The butt-nipping was clearly an attention-seeking behavior – the dog wanted more attention and found out that butt nipping was one way to (successfully) get attention.
The exasperated owner said to me "I tell her 'no', grab her muzzle, and hold it shut for a few seconds, but then she's worse than before!" How frustrating that must be for the owner, who couldn't sit and read the paper, watch tv, or write bills. Basically, she felt as if the dog were holding her hostage for attention.
I worked with the woman to do two things:
- teach the dog how to appropriately solicit attention and
- interrupt the behavior to prevent the habit from developing any further.
This consisted of teaching the dog to sit for anything and everything she wanted. To go outside, to come inside, to get the tennis ball, to get her food, to get a tummy rub, to get a tug toy…you get the idea. The dog was doing a lot of sitting!
In addition, we needed to have something up our sleeve for when the dog engaged in the inappropriate butt nipping. Clearly, the dog wanted attention. So we set out to teach the dog that butt nipping resulted in less attention, not more. So we set up a temporary tethering station and the instant the dog nipped, she was silently (but quickly) tethered out of reach of the woman.
The woman was a bit skeptical, with good reason — nothing she'd tried so far had worked (and she'd tried a lot of things!). I was therefore doubly surprised and pleased to get a phone call from her the day after our appointment. She said she had a "blissful" evening with her Lab — she was able to pay her bills, catch up on correspondence, and sit and watch television. And the dog was only tethered three times!