The ABCs of Behavior
When it comes to dog behavior, it helps to get more acquainted with the ABCs of behavior, where A stands for antecedent, B stands for behavior and C stands for consequence. Let's take a closer look at these.
A for Antecedent
In dog behavioral terms, "antecedents" are stimuli that elicit or evoke the performance of behaviors. In the case of a dog who jumps and bites the owner or handler on walks, it is therefore important identifying the exact antecedent that ignites the behavior. Not all dogs jump and bite for the same reasons and not always the exact antecedents are very clear.
Sometimes, dog owners may struggle finding out why their dogs behave in certain ways and what exactly triggers their behaviors. Enlisting the help of a behavior professional in such cases can be helpful. Through a careful assessment, the professional can pinpoint the antecedent and create a dog behavior modification plan custom-tailored for that specific dog.
B For Behavior
Behavior is what follows the antecedent. The dog sees the mailman and then barks, the dog sees the cats and he chases it, the dog hears the key and he rushes towards the door to greet the owner. In this case, the dog jumps and barks following exposure to the evocative stimulus or situation.
C for Consequence
On top of the antecedent and the behavior, it's also helpful to determine the consequence. What is the dog achieving by jumping up and biting? What fuels the behavior, keeping it alive and preventing it from extinguishing?
In general, dogs tend to repeat behaviors that provide some sort of of reinforcement. Identifying what the dog finds reinforcing is therefore important, because, once identified, it can be removed in hopes that the behavior eventually weakens.
However, the process isn't always as smooth as thought and the occurrence of extinction bursts (behaviors intensifying before extinguishing) is not unusual. In the case of a dog jumping and biting out of attention, an extinction burst due to lack of attention can obviously be quite an ordeal. After all, who can tolerate a dog who jumps and bites with more intensity than before? Not something worthy of enduring! Therefore, this option may not always be feasible.
Why Does My Dog Jump Up and Bites Me on Walks?
So why do dogs jump and bite their owners on walks? What are some possible triggers and what do dogs gain by rehearsing this behavior? Dogs may jump and bite people on walks for a variety of reasons. Following are just some of them.
A Matter of Play
Some dogs jump up and bite simply out of play. These are dogs with lots of energy and exuberance who enjoy being entertained this way. Puppies and young dogs are more likely to be predisposed to this behavior. If your puppy or dog isn't provided with much entertainment all day, and then you walk him right when you come home from work, chances are high that your puppy will be super charged.
So the antecedent in this case is the status of being full of energy/needing entertainment and the consequence is draining that excess energy and/or having fun. More in detail, these dogs may find jumping and biting reinforcing because, when they engage in these behaviors, they "activate" their owners who otherwise would be rather boring.
In what ways do the owners activate though? Upon feeling the paws that scratch and the mouth that nips, dog owners are more likely to perhaps say "ouch!" and move away, providing resistance, which makes the game of tugging on hands, arms and legs or clothes even more fun. Dogs perceive all of this as play and therefore look forward to it on walks. Obtaining play is therefore the consequence that keeps the behavior alive.
Did you know? Yelping when a dog bites you, is often recommended so to mimic what puppies do when a puppy bites too hard, but this response may actually make your dog bite even more. The reason why yelping when your dog bites may not work is likely because, when you yelp, you may sound like a hurt prey animal, or at the least, you sound like a fun squeaky toy and how fun is it to play tug with a human tug toy that emits squeaking sounds effects too?
A Matter of Attention
Some dogs are eager to receive attention and will perform any types of behaviors that will grant that. These are often social dogs who crave being around their owners and interaction with them. Nothing makes them feel worse than being ignored, especially after being left alone at home for a good portion of the day.
If your dog is an attention-seeker, and he is walked right after coming home, most likely he will seek some form of interaction with you. For dogs, jumping is a way for them to say hello, and nipping can take place when dogs are overly excited, and since these behaviors are almost impossible to ignore, they have the perfect recipe for grabbing attention.
So the antecedent in this case is the status of desiring attention and the consequence is the dog owner giving it. Yes, because when your dog jumps on you and nips you, you'll likely react and perhaps even get annoyed, and to an attention-seeking dog, even negative attention is better than no attention at all!
A Matter of Anxiety
Sometimes, dogs who jump up and bite are overstimulated by stimuli or situations that cause them to feel anxious. In this case, the jumping up and biting may occur in response to exposure to something the dog feels anxious about, but sometimes, exposure to a variety o triggers may have a cumulative effect, causing the jumping and biting behavior to occur in the middle or at the end of the walk.
