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Sudden puppy behaviour change!


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First off, let me say, this forum has saved me from many a panic/complete mental breakdown! All the information and stories are so, so helpful and reassuring!

Okay so, we have Mabli, now 13 weeks, tri-coloured adorable collie pup. She’s very sweet, cuddly, friendly, playful and much to our relief generally pretty chilled! She has learnt quickly and in the past two weeks has almost completely stopped with the puppy biting and now has a lot more control over how much pressure she’s allowed to put on human skin. She understands ‘leave it’ and will generally listen and obey unless in an especially mischievous mood, when she might playfully run off with a forbidden object (usually an old tissue from the living room bin) she’s never shown any signs of aggression or possessiveness. She does like hiding under furniture with her toys sometimes but generally you can take them from her with no resistance. She’s well socialised with humans and dogs and loves both, especially humans. She’s very pretty and everyone she meets can’t help but give her alllll the fuss.

However, just today there’s been two genuinely aggressive biting instances. The first was this afternoon, back from picking up the boys from school (10 and 13yrs) as we usually do and one dropped their plastic dirty fork on the ground. She grabbed it and ran off, I went after her to take it away saying leave it as I usually would for an object that may do her more harm than she realises. She went straight under the furniture growling as I bent down to get it, I’ve pulled her out of under the armchair before and went to do the same and she growled and bit my hand, hard. She’s never bit in this way, only nips, never accompanied by growling. I then had to chase her round the living room until I could pick her up and take what was left of the mangled plastic fork from her. Normally if it’s for instance a tissue and she made that much of an effort to hide and run away I would leave her too it and ignore her. However she seemed to place a much much higher value on this plastic fork than anything else she’s had and I was worried she would swallow some of the sharp plastic as she attempted to eat it. It had been in a lunchbox containing smoke salmon pasta with cream cheese I don’t know if that added to the appeal. 
 

Next incident, 3 hours later, my partner is loading the dishwasher, with dirty plates covered in steal juice. She normally gives an attempt at licking the dishwasher but will generally listen to leave it or we close it. This time, I wasn’t in the room, but my partner tells me, she was continually licking it after multiple leave it’s and so he went to pull her away with her harness from behind and she turned with the same growl and snap bite.

For both instances we gave her a time out in her crate until she stopped barking (10 minutes) She managed to puncture the skin on my hand leaving two very small holes, and my partner has a small indent with bruise on his thumb. 
 

She seems generally fine other than that, a pretty normal day, she didn’t have her normal off leash walk for 15 minutes but she was indoors playing with a new dog friend instead. We also have her a longer evening walk before dinner (15 minutes) whereas she might normally only have 5 or ten around the block. She slept a little more than usual today. I don’t know if I’m over analysing ( I do that a lot) and it’s just circumstantial, if it is, I would like to know if the crate time out was the right correction?

if it does sound like something to be worried about how should I proceed? I wondered about taking her to the vet tomorrow to see if she’s medically fine. She seemed slightly less keen to poop today. She’s not been as interested in water. She ate like normal and we even did 10 minutes of mental training ( stay, wait, jump, paw etc)

this is our first collie and she’s been progressing so well and I’ve done so much research and work I’m really worried I’ve stepped wrong and it’s my fault. Would appreciate any and all feedback!

From Emma and Mabli

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Disclaimer: I am a few months into my first BC which is my first dog. I am sure our friends who actually know what they are talking about will be by shortly with true wisdom. On the other hand, readers of this forum will know that I have gone through similar trials with my pup.

My general sense is that at this stage, the pup's brain is a churning mess of chemicals related to rapid development, figuring life out, and hormones switching on (although in your case it is probably a bit too early for that). Which is to say, every day is a new one with new challenges, new behaviors, and new accomplishments.

The fork incident sounds like classic resource guarding. It sounds "normal", but "undesirable". When we faced that sort of behavior with our Darcy we did two things. First, we practiced many times a day dropping items on command no matter how desirable they were. Usually we would give them right back. But we made it clear that we were in control of All The Things. Second, we made a rule: Never EVER try to take something out of the pup's mouth. If we want or need to take something from him we tell him to drop it and then we calmly pick it up off the floor (initially I had to use some upward leash pressure to get him to drop some items). I told my children I don't care if he has a bottle of dog poison or a bomb in his mouth, they must NEVER try to take something out of his mouth.

