Dog talk with Uncle Matty: Passing on useless advice

By From page A7 | December 27, 2013

Oscar Wilde wrote, “The only good thing to do with good advice is pass it on; it is never of any use to oneself.”

Good advice, bad advice, utterly useless advice — people love to pass it on.

In working with people and their dogs, I hear all kinds of “surefire” strategies for shaping canine behavior — tactics passed down from generation to generation, neighbor to neighbor, stranger to stranger. And there’s little chance any of it ever worked for any of the people who so generously share it.

Recently I was talking with a woman who has an 11-week-old puppy who is nipping. She had something in the neighborhood of four family members and 20-something friends and acquaintances weighing in on what to do to curb this “behavioral problem.”

“He’s trying to talk to you.”

Really? What’s he trying to say? “Please don’t listen to anything this person has to say”?

“Tap your dog on the nose and say ‘bad bite.’”

“Bad bite”? I’m an English-speaking human being and I don’t even know what that means. You might as well say “tuna on rye,” because it’s all the same to your pup. What’s worse, “tapping” your dog on the nose — whether with your hand or the much-vaunted rolled-up newspaper — has a better chance of making your dog hand-shy, fearful or even aggressive than it does of curing him of any “problem behaviors.”

“Turn your back on the dog.”

So he can nip that booty? If anybody has a clue about this one, please be in touch.

And one of my all-time favorites:

“Ask him: ‘Why are you biting your mother?’” 

Did she give birth to this pup? Is something going on that I’m not aware of? And is someone out there waiting for their dog to respond to this question?

Besides the senselessness, the cluelessness, the dangerousness and the flat-out lunacy of some of this stuff, the real problem with all of this advice is that it’s based on a fallacy.

A puppy’s nipping isn’t a behavioral problem; it’s a physical problem. Just like babies, puppies teethe. They nip because the pressure provides relief from the pain. So the objective isn’t to punish the dog or to deter the undeterrable. Your job as the pup’s guardian and as someone who loves this little creature is to provide him with something that will offer even more relief than your fingers or the leg of that dining chair.

Ice chips and frozen treats help. But one of the most effective tools costs little to nothing and works beautifully: the frozen washcloth.

If you have a teething puppy in the house, wet a handful of washcloths and put them in the freezer. When your pup starts nipping — and he will because it’s perfectly natural — give him a frozen washcloth to chew on. The cold will feel good against his sore gums as it works as a numbing agent.

If only there were something equally effective at silencing the passers-on of bad advice.


Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at, and visit him at Send your questions to [email protected] or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.

Copyright 2013 Creators Syndicate Inc.

Matthew Margolis

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