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« Why spay/neuter is like kibble | Main | Stop calling it ' euthanasia ' »

15 December 2010


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Christie Keith

Kim R, not just lucky enough to be pulled by rescue, but also to be in a shelter in a state that MANDATES rescue group access to dogs and cats that shelters are going to kill.

Christie Keith

Heather, they'll let rescue have them if there is a group ready to take them. If not, Fatal Plus.

Kim R

That's astounding. This puppy was lucky enough to be pulled by a rescue, but it makes you wonder how many others haven't been so lucky.

It also makes you wonder who is in charge of the evals. His age, his behavior...they just got it all wrong. It's equally frustrating and very sad.

Great ending for this beautiful boy though!

H. Houlahan

What a horrible puppy. Who would ever want such an awful dog?

For the record, what happens to dogs who "flunk?"


I have a stray puppy right now who is more than "too mouthy". She's "too teethy" as well. I suppose I should just kill her right away. No sense putting off the inevitable.


Good grief. Skeeter is showing the same rambunctious mouthy behavior of any young puppers I have EVER met. And even if Skeeter was 9 months, 12 months, or older, it's not like it's impossible to teach him to be less mouthy. Sigh.

What really gets me is that Skeeter looks EXACTLY like my Jumpin' Jack Jet. If Jet and his siblings had been placed in a traditional shelter environment and subjected to what passes for a typical shelter eval, they would have failed with flying colors. Instead, committed volunteers and a rescue group gave them a chance.

And now I have a new agility buddy. Watch out, Sprinty! If you ever come play in the non-AKC venues, look for J.J.Jet (breed: labfergawdsakes)


There is definitely some misunderstanding of "mouthiness" out there (though that misunderstanding shouldn't extend to rescues/shelter organizations). I foster for a rescue that specializes in retrievers--and of course the young ones are often mouthy (and can easily be trained out of it). I fostered a 2 year old and she was temporarily adopted by a family who really, really wanted her. But they felt she was "biting" too much. They had young children, so I understand mouthiness can be a little scarier when the dog is mouthing a tiny arm. It was their first dog, and unfortunately they felt they had to return her (she found a new home, though!).


This is one of the ways some shelters "game" their statistics. A dog like that is labelled "unadoptable"... and the shelter promotes its numbers of "adoptable dogs saved". For years, Sternberg's assessment tools have been used as an excuse to massacre dogs, especially high-drive dogs and of course especially "pit bull" type dogs.

Modern thinking shelters use the evaluations to identify behaviors that need work. And then help potential adopters work on them


Public shelters often being staffed and run by (well meaning) amateurs who are ignorant about breeds/animals in general is not new (neither is the attempt to gain positive PR by calling themselves No-Kill while not actually implementing any part of a No-Kill strategy).

What IS new is that folks are finally questioning these people instead of accepting everything they do and say on faith as 'always right' purely because they're an animal shelter. And thank doG for that -- more lives will be saved because of it.

Mary Mary

What do you mean by "mouthy?" We use that term casually with shelter rabbits and I understand it to mean that the rabbit is likely to communicate by nipping. I personally define a BITE as a nip that draws blood. No blood, not a bite.

Upon meeting me at her cage, which I had open, one shelter rabbit gave me the longest stare then walked to me and deliberately started to "mouth" my forearm (no teeth were involved). I had never seen such behavior from a rabbit upon first meeting.

Finally it dawned on me. She had no hay in her hay holder. All the other rabbits in the room did, but not this girl. I brought some to her and she attacked it. She was hungry and was asking me for hay. Such a smart rabbit.

I think about that one a lot, wondering if she found a home that appreciated her. I was SO tempted to adopt her. I meet hundreds and hundrds of rabbits and few leave that kind of impression. She'd been taken from a guy who had been keeping 13 rabbits, some chickens, a goat and other "livestock" in a windowless shed in 90 degree heat. His neighbors turned him in.

Christie Keith

Puppies use their mouths like toddlers use their hands.

Normally, puppies learn to inhibit the power of their bite from their littermates, who scream and holler when they get hurt by sharp little puppy teeth, and usually/sometimes from their mothers who may, or may not, do the same -- I've seen some mothers who really would let their pups GNAW ON THEM, and others who the minute their puppies had teeth were all like, "I'm not your momma, you brat." Most mothers are in-between.

There is NOTHING like littermates for teaching bite inhibition, LOL.

However, there comes a point when the inhibition your littermates taught you isn't enough, and you need to learn to soften your mouth contact even further when it comes to putting your mouth on a human being. I don't train my puppies to never put their mouths on me at all, but I do require that they do it with zero pressure. Probably now that I live in the city again, I should have trained for zero mouth contact, because however gently a 100-pound dog who stands six feet on his hind legs is mouthing your arm, it's not something a lot of people are comfortable with, LOL.

The point is, puppies are mouthy. It's NORMAL. It's something they learn to modulate, or if they didn't learn it, they can learn it later in life. Ideally I'd not like to work with a puppy who had no littermates and an indulgent mama and a clueless owner, and I suppose -- the more experienced trainers here can affirm or refute this -- it's possible that there could be a puppy/dog who couldn't learn to have a soft mouth with people and/or other dogs.

But to call a puppy that young "too mouthy" is just lazy and stupid. Clearly this puppy learned to soften his mouth in a week or so. Clearly this puppy was too young to be written off for a behavior problem, unless he was like one of the psycho puppies the trainers mentioned in the earlier thread, which is clearly not the case. This is just total crap from an agency that is looking for reasons to flunk dogs so they don't have to bother placing them, and can either kill them or foist them off on rescue.

If you're looking for ways to understand and help dogs become good family pets, you would never, ever condemn a puppy for putting his mouth on you, even if it was too hard.

