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  Last update:   10/13/04




Q: I need help with my Sheltie. He is 13 months old and I dont know how to stop him from nipping people. I'm afraid to have him near crowds, and he has to be held tight when a stranger comes near, to calm him down.

A: Sounds like a very mixed-up Sheltie there. The first thing to do is meet with a private trainer or behavior expert, in person. Your veterinarian may be able to recommend someone locally who is both humane and effective. You need an expert evaluation of the dog, to see what is causing this behavior. Chances are, the dog is afraid. He may need more good experiences around people--and the expert can show you exactly how to do that safely.

Ask the expert if your dog would be a good candidate for the Halti head halter, or the Gentle Leader. These devices cause no pain to the dog, but give you complete control of the mouth. It's important not to hold the dog tightly when it already feels defensive, because that makes the dog feel even more defensive. Yet you need good control. With proper instruction, these devices let you control your dog on a loose leash.

Also ask the expert if your dog could handle obedience classes. Of course the dog must be under control so it won't be a threat to the other people in class and their dogs. You don't want to just enroll in obedience class without first having your dog evaluated by an expert, because things could go very badly. But with the right help, obedience class may be a helpful step in improving your dog's behavior.

Meanwhile, do not take your dog into crowds, or around anyone the dog might hurt. The more times he has this experience and reacts this way, the harder it is going to be to solve the problem. Once you get the right help to learn how to handle him in the situation, what may help is to work him on his obedience or play with him with a ball at a distance from the crowd, where he can get used to it without being in it. Then, over a period of months, you would come a little closer and a little closer until someday he could handle the crowd. But for now, being in the middle of a crowd is too much for him, and dangerous for other people.

Sometimes you can't restore what has been missed in a dog's early social life, but you can teach the dog to calmly ignore other people and dogs when out working with you. I hope you can get on the right track with this little guy, and wind up with a great dog. ---Kathy Diamond Davis, author, Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others