Jumpy and Mouthy adult shelter dogs

  • Jumpy and Mouthy adult shelter dogs

    Posted by Lauren on February 13, 2023 at 9:10 PM

    I’m a canine behavior/training team staff member at a large municipal shelter. I’m partially through the shelter training course, and am finding it to be extremely helpful, however, I’m struggling with implementing some of the practices because as an organization we’ve made different choices regarding equipment and handling dogs (example: all dogs are taught a specific kennel routine, are on martingale collars, I’m limited as to use of tools, etc).

    We have a lot of adult dogs displaying “JAM” (jumpy and mouthy) behavior. These dogs get overly excited getting out of kennel and the bites are playful, but the dog’s intention doesn’t matter if a tooth cuts skin, which eventually happens as this escalates during their time in the shelter. I’m able to handle their type of dog without issues, but kennel employees and volunteers aren’t. If this was happening with one or two dogs here and there, we’d just make those animals “training team only,” but this happens with countless dogs, and I’d rather address the larger problem. Many of these dogs will jump very quickly and very high, tagging the person high on the arm or face, but then in a flash, they’re offering a sit and making eye contact, so it’s too late for a correction. They aren’t breaking skin or really biting clothing every time, but tooth scrapes are a big risk, and this isn’t a good behavior even if the dog doesn’t have to go on bite quarantine.

    I can give more details as to our protocols, because I can’t just change our program however I want, but any advice for jumpy/mouthy adult shelter dogs? Equally critical is hard mouthed/“takes treats too hard” adult dogs. This is sadly becoming a matter of life and death for some of our dogs. Yes, we say don’t hand-feed for some, but then training and handling without food becomes nearly impossible in this setting, and again, this doesn’t fix a problem or improve the dog.

    I’m hoping for guidance as to what behavior modification I can do for hard mouthed dogs and JAM dogs, likely making those kinds of dogs “training team only” as soon as we noticed the behavior, then returning them to regular status after it was improved. Any articles, advice, etc? Thank you

    Lauren replied 1 year, 2 months ago 4 Members · 8 Replies
  • 8 Replies
  • Riggan

    February 14, 2023 at 4:23 AM

    Bless you, Lauren, for the work you do! Sounds like a difficult situation. These dogs are understandably excited to get attention any chance they get. Just going to toss out a few ideas here.

    1) Can you require a sit BEFORE the kennel door is opened? If the dog gets up, door is closed. If they are in a sit and then jump up when the person is entering the kennel, the person immediately turns around and leaves for a minute or so. Although I can see that for se dogs, this might backfire due to the frustration build up.

    2) Can the excitement be channeled some other way? The dogs may need some form of movement t erase their excitement. Carousel teach them a “spin” cue or something else to more appropriately channel that energy?

    3) For some of them, would taking ball on a rope at the dog can immediately grab help redirect their excitement to a more appropriate outlet?

    4) Any chance the volunteer could interact with the dog for a few minutes outside the kennel before entering? Ask for some sits and downs, maybe toss a treat to the back of the kennel a few times for the dog to expend some energy. Then, now that the dog has gotten over the initial excitement of the person interacting with them and has at least a slight reminder of obedience, calmly enter the kennel.

    5) Similar to separation anxiety, can volunteers be taught to keep ALL interactions between them and the dog in the kennel calm, low-key without feeding the excitement with effusive greetings and high pitched voices promising playtime?

    6) Could a staff member get the dog out of the kennel and bring it to the volunteer instead of the volunteer going into the kennel to get the dog? Then the staff member, if necessary, could be the one to do the “step on the leash” routine while the volunteer greets the dog and takes over.

    7) For food driven dogs, maybe immediately scatter a handful of treats on the floor to distract the dog when first entering the kennel. Then immediately ask for the sit as the dog is scarfing up the last one.

    8) As the trainer, work with the dog on self control and sit from movement by doing Sit from a walk and then a trot and then a full run. Or capping excitement by alternating short tug games and quick obedience sessions. Hopefully this would help the dog learn better self control for when the volunteers are getting them.