As for the second snap/bite, I sometimes feel like once our pup has had one negative experience it can lead to more that day. I am not sure if it is him trying to figure out what happened, or adrenaline levels just being up, or it just all being a sign he is stressed or confused by life that day, or what. Also, if I have had a bad experience with Darcy over something, I find myself trying too hard to have really good experiences to convince myself he is a "good dog after all". Dog's can sense they are under pressure from you and the whole thing just becomes a vicious cycle. Part of the journey of dog ownership for me has been learning to accept BOTH my dog AND myself for what we are.

That was a very long way of saying that to my untrained ear (eye?) what you are describing does not sound weird or unusual. You definitely need to keep working to get rid of that behavior. But I have seen it in my pup and you will probably see it again in your pup as you journey from Now to Then.

Like I said, I am just a newbie, and unlike Owl in Winnie the Pooh, I don't Know Things. But since no one else is here right at this instant to provide a shoulder, I offer what I have. D'Elle and the other truly knowledgeable folks will be by soon enough with better advice =)

 

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I don't think you have stepped wrong, but I do think you should be  concerned. Not that your puppy is aggressive or will be a problem, but you should be concerned enough to start today with a protocol that should extinguish this behavior. It is completely unacceptable any way you look at it. If you don't work now to get rid of it, it will turn very quickly into a habit that will be harder to break.

So. First, stop letting him run around with the kleenex or anything else you don't want him to have. He can do as he wishes with his own toys, but not with anything else. Take everything you don't want him to get into out of his reach. 

Second, you say he has learned not to put much pressure into his mouthing of you. but you need to stop all mouthing entirely, low pressure or not. Allowing him to do this teaches him that putting his mouth on a human being is acceptable, and it is not. The same method you used successfully to train him not to bite hard should be used to train him not to bite or mouth at all. Mouthing in play is for dogs, not for people.

Start right away doing a lot of "leave it" and "drop it" commands with him. Several times a day. Teach him to wait for his food bowl. Of course, at first he only has to wait two seconds, but work up from there slowly. I would put down the bowl but keep one hand on it, and say wait. If he doesn't wait, it gets picked up again for 15 seconds. Put down again and say wait. If he waits 2 seconds, he gets the bowl. Then slowly increase the time, one second at a time and don't add time until he is very reliable at the time you are working on.

The Wait command is great in many ways, so train it in other circumstances as well like when you go out the door and go out the gate, and get in or out of the car, and so on.

Don't let him be in the room with the dishwasher when it is being loaded. Simple solution. Later, when he knows Wait and Leave It really well, you can try letting him in again. Also, you say that your partner told him multiple times to leave it. Don't give that command more than once. If it is not respected the first time, off into the crate for a time out.

It is always a poor idea to give a cue or command more than once. I will sometimes do so if it is barking, when I sometimes give another chance before time out. But I don't think I ever repeat any other command. Obey the first time, or all the fun stops immediately and you get a time out. With something like Leave It, it could mean the dog's life if he picks up something dangerous or poisonous. By the time you've said "leave it" multiple times the dog has already swallowed and you're on the way to the emergency vet or your dog is dead.

I disagree with never ever taking something out of the dog's mouth. You need to be able to take something out of the dog's mouth if it is an emergency.  If your dog has a cooked chicken bone or something poisonous and refuses the drop it command, you'd best take it from him! That needs to be practiced as well, and is easier to accomplish when the dog is a puppy. Work on Drop It now. Start the Drop It work with something the dog doesn't value very much. Let him pick it up, then say Drop It and offer a really high value treat instead. The dog will drop it in order to get the food or the preferred toy. Use lots of praise. Lots of reward. Only very, very gradually work up to higher value things, but keep the high value treats as reward when he drops it.  By very gradually I mean keep it at the starting place for several days, doing it maybe 3 or 4 times a day, then move to something only a little bit more desirable. If he refuses too much when you raise the ante, then go back to where you were before and work it more.