A Matter of Overstimulation
In this case, the dog start jumping up and biting when he is overstimulated and perhaps even getting a bit cranky. Many puppies start misbehaving (and that means often nipping), when they are tired so this is something to consider.
A Matter of Frustration
Sometimes, when dogs are taken on walks, they may get frustrated. Often this is due to an inability to cope with their high levels of arousal. Some dogs may feel particularly frustrated when on leash which they sense as a barrier that prevents them from interacting with the environment.
Sometimes, the antecedent is the sight of a person or a dog. The dog gets so revved up and excited in seeing people and dogs, that he redirects his frustration by jumping and biting the leash or the owner. The consequence of this behavior is that, by jumping and biting, the dog gains and outlet for his frustration.
In some other cases, the antecedent may be getting closer to home. The dog may not want to go back home or he may want to walk in a different direction or is he is frustrated because he wanted to go sniff something but the leash prevented him. In this case, the consequence is once again, releasing the frustration.
Now That You Know...
Now that you are aware of some possible causes for your dog jumping and nipping at you on walks, it's time to consider what you may do to reduce and hopefully eventually stop this behavior. Intervention in these cases is important considering that over excitement can easily morph one day into aggression should arousal levels further increase or the wrong approach is used. Often, for cases as such, a multi-faceted approach is needed, tackling the issue from different angles. Here are some general tips:
- Avoid punishment-based techniques such as yanking on the leash, grabbing, pushing your dog or grabbing his mouth. These methods may turn play or excitement into defensive aggression.
- Drain your dog's energy. Consider that often, dogs who are left at home for too long due to owners working extended hours or inclement weather may develop pent-up energy. This excessive energy may lead to high arousal levels that may trigger dogs to act particularly boisterous. In particular, herding breeds and dogs selectively bred to work on vast acreages of land may need space to run. Just as with horses, it helps to have dogs run and play in a yard/corral after taking them out of the home/stables prior to walking them/riding them.
- Provide your dog with more mental stimulation when at home. Give him some puzzle toys or a frozen Kong. Invest in snuffles mats, Kong Wobblers, and engage him in a variety of brain games. Also, put his nose to work. When he's outside going potty in the yard, surprise him when he returns inside by preparing a treasure hunt game (scatter treats or his kibble in a variety and places) and telling him to go find them.
- Avoid encouraging wrestling games or roughhousing involving mouth contact with people's clothing or skin.
- Implement dog impulse control exercises. These exercises teach dogs how to cope with their frustration allowing greater tolerance levels.
- Learn how to read your dog's body language so that you can readily recognize physical cues suggesting your dog is escalating up his arousal ladder. Perhaps you notice a certain look on your dog's face or he may twitch his ears. Knowledge is power considering that, once you recognize these cues, you may be able to redirect your dog to another activity before he has a chance of rehearsing the troublesome behavior.
- On walks, as soon as you notice an antecedent (stimulus or situation that triggers his jumping an biting) or bodily cues that he's about to get wild, try to redirect him before he engages in the problematic behavior. One way to redirect is by offering a tug toy you have kept in your pocket. Prior to this though, get your dog to learn to really enjoy playing tug at home. Train him to "take" and "drop it" on cue. Afterward, practice playing with the tug toy in the yard. Then, try getting your dog to play with it in the yard every time a dog or person passes by. Finally, practice using it on walks upon seeing his triggers at a distance. Playing with the tug toy, in this case, provides your dog a controlled outlet that doesn't involve jumping or biting. If your dog doesn't seem interested in a regular tug toy, try using one made with rabbit fur (Etsy sells a variety). Always put the tug toy away, out of the dog's reach once done using it so to keep your dog's interest for the toy alive.
- Alternatively, you can try to redirect to a flirt pole that you bring along on walks. A flirt pole is like one of those cat toys with a toy attached to a string. The canine version is a sort of pole with a fluffy toy attached.
- Start a treasure hunt game on walks. Upon noting an antecedent, you can also try to say something like "find them!" as you scatter a bunch of treats/kibble on the ground so to let your dog focus on searching on the ground rather than jumping upwards and biting you. This strategy can help de-escalate over aroused dogs quite effectively as sniffing in search of treats requires quite some concentration.
- Wear old thick clothing to protect your skin and new clothes from being destroyed.
- Vary the walks so that your dog doesn't get bored.
- If your dog is overstimulated or anxious on walks, it may help to make walks shorter and in less stimulating areas. If your dog is anxious, fearful of something encountered on walks, it is also important tackling the issue using behavior modification methods employing counterconditioning and desensitization such as the Look at That game, Open bar and closed bar and the engage-disengage game. Have a dog professional using force-free behavior modification help you out for correct implementation.