are sitting to encourage him to go to that spot. Again, during this process you say nothing, you make no eye contact. The squirt of breath spray is only to interrupt the behavior. However, I suggest starting with the above method and only using the Binaca as a last resort as, believe it or not, it is a form of attention--some dogs even crave negative attention.
Good luck. Let me know if there's anything else I can do to help. I plan to use your question in the Rural Virginian in the near future as I think this is a real popular problem--the demanding dog. You are not alone!