Now, "mouthiness" is not biting, although to non-dog people and hysterical parents there is no distinction. And a dog with a hard mouth can break your skin, and even bruise you. The thing is, an aggressive/defensive/attack bite is very, very different inside the dog's head from thinking it would be a really fun game to grab your hand and pull you over to where the dog toys are so you'll throw one, or to grab at your foot and wrestle with it because toes are super-interesting.

Both are behavior issues, but the first is serious and the second is, well... not.

H. Houlahan

Normally, puppies learn to inhibit the power of their bite from their littermates, who scream and holler when they get hurt by sharp little puppy teeth

Actually, they scream and holler and then turn around and retaliate with their own sharp little puppy teeth. Pups don't learn inhibition from their littermates because their littermates make them feel guilty for hurting them. They learn that the yipe is a precursor for a consequence.

Very mouthy puppies who don't inhibit may have been singletons, removed from their littermates too early, removed from their dams too early, or dam may have been very young/soft and didn't know how to discipline pups.

It takes time and endless repetition to teach inhibition to such pups, but it is not difficult, and as Christie says, puppy mouthiness has little to nothing to do with potential for aggression.

There are also breed differences. Retriever pups tend to be persistently mouthy, but rarely hard-mouthed. GSD, Rottweiler, and Malinois pups are mouthy and bite down HARD. Same with most terriers. Landsharks all.

Christie Keith

LOL, I meant "scream and holler" metaphorically, as in, "Open up a big can of whup-ass on their littermate."


As behaviorist with over 25 years experince combined with 15 years of shelter experince. I understand the "big picture" reason shelter need to be extra careful when making any animal available to the public. Considering we live in a world where people can and do sue over a hot cup of coffee...spilling on them... And win millions. As a shelter director this issue was always in my mind... For a shelter of any size. A lawsuit, the legal fees alone can put a shelter out of business, a verdict with damages awarded.... over an adopted animal's aggressive behavior is the end of that shelter. And thus no animals helped anymore... It's a fine line...

However with that said to EVAL a puppy, what sounds like just once, is not using the tool correctly. I have personally evaluated 1000's of dogs. If a dog failed, it always was tested again, very often I would test 3-4 times to be sure of the behavior I was seeing and was it being seen consistent. Further i would ask another staff to eval the dog too, I always wanted to be sure of behavior i was seeing before failing any animal. Looking at the dog in question I would think he was more like 3-4months and a LAB mix. Retrivers...retrieve with their mouths thus making them mouthy. Anyone who has owned any puppy will say their puppy is mouthy. I hope this PR issue becomes a learning experince for this shelter--- they NEED to re-evaluate their temperment testing program.


Lucky Skeeter for having a happy ending.

I remember Honey's mouthy stage. And I remember bursting into tears when those sharp puppy teeth caught me in a sensitive area. It felt like the stage was never going to end.

What gave me hope that this would eventually pass was observing that Honey never, ever, ever touched a child with her teeth. Even when she was at her most puppy obnxious, Honey had enough self control to keep from mouthing children even when she was still snagging clothes (and skin) of adults.

Sho 'nuff the stage ended after about 2 weeks and we have a friendly, well-socialized dog that would never use her mouth on anyone.

It appears that Skeeter is turning out the same way, thanks to that rescue group.

Mary Mary

There are also breed differences. Retriever pups tend to be persistently mouthy, but rarely hard-mouthed. GSD, Rottweiler, and Malinois pups are mouthy and bite down HARD. Same with most terriers. Landsharks all.

Comment by H. Houlahan — December 15, 2010 @ 10:36 pm

There seem to be breed differences in rabbit breeds too. Rex rabbits are known for their velvet coats and their teeth. I rescued one from a field where she'd been left to die and BOY did she bite (from excitement and hormones, not aggression). I trained her to modulate her bit by screaming bloody murder when she did it and, slowly, she eased up.

The spay took care of a lot of that behavior too. She never did get over her food aggression -- most likely caused by starvation fears after being dumped outside -- and her adopters say that, the rare times she does bite, it's at mealtimes.

Dee Dee

I'm just being curious here and NOT questioning Christie's integrity -- but did you actually see the written behavior evaluation information that indicated the dog failed for mouthiness? Or is this secondhand information? From personal experience, I've found that the can-you-believe-the-shelter-wanted-to-kill-this-dog stories can get pretty exaggerated in only one or two retellings. NOT trying to be disrespectful here, just interested.

Christie Keith

It was first hand information from someone from the rescue group that took the puppy from SF ACC, relaying what she was told when the puppy was released to the group.

H. Houlahan

Shadepuppy - I'm not a lawyer, don't play one on teevee - but I believe the case could be made that "testing" can lead to greater exposure because of an implied warranty.

"We temperament test all dogs to ensure that adoptees are 'safe'" is a bad message for so many reasons, whether in so many words or implied.


"...A lawsuit, the legal fees alone can put a shelter out of business, a verdict with damages awarded…. over an adopted animal’s aggressive behavior is the end of that shelter..." - Shannon

I've wondered about this but haven't done any research - there would be so many potential factors involved that it seems unlikely to me that anyone would win such a lawsuit (other than a shelter not being able to afford legal expenses) - are lawsuits a real factor for shelters? Does using an evaluation protect them from lawsuits - we kill those that fail and stand behind the temperament of those that pass?


"I believe the case could be made that “testing” can lead to greater exposure because of an implied warranty..." - H.Houlahan

That's what I was thinking also.

Shannon - if you read this - did you have knowledge of other shelters facing lawsuits, or was it always a case of trying to protect against the Possible threat? I can understand the need or desire to protect against possible negligence issues, but can this lead to more killing?

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