DEAR DIDI: We have a 13 month old Shih Tzu with biting issues. Seems like the issue is with hands and feet. Wondering if you have any suggestions? -Annoyed in Manteca
DEAR ANNOYED: First things first. There are developmental phases in dogs much like our two legged kids. The phase most people are completely unaware of is actually the most important and influential phase. It is referred to as the Socialization Phase. Humans use the term “socialization” in a nonscientific manner referring to going out with friends or attending parties. In a scientific context, it is referring to the period of time when a brain and personality is developing and should be exposed to a wide variety of external stimuli. It is sort of a way to program an animal’s brain to recognize different sounds, movements, smells, actions, locations, feelings, textures, and overall changes in environment as natural and normal.
We hear dire warnings about Parvovirus and not letting dogs leave the house until they have “all of their shots.” Parvo is a serious ailment and highly contagious, but we can socialize our dogs while keeping them safe. The important thing is to not let them “meet” unknown dogs nose to nose or let them touch the ground. I take puppies out while secured in strollers or on blankets in shopping carts. One can also carry the puppy if not too heavy. This phase dictates the next 10 years of your dog’s life. In my opinion, keeping them locked away and isolated does more damage to their psycho-social growth and the risks to their physical health. The window of opportunity to socialize a dog’s brain ends abruptly at about 14 weeks old.
The next phase is something that many humans have intimate experience with. The “teenage phase.” This is a period of time in which an animal is at a point in maturity where they have gained quite a bit of confidence in themselves and how their world works. They naturally begin to break away from parental controls and want to make decisions on their own. They may begin to rebel, refuse to listen, ignore rules, etc. In dogs, this phase tends to start around 10 months old, give or take a month. This just happens to be the time in a dog’s life where dog parents begin to seek help and realize things have gotten out of control.
Many people get a puppy because they want to have an adorable bundle of fuzz to dote on and love unconditionally. People who select large breed dogs generally recognize that training is needed because behaviors like jumping on people, nipping and growling grow into quite dangerous behaviors when the dog is going to be 50 to 100 lbs. For whatever reason, trainers notice that people who select small breed dogs are so wrapped up in how adorable the puppy is that they don’t nip these behaviors in the bud. Chasing feet and hands is a symptom of other things going wrong. A dog that chases hands and feet, nipping, tearing clothes, or possibly even drawing blood, is demonstrating an absolute lack of respect for the humans in his or her life. It is also frequently a sign of boredom.
Dogs are dogs. Size is irrelevant. All dogs need guidance, rules, boundaries, consistency and firm leadership. Your Shih Tzu will not “grow out” of these issues. I highly suggest you enlist the aid of a qualified Canine Behaviorist to help you learn how to guide your dog into being a productive and well-mannered part of the family!
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. To ask your dog behavior question, email www.CaliforniaCanineUnleashed.com.