QUESTION: We got an older, adult Westie from the city pound, just four days ago. She was a stray. Our problem is that she tries to mouth us whenever our hands are near her mouth. She has not bit anyone, but when I was trying to play with her and a toy she growled and acted like she would bite if I took it. It scared me because I have small children in the house. Do you think she will ever be a good dog with my small children in the house, as I don’t want her biting them? When she mouths my hands, I hold her mouth shut or put her outside as punishment. We don’t think she was house trained either? She stays away from the kids if she can? Should we get rid of her because of these problems? We really do like her though and would like to keep her?

ANSWER: First, Thank you for adopting an adult dog in need. Here goes.

All adult dogs need TIME, lots of time. No less than one month on average (and sometimes a lot longer) for complete bonding with you and their new territory. 4 days is no where near long enough for an adult dog to adjust to a new home and new people. They often act overly Submissive, may tremble and slink down (making the new owners think they have been abused when they have not) or may act like they are Aggressive (when again, they are not overly aggressive, just afraid).

Dogs will have bonded closely with their past territory (home) and the people in it, no matter whether good or bad treatment. Take them away from their home territory, put them in a strange territory with humans that are strangers and they are mentally ill at ease. In one word, they are LOST!!! Add to the fact she was a stray dog (probably someone, somewhere is crying buckets of tears over that loss too), then into a shelter, now into still another territory. She is one mixed up little dog.

(1) Most adult dogs will attempt to not soil their living quarters. Treat her like a little, young puppy though and work on house training from scratch.

(2) The mouthing is a sign of "Extreme Nervousness". And a sign of wanting to trust but 4 days is no where near long enough to learn to trust you. Remember not only are you a stranger but your home is a brand new territory which she must be given time to establish as now her own.

(3) Give her toys and chew bones and leave it be. Don't try to play with toys or food (chew toys). This causes the dog to display Aggressive tendencies, which is a hereditary instinct. Fighting over food for wild canines, fighting over toys and food with domesticated canines.

(4) Westies are not good with young children that are not disciplined to leave a dog alone past correctly treated, petting and cuddling. These magnificent little dogs do not tolerate being mauled, picked up the wrong way, teased, disturbed when they are eating or sleeping, etc. etc. WAIT!!! Very few small breed dogs will tolerate small children unless the child is very knowledgeable about how to interact with a dog. The dog prefers to avoid the child and will attempt to. But if it thinks it is cornered and cannot scramble away or gets tired of being harassed, then many dogs will retaliate. Number One: Educate your children to play and interact with any dog on a positive note for both child and dog. You do not know this little girls past, perhaps she has no clue what a child is? Perhaps she has no clue what you’re doing either? Perhaps your attempts at love and discipline is all new commands to her? You just do not know?

(5) Pick a command word for mouthing. A word you do not normally use. Such as the word "Enough". Since a dog can learn one word commands quickly but sentences and strung together words, are just a jumble of nonsense, just the one word. In a firm voice, say, "Enough". If she still does it (make sure your not causing it with something your doing that she misunderstands, such as thinking your offering her a treat), clap your hands or stamp your feet or slap the wall or table to show her you do not like it.

She should back away. Then you WALK AWAY. Totally ignore her for several minutes as if she no longer exists. Don't look at her, don't speak to her even if she is jumping on your leg or whatever. This is called a Time Out, which we also use to teach our own children under different circumstances. Then, go back to her, making sure your not confusing her which is causing it. Try again. Same thing, repeat the instructions. She will quickly learn not to mouth you if you are doing everything correctly.

Holding the mouth closed does not work for reasons intended, regardless what some dog trainers will tell you. Neither does putting her outside. By the time she got out there, she will have no idea why you did it. Especially since right now, you’re just a big, human stranger to her.

Time, just give her time to bond with you and her new home. It just takes time.

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