(top and middle photos by Joan Sowma, bottom by Joe Villari)
Ginger is what is known as a singleton. It means solo puppy, either from a litter of one or taken from the litter too young. She was found abandoned and alone at about five weeks old, so we don't know if she had siblings or what happened to her mother or where she got her start.
Most dogs don't leave their litter until eight to twelve weeks at the earliest. Those extra weeks give them a chance to learn when the nipping is too hard or not hard enough or inappropriate. They learn impulse control, since they can't eat if their mother won't roll over, and if they steal or guard toys their siblings won't play. They also get security from having a mother around to investigate the world with and have built-in playmates to shred that world to pieces with.
Singletons need a lot of socialization. Ginger (and Opal's) ASPCA foster mother had two grown dogs and a couple of cats, so Ginger got a solid start when she was rescued. When we got her our goal was to mix her with as many dogs as possible, so every day we took her somewhere to play, to meet people, to meet dogs, to get used to city sounds. Being around puppies was key and we'd take her to a weekly puppy play group at Biscuits and Bath where our battering rams would collide and work their crap out with each other.
A month or two ago she started to grab her leash as we neared the end of a walk. Or she'd butt us in the knee with her nose. Occasionally it would escalate into a full on pit fit where she'd start barking and leaping wildly, running in circles, getting down with her butt in the air like she wanted to play. Trying to get her to settle made it worse, so we'd bait her home with treats. Joe eventually called a behavioralist from the ASPCA who remembered Ginger well, and wasn't surprised when Joe described Ginger's actions. "That's common singleton behavior," she said.
It's called arousal. Some dogs get aroused when they're bored, but Ginger seems to when she's tired and overstimulated. At the end or beginning of a walk, if she can't have a chicken bone, can't drag a cardboard box home, can't lick the dead rat, can't get her way, thar she blows.
The solution was simple: get a chain leash that she won't want to bite. Now, every time she starts to grab the leash, we get her to sit and we give her a treat. Or we give her a floppy toy she likes. She shakes the shit out of it and she settles.
We're always training with her, i.e. she has to sit to get a treat, sit before we open the gate to the dog run, drop and leave things on the street, leave toys or things that aren't hers, and in general not behave like a banshee. She's really good most of the time and she's slowly getting better with this. Next up is trying to get her to sleep past 5:30 a.m. Oh, would that be nice.