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Rebecca, Dog Veterinarian
Category: Dog
Satisfied Customers: 15573
Experience:  More than 30 years of companion animal practice.
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Why does a dog show his teeth

Customer Question

I have a little male rat terrier and he is a sweet dog, but when I discipline him he gets a little aggessive. It seems that when I swat him with a belt to show him that he did wrong, he tends to show his teeth. If I reach towards him he will lunge towards my hand, but he has never really bite me. What would cause this kind of behavior, and what can I do to eliminate it?

Submitted: 9 years ago.
Category: Dog
Expert:  Rebecca replied 9 years ago.
Hi Cpro,
How long has he been doing this? What has he done initially that you are discipling him for? First of all, I believe that all dog training should be based on rewards, praise, and treats. Punishing a dog by spanking or a belt never really teaches a dog anything except to be afraid of you. He may be lunging at your hand, because now he sees your hand as something to fear. If you want to eliminate this, he must see your hand as nothing but a source of reward, either that you are going to pet him or feed him. Start with basic obedience work, where you teach him to sit, speak, lie down, roll over, and shake, all with being rewarded with a treat. If he doesn't come when you call him, again train him with treats so that every time you say "Come" or "Here" he knows there is a treat to be had. A good dog trainer or enrolling in a basic obedience class would be a good step. If he ever does anything that you see as bad, don't hit him or use a belt. Rat terriers are wonderful little dogs, but they usually have strong personalities that can be challenging, and physical discipline will only make him more likely to bite at some point. I would recommend working with a trainer, either individually or in a class. All dogs love to learn what you want them to do but because they can't talk, we have to learn how to communicate with them, and this can mean working with a professinal. Good luck, Rebecca
Customer: replied 9 years ago.
I understand your point, but he has developed this bad habit about getting into the trash can whenever I leave the house. I have tried to praise him when I come home when he does not touch it, but then he turns around and knocks it over the next time. I do not want him to be afraid of me, but I do not know how to tell him he is doing something bad without physically discpline him because of his stubbornesss. I used to have a cocker spaniel for 17 years and we were able to teach her to sit in the corner when she did something wrong, I have tried with this little guy but his stubborness is too much. Any ideas on other discipling methods?
Expert:  Rebecca replied 9 years ago.
Hi Cpro,
You are learning the difference between a terrier and a spaniel. Terriers are much more challenging to train.

If you punish a dog for bad behaviour, or praise them for good behavior, they only connect the reward or the punishment with what they were doing about 2 to 4 seconds before the reward or the praise. If you punish him for knocking over the trash hours ago, he doesn't make that connection. All he knows is that you punish him when you come home; it is pure coincidence to him if the trash is knocked over. He may even look "guilty" when you come home and the trash is knocked over, but that may be because he associates your coming home, and the smell of knocked over trash with the coming punishment. Dogs, brilliant as they are, cannot make the leap of "Well if I hadn't gotten ito the trash, then I wouldn't get punished". They learn by association, and not at all the way we do. I can't explain it all in a paragraph; it has taken me years to begin to understand dog learning, and every time I get a new dog, he or she goes into an obedience class right away. It is the best possible start.

Another important point of dog training is never set up a situation where the dog can fail. If you want your dog to be good, then you have to help. My trash is tucked away under the kitchen counter; I could never leave for work and come home and expect none of my pets to have gotten into it; they are dogs and cats doing what dogs and cats will do, so I head the situation off before it happens. I happen to think my dog is perfect, but this would be too much temptation for her. I can believe a little cocker spaniel would never get into temptation like this, but my little herding dog and your little terrier are very different cases. To be blunt, they are smarter than your average spaniel, although as a terrier fancier (and now a Swedish Vallhund fancier) I may be prejudiced. I still encourage you to work with a trainer. Good luck, Rebecca
Expert:  Rebecca replied 9 years ago.
Hi Cpro,
More from another of our dog experts: Try making the trash more unappetizing by spraying Bitter Apple on it or something else distasteful, or blocking the room where the trash is with a baby gate, or putting it somewhere else he can't get at it. The suggestion about the Bitter Apple is great, because he will get a punishment (tasting something nasty), the second he tries to get at the trash. Good Luck, Rebecca