    None of these are perfect solutions, and a lot probably depends on the specific dog and your setup, but just brainstorming here! Hoping others will have some better ideas. Good luck, and let us know what ends up being effective!


    • Lauren

      February 16, 2023 at 4:21 AM

      Thank you! Some good stuff in there. I’ve tried some of this before, it’s hard because ideally and typically these dogs aren’t in our care for long, so sometimes it feels like we are just “getting them through it” vs improving the dog and setting them up to be successful in their next home.

  • Gerard

    February 14, 2023 at 11:49 AM

    Well, Lauren , I would like to know more about the protocols y and methods you are bound to . That would make for interesting discussion I am sure .

    • Lauren

      February 16, 2023 at 4:40 AM

      We use martingale collars and ask all dogs to do a kennel routine and door routine. Kennel routine consists of dog standing “4 on the floor” prior to tossing treats in kennel, then opening door. In kennel, handler does 2 collar touches (marking with clicker and rewarding for both), then clips lead (mark/reward), ask for sit (mark/reward). If dog doesn’t sit on verbal, use food lure (mark/reward). Still no sit, leash pressure (no mark/reward). Still no sit, leash pressure and butt-prompt (no mark/reward). Then begin opening door with no leash pressure. If dog breaks sit, use negative marker (uh-uh) butt-prompt or spatial pressure to get them back into sit. Try again opening door. Dog should hold sit for door to be fully open, then release with “free” and walk to exterior door where the sit and wait for door is repeated. We have different “walk colors” for dogs based on difficulty level. If dogs jump during kennel routine the handler is to immediately turn around and ignore the dog. We assign spray bottles (water only) or shake cans for really jumpy/mouthy dogs or leash biters. Eye contact is heavily rewarded and so it yielding to leash pressure. I find that I don’t have to use the spray bottles or shake cans when others do because I’m engaging with the dogs and using a rapid/continuous reward schedule for eye contact, but others can’t seem to get it or they want to zone out and don’t give full attention to dogs when doing their walks.

  • Gene

    February 15, 2023 at 12:34 PM

    For treats…Make sure the dog is not food aggressive…1) have the treat in your fist and push the dogs mouth back. saying easy, easy, easy and release the treat…2) have the treat between lower index finger and thumb, same routine, easy, easy, easy and release the treat.

    • Lauren

      February 16, 2023 at 4:15 AM

      Between index finger and thumb? Many would take those fingers off getting the treat. I’ve tried presenting it using my thumb over treat in palm, moving thumb right as the dog takes it. I was looking for advice on behavior modification, which I would do myself as training staff prior to allowing kennel staff or volunteers to hand-feed those dogs again. Robert talks about triggering the gag reflex by pushing hand back in their mouth. I’m hesitant to try this at the shelter because I don’t want a dog to get a reportable “bite history” if I cut my finger doing this. I’d try it on my own dogs or client training dogs but since I never have attempted it I don’t want to do it for the first time on a shelter dog.

  • Gene

    February 15, 2023 at 1:18 PM

    For the kennel issue a lot depends on the experience and physical stature of the volunteer.

    If the dog is just exuberant someone with experience can open the door and back them off with spacial pressure and get the slip lead on and out the door.

    I am at the shelter frequently so the dogs kind of know me. I open the door, back them off, grab the collar and get the slip lead on and out the door.

    Another method for less experience and stature is approach give treat then stoop down they should follow as they know you have treats. Give another treat open door slightly. They should poke their head out to get the slip lead on.

    I know it is better to have them sit and calm but I know with time constraints and some less experienced than others it can be a problem.

    For those with less experience, DON’T talk to aggressive dogs, fearful dogs, exuberant dogs. They have no idea what is being said, it is only noise to them. Silence is Golden. They feel the calm energy.

    Thanks for your work. Took the course myself. GREAT!

  • Lauren

    February 16, 2023 at 4:07 AM

    We do not use slip leads at my facility. All dogs are on martingale collars, unless they’re so defensive or unpredictable that it’s unsafe in which case they are handled only by training staff until we can get them on a martingale collar with a drag leash.

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