Remember you haven't done anything wrong, nor has your puppy. He's just resting his boundaries, which is completely normal and natural. but it's up to you to set the boundaries and make them 100% consistent. If you ever let him get away with something he should not do, it will mean to him that if he just keeps trying he'll get away with it one of these times. Best of luck to you. And......we really like puppy pictures here! :D

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Thank you so much to both D’Elle and Erikor! Very helpful replies and highly appreciated! It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed and confused with puppy training, this forum helps no end to hear advice from real owners with collies rather than all the generic puppy advice Google can throw up.
 

We have started immediate work on leave it and drop it. In many situations, as I said, she’s totally fine with me opening her mouth and removing an object (usually leaves) even if it’s slipped right to the back of her tongue. I think the difference with the biting incident was the chase and the fact she took up a position of safety under the arm chair which I invaded. We’ll be removing all temptation and get started on leave it every day. I have run into fun challenges with it already and am using my creative problem solving to figure out the best way. She’s so darn clever and knows that reaching into my pocket means a treat is coming so when she was interested in her ball earlier she dropped it and ran over to me before I even had a chance to ask her to drop it. I managed to get a few correct ones in by having the treat in my hand hidden, however then she cottoned on that me being near her while she was with her toy meant treat and kept leaving the toy to run over to me! I will persist! If anyone has any tricks for smarty pants pups though let me know :))

She’s very relaxed but we’ve realised she can get very easily over stimulated so we’re working on a lot more calm time. 
 

I think D’Elle hit the nail on the head, the consistency is key. She’s so good in so many ways that we haven’t been 100% committed to any training as she gets it so quickly that then we move onto something else but now that she’s settled and has all the main commands I will definitely re-work them and re-work then until they’re achievable every single time. She understands all the language but will pick and choose when she listens to it which has been the difficulty. And as I’ve read, if they’re not doing the command every time then there’s more work to be done. 

In terms of the corrections the crate time outs were working very well for us and there has been a change in that recently which could be affecting things.

1: we have moved the crate up to our bedroom instead of the living room downstairs as she was waking up with the traffic noise at 5:30 in the morning, our room is very quiet and she’s now been sleeping through no problem until 7am. This means that we have to take her up two flights of stairs to give her a time out now so we haven’t been doing it nearly as much. Should I get another crate for downstairs, should I commit to taking her upstairs and the time between bad thing and time out won’t matter? Or should I place her outside for 30 seconds when she does something wrong as a time-out? 
 

2: we’ve hired a dog trainer who has been asking us to do verbal corrections in a stern voice and if the first does not work we step into her space with the verbal correction and then if that does not work we take her to a different environment and do the verbal correction and if that doesn’t work then we take her to her ‘place’ ( a mat or bed) and do the correction. I have been really struggling with this as she tends to avoid eye contact or just not bother listening if she’s determined to do something. I’m of the mind that the crate timeouts were working well before so I would like to keep that consistency. Especially as she seems to be pushing boundaries more with the verbal corrections. 
 

Sorry for the extra babble! I’m a highly strung new puppy mum, but definitely loving it, just want to get it right :) thank you so much again for great advice. Puppy pictures in thanks!

 

 

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Gorgeous puppy!

Is there any way you can perhaps block off the space under the armchair?  If she feels possessive of this space, or resists coming out, maybe block it off until she is too big to get underneath and this will remove the issue of her feeling defensive under there.  I am a believer in avoiding issues when possible.

I would say that having a second crate downstairs where she can be placed for immediate time out is a very sensible thing, or an x-pen.

I am surprised that the trainer is recommending multiple verbal corrections.  I can understand using physical pressure (getting in their space) to encourage a dog to not do something/be somewhere but I have never seen or heard a recommendation for multiple verbal corrections.

