The Path of Badassery: How Bite Work Turned Our 3 Behavioral Dogs Back Into Puppies
Sammie here. When working with behavioral case dogs, there are different paths to take along their healing journey depending on their temperament and behavioral problems. While one path of healing that is accessible to everyone immediately includes relaxation and decompression indoors and wild play outdoors (which includes making contact and moving with your dog having no inhibitions), the other path includes getting the bite out and getting that bite strong and solid. The dogs who have the strongest bites with objects are some of the most social. They have their outlet, they are fully ensured that expressing their true nature and drive with the handler feels good, and they know where to put their energy - especially in times of stress.
A few months ago, we studied with one of New Jersey's finest protection and police dog trainers, Dave Pappalardo. It was refreshing to witness his dog barrel down the field and take down a decoy in a bite suit multiple times and then come up to us as melted his entire body into our hands breathing fully as we pet him. Not only was this dog completely bad ass, but he was extremely social. So, why is it so often taught in mainstream dog training to punish a dog if they use their mouth or teach them bite inhibition as puppies? The bite is social, so taking that away from them is taking away a social characteristic. Don't want your pet dog biting people? We don't either! So, teach them what to bite and how to bite (strong!) with you outdoors on their team.
We have three behavioral case dogs of our own who have been rehabbed with us. When we really started to focus on bite work and playing outside, that's when the major shift happened. They would start playing with us, they started playing with each other, and they started getting really blissed out when indoors to completely rest and digest. When our dogs finally got the bite out, they became socially relaxed as opposed to socially stressed with other people and other dogs. Was this is quick fix? No... healing trauma never is; and that's what makes it so rewarding. It becomes a beautiful journey where you can feel from the deepest part of your heart that you are helping a dog with true emotional blockages they have acquired through their life. From turning unhealthy "addictions" into team based connections to navigate the everyday world and feel good while doing so.
Once stepping into the true nature of the dog (especially for rehab cases), which includes biting and "hunting," you see things start to transform and shift. So much so that the dog can't wait to interact and move in sync with you outside. When your dog feels good around you (and I mean acting like a true dog here), you'll see that shift in their social interactions throughout everyday life.
Since some of our dogs love to bite, we graduated them onto a bite sleeve. Did this make them more aggressive to people or other dogs? Quite the opposite. It made them more social. If the dog doesn't have an outlet to download his stress every once in awhile, that's where the aggression will come from. One of them (the 15 pounder, Bullet), will carry the sleeve around the neighborhood as his catch of the day on a walk afterwards. A dog who typically will bark or run after anything that moves along with some former dog aggression, is now heeling next to us after a bite work session and socially interacting and moving well (now initiating play) with other dogs. There are no corrections I give, there's no fear, just a confident bouncy strut with this head held high.
Our 13 year old Shepherd/Husky mix - who has a a bite history and severe resource guarding history bit the sleeve so hard and let out a huge puppy yelp as she did it. It's clear she had been punished for biting in the past, and the fact that she was celebrated for getting the bite out was huge. Afterwards, she started running and pouncing around the yard like a little puppy. The other day, I caught her playing with one of the other dogs, and later found her inside with something she typically would have guarded... as I walked over to her, I softly stroked her back, and she rolled over on her side completely for a nice massage. WHAT! That wouldn't have been the same scenario a few months ago!
Our 8 year old Pit/Pug/Bulldog mix - the most traumatized and sensitive temperament of the Dog In Neutral crew has a history of people fear (and reactivity), owner addiction, and dog aggression. He isn't quite ready for the sleeve, but has started playing with people, and playing with dogs after bite work and working on his re-grip with tug toys. His recall has advanced to the point where I can call him and he comes barreling back to me. Why? His handlers provide him with the most satisfaction. His handlers are there through both the hard times and the great times as a constant support system making the team whole and sustainable.
There's a trust factor with all of this. If the dog doesn't feel trust alongside the handler, the stress and imbalance may go somewhere else: to either other people, other dogs, or extreme shut down... to "problem behaviors".
My point through this isn't to brag about how awesome my dogs are (although, they are totally badass and have come such a long way!), but instead to shift the mindset that biting an object is deemed as an inappropriate behavior. The true nature of the dog is to catch, kill, and eat prey. To take away their true nature is to damage and aggravate the sociability and emotional well-being of the dog.
Get outside, grab a tug toy, and watch your dog love every moment (only do this outside... indoors is reserved for calm and relaxation - especially important if you're seeing problem behaviors indoors or social anxiety outdoors). Our first teacher, Kevin Behan, said, "If a dog doesn't love to bite, they NEED to bite." So, with that being said... if they won't bite, call us.