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8 Month old male puppy occasional biting


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Hello everyone,

I have been reading through some of these boards and feel that my situation may also benefit from this discussion! 

We have a lovely purebred 8 month old male border collie pup, who was bred by a lovely professional breeder who has multiple very well behaved, champion agility dogs, one of which was his mother. We picked him up the day before lockdown in our country. That was completely okay, but during lockdown socialisation in this essential period was obviously difficult. However, we did a lot of research and read up on the best ways we could socialise him to the best of our abilities, and took him to online 'puppy school' where he already started learning basics. We would put him an open front facing backpack to walk him around the streets during lockdown so he could see people, dogs, cars, etc, from a distance and hear new sounds and experience new smells as we have done a lot of research and know the time period where COVID-19 derailed his socialisation was the main time in which he needed to be learning and taking in new things. He is an incredibly smart, eager to please, and gentle, all round calm dog who is almost always an absolute pleasure to have as he is so obedient and loving, however there have been a few rare times where he acts out. 

He is a very generally submissive and anxious dog, but with training and heaps of socialisation as soon as that could be allowed he really has come out of his shell. He at first did not even want to leave the house, but now bounds to the door when he hears walk and has countless doggy friends and border collie friends that he regularly plays an exercises with, with whom he never ever becomes at all aggressive. He is fearful at times, which we think may be to do with just the unfortunate timing of lockdown in general. During his smaller puppy months, he was also not at all aggressive and very gentle. He did not seem to nip any more than the normal amount of a teething puppy, but we still has no tolerance for nipping from as soon as he arrived, yelping like a pup, standing up and ignoring him if he so much as nipped, saying stern nos, removing toys etc, and always rewarding him once he sat or lay down for us and would be calm again and obedient. We have also from a young age tried to make sure that we are assertive pack leaders and that he knows he is not above us in the hierachy of the household, like making him wait to let us walk through doors before him and making him wait for his food, or pretending to eat it ourselves if he was not being obedient, yet he almost always is. We trained him with as many people in different situations as we could, and bringing people round to see him as soon as that was allowed. He is a pleasure and so calm, and we love him dearly.

Yet recently he has continued nipping occasionally and almost always with us we tell him off straight away and try to have zero tolerance, and by this point he easily knows he cannot do it or bite, and whenever we tell him off he will immediately sit down and offer his paw to us, lie down and look at us to tell us he is sorry, yet we only accept this when we are sure he knows that he has done wrong. He is still on the shy side with most new people but he will warm up to them relatively quickly with treats and the right approach, after which he will be very sociable and kind, eager to please and cuddle with others. We took him to the vet for an unrelated and common problem recently, and knew he would be apprehensive and anxious to go to this new place as he had only been previously when he was much younger for his vaccinations. He immediately began to be problematic and nippy towards us and the vets, becoming very distressed although the vet was patient and approached him of course gently. He was too distressed to be touched and was biting out of fear rather than aggression, but we had to reschedule the appointment and come back another time as he was too upset for the vet to gain much leeway. This was the worst I had ever seen him behave and the first time I had seen him really seem so aggressive even from a point of fear. He was very sad on the way home and for the remainder of the day knowing that he had upset us and done wrong, which was hard to see as we know he always apologises but in future vet visits this cannot continue. This is difficult as he has no other issues that wouldn’t be expected from a male dog of his age who is still growing and learning, and other than this experience we have never had trouble or ever have to worry about him hurting anyone as he is such a joy and such a good dog whom everyone we know loves. We have tried so hard and continue to with his socialisation and have been doing everything we can. He has passed multiple grades of puppy school with flying colours. What more can we do to stop him acting this way in situations where he is anxious? When conditioning him to something we are always careful to create positive associations and not push him too far, but with this vet situation taking him home straight away couldn't be an option, and he cannot pick and choose when he will allow something to happen to him, he must allow it to whether he likes it or not, but we want to help him along this path in an always positive and rewarding way.

Is there anything more we can do? Everyone on this site seems very kind and very knowledgable about dear border collies. Could it be to do with the fear and lack of socialisation in lockdown and the earlier separation from his siblings, or also maybe to do with the changes in hormones he is experiencing at this age as a male pup? Any help would be so greatly appreciated. Thank you so much :)

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It is possible that he is going through a fear period at the moment, and combined with the enforced lack of socialisation, this may have caused the problems.

The only way I can think of to deal with it would be desensitisation.  Take the puppy to the outside of the vet building, and praise him, treat him etc, then leave.  Then go back, and take a step or two closer, rinse and repeat over and over until you get to the door.  Then put your hand on the door, and praise when he does not react badly, is calm etc. Then open the door but do not go in, and praise and treat when he is calm etc.  Then step inside, then two steps, then all the way, then up to the counter, or up to the weighing station and so on.

You may need to break it down into far more steps than this, e.g. rewarding him for just calmly looking at the vet building.  And it may take a long time, weeks even, to rebuild a positive relationship, with lots of praise and VERY HIGH VALUE treats.  You need to be sure that you do not push your pup, and you watch like a hawk and take him only to the point where he starts to become uncomfortable, then praise, treat and back off.  Let him lead how fast things go.

I think Kikopup has some good YouTube videos on desensitisation, and you can do a search for the term on here.  There have been a lot of posts about it, often about going in a car.

If you do not have the time or ability to do this because of restrictions or due to the need to have a vet appointment scheduled, the other option may be to try a new vet practice.  I had a dog who had some bad memories of one vet practice, where he had been very sick as a puppy, and then got desexed, and he got very nervous and upset there.  We changed to a different vet and he was fine.

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Very tough situation that  you are clearly doing your very best to handle correctly. I would agree with Lawgirl, above.  But if he is not displaying this behavior anywhere but toward that vet practice, then it could be specific to that place/person. If it is, then desensitizing him to the vet would work, but is a lot of work that may not be  necessary if y ou can simply take him elsewhere. I would start with that, see if it solves the problem.

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