As for the issue with her working out about treat signals, perhaps try using a clicker.  Once you "charge" the clicker, or even use a marker word instead of a clicker, then you can reward the behaviour in a timely fashion even if you are not right there with the treat.  I understand the issue with too smart puppies.  I had a puppy who was scared of other dogs and was barking at them, so I was encouraging him to look at me, and stop barking, with treats when he did.  By the second day, I realised he had started deliberately barking at way off dogs and then immediately looking at me for a treat before I said anything, as a way of scoring more treats...

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I am not a fan of this trainer. It is counter productive to use multiple voice corrections, and I advise that you get a new trainer, preferably one who is familiar with the correct use of positive reinforcement, with or without a clicker. I am also not a fan of "verbal corrections in a stern voice". That's not necessary if you are using the positive reinforcement correctly and I wouldn't do that, if that were my dog.  I think it is again counter-productive because when you are training you are teaching, not setting up a crime-and-punishment relationship.   Far better you make it very difficult for them to do the wrong thing, make doing the right thing easy, and show them the right thing over and over, with lots of praise when they do it right. Set the dog up for success rather than letting the dog do the wrong thing over and over and then scolding!

I don't think this trainer is going to do you much good, myself, and think it would be better to save your money, but that's up to you. The thing is, pick a method and stay with it. Don't go back and forth.

A second crate downstairs for the time out would be best, don't use outdoors. I would, however, make sure that the second crate is also used for meals, and for treats, and has a nice bed in it and the door is always left open so that the puppy knows it's just like the crate upstairs, and not a new and different thing that she only get shut in when she makes a mistake.

As for the treats --  One very important thing I have learned is: when training, never put your hand into the pocket or treat bag before the dog has done what you asked. And never hold the treat in your hand. The correct order is: Cue or command, dog obeys, you give the marker (click or a word you use), then you reach into the pocket or bag for the treat. The pup will know it is coming as soon as you say the marker or do a click, but you shouldn't telegraph the punch line, so to speak.

And, yes, consistency 100% is imperative with all dogs, but most especially with smart ones. It's not OK for the dog to think she can pick and choose what to obey. 

Keep letting us know how it is going.

And what a cutie you have there!

 

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For puppies this young, I have xpens set up in different rooms in my house.  They can be in the same room with me while I am busy doing something else and only having access to approved toys.  I can leave the room without worry about what they will get into.  Sort of a play pen for puppies.  More sides are added and the pens get bigger as the months go by.  It is awkward to have half a room gated off but eventually the pen sides are used to block off low shelves and other places that I don’t want the puppies to get to with the rest of the room being open.  The puppy gets play time out of the pens when I have time to play and watch and make sure they are safe.  The pens are only 2 1/2 ft so I can walk over them.  This teaches puppies not to jump/climb fences because I am consistent in not letting them do so.  It teaches the puppy to be ok by himself with his toys. 

 

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Thanks again for all your great advice guys!

I’ve been going back and forth all week on the training and it’s been stressing me out, which I think Mabli could feel from me too. I felt like I was taking steps backwards when she’d already made such good progress. I’ve decided to stick with what I feel comfortable doing which is positive reinforcement all the way. I feel happier she’s much happier and instantly calmer! We’re doing much better. There’s been no more hiding growling biting situations and she’s getting much clearer messages about human body parts do not go in mouth, no matter how gently. Thanks guys I feel a lot better for getting the feedback on here!

Still finding ‘drop it’ difficult but I will take the clicker advice and make sure I’m not pre-empting the treats.

The trainer also has been advising us to get a Haltee lead so we can do ‘structured walks’ with her always behind us and we correct her pulling in front with the collar lead. She’s not great on the lead yet but again I’m not sure if this method is helping. I’m sure there’s a great thread about on the lead walking on here somewhere so I’ll hunt that out. She can go off lead when we go to an empty golf course we have access to. She’ll race ahead but always check back to see we’re following her after 10 metres or so. She has so far come racing back when we ask her to, and she responds to this way very well when she might head in the wrong direction. This to me feels like we’re making good progress? I haven’t tried her off lead at the dog park yet as I don’t fully trust she’ll be able to listen and respond with so many distractions but I feel like we’re getting there. 

