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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dogs & Trampolines Don't Mix

Hi Jan,
Our dog Moose is having a biting problem. He's a young Lab mix, and will be starting class soon...but this problem is immediate. A few months back, he bit my husband over a food issue. He also threatened to bite a three-year-old relative on another occasion. A few days ago my husband and kids brought him to the dump, where they tied him to the back of the truck while they unloaded the garbage. Moose got tangled up in his cable. My son stepped in to try to untangle him, and Moose bit him on the elbow. The latest incident was yesterday, when my son and two of his friends were out playing on the trampoline. Because of the snow, Moose was able to get up higher and get onto the trampoline with them. You can imagine the chaos! In the excitement, Moose bit my son's friend on the arm and left a pretty good welt, even through his winter jacket. The boys said it wasn't a "mean" bite, just a playful one.
The food situation is no longer an issue between my husband and Moose, but we're very concerned about these other incidents. Can you help? --Lisa

Hi Lisa,
Not having met him yet, it's hard for me to pass judgment on your situation. However, Moose does sound like an edgy, reactive dog who has little self control. He doesn't sound vicious...just young, immature, and a tad bratty. Unfortunately he brings to mind a Rottweiler who used to belong to a student and friend in Yakima. "Arlo" was a sweetheart, but he did stupid things without considering consequences. He bit a woman on the end of her nose (because the woman was in his face where she shouldn't have been in the first place) and paid for it with his life. His family had him euthanized rather than risk a greater injury to someone. They still grieve for Arlo, as do I, since he was a part of our extended family. But they really didn't have much choice. We don't want that to happen to Moose.

His behavior will improve once he starts classes, but he'll still have an edginess that will need management for several years. So here are the rules:

Rule 1. When the kids are on the tramp, the dog has to be inside in a restful spot. That means a crate. I can imagine nothing more exciting and fun to a dog than being part of a bouncing mob of happy, yelling kids. Unfortunately, this is a situation he just can't handle. He shouldn't be expected to behave well in this environment! Not yet!! Therefore, keep him out of it.

Rule 2. Before your son puts Moose in the crate and goes out to play on the trampoline, he must take Moose for a two-mile walk/run ON A LEASH. Upon returning from their walk, son crates the tired dog and throws in a stuffed Kong toy for him. Moose is now fatigued from the walk and has a pacifier to keep him busy in the crate while the boys are playing outside.

Moose must be exercised with an intensity, preferably twice a day. This will relieve his edginess and lessen his reactivity. If you have a treadmill, see if you can teach him to negotiate that (with your help and supervision, of course). Exercise him before any big, exciting outing and before crating him when you must leave him behind.

The incident at the dump was a displaced aggression. Moose probably didn't intend to bite your son, but he was already agitated and ready to lash out at anything. Your son's elbow simply got in the way. Once again, a dog who has sufficient exercise (plus boundaries, rules and limitations as he will get in class) would probably not react as violently in a similar situation.

Best of luck,

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