The problem we have with on lead walking is the biting of the lead with growling and pulling like she’s trying to initiate tug of war. I’ve realised most of the time it’s basically her saying I’m overwhelmed and don’t fancy going where we’re heading. 
For example today, she always has a quick 10 or 15 min walk in the morning before her breakfast, today I though I’d make it a little longer in the park rather than on the road like we normally do. As soon as we got into the park (it was really windy and rainy) she wouldn’t let up on the biting and growling on her lead, pulling in circles and even tried biting my shoelaces and socks. I picked her up to break the behaviour and then when I put her down I turned to take her back and she was perfect the whole way home. It was like she was saying it’s windy and raining and I would much rather just go straight back home for breakfast. She’s now napping on the sofa next to me. How she dislikes rain I don’t know as we got her from Wales. 
 

My thoughts to deal with this is keep walls very short so they don’t become overwhelming and introduce new places very slowly with with short visits? I’m going to try and do lots of mental training while the weather’s like this (disgustingly wet) Does anyone else’s doggos dislike the rain? 
 

Thanks again for all the support!

Mabli and Emma

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Once again, I think it is much better to prevent bad behavior than to allow it to happen so that you can correct it, so I disagree with your trainer again.

Loose lead walking is taught in many different ways and I am not saying my way is better than all of them, although I know it's better than some. I am not a fan of "halties". I don't think they are necessary unless you have a huge untrained dog you are not strong enough to control, and even then it would be my last resort.

4 hours ago, Mabli-Mudpie said:

My thoughts to deal with this is keep walls very short so they don’t become overwhelming and introduce new places very slowly with with short visits? I’m going to try and do lots of mental training while the weather’s like this (disgustingly wet) Does anyone else’s doggos dislike the rain? 

Yes to this. ^ It sounds like the right approach.

Basically it goes like this: if pup is walking along nicely, we go along nicely. the moment the pup starts to pull, we stop and we don't go anywhere until the pup settles down and stops pulling, even if only for two seconds. I am watching the dog every moment and the split second the dog stops pulling or dancing around, there is a click and praise and treat and we start walking again. Pull=stop. You just keep this up, and don't even allow the dog to pull even for one step. If the dog starts biting the leash, etc, then pick her up  and the walk and fun is over. You either go back to the house or car carrying her. If you can't carry her that far then the walk stops while you have her sit quietly. If she won't settle down, the walk is over. The moment she settles, click praise treat and you start walking again. You have to catch every single little piece of good behavior and reward it, which means close attention and diligence. It's more important to reward the good behavior than to correct the bad.

Example:  I went to the home of a man who hired me to help him train his dog. the dog was large and heavy, 10 years old, and had never been taught to walk nicely on a leash. The owner had allowed this powerful dog to pull him along every day for 10 years, and now he wanted it to stop because he was getting to frail to control the dog. I took the dog on the leash, and every time he pulled we stopped, turned around, and went back a few feet to where we started, and he had to sit. I never said a word, and never put pressure on the leash to correct, only turned  around to go back, and since he was on the other end of the leash he had to follow.  Start again, take 2 steps, he pulls, back we went. this went on for about 5 minutes. then I was able to take 4 steps before the dog pulled. So we stopped, went back 2 steps. Wait. Start again. And so on, over and over.

In about a half hour I could take this dog about 50 feet before he started to pull. And this was a dog who had gotten away with pulling his whole life, and thought this was the way you went on a walk.  If he continued on his own, that owner should have had the dog walking nicely all the time in a week or two. You have a puppy, so it's easier in that she has not yet developed ingrained bad habits. 

Bottom line principle: If the dog walks the way you ask then there's a nice walk, and the dog can stop and sniff all they like, go here, go there. If the dog doesn't walk as you want, no walk at all. Every organism on earth does what works and stops doing what stops working and never works again. 

I would be pretty wary of letting her off leash until you have a rock solid recall that works no matter what the distraction is. I know you say she's coming when called, which is fantastic, but it may not always work. She could see a squirrel and take off running and not return. Any time she is recalled and doesn't come and you cannot reinforce the cue teaches her she doesn't have to listen to you if she chooses not to. Keep her on a very long lead, but don't let her loose. 

 

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