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“Gotcha” and “grabitis”

Extract from Aunty Kaye’s Doggy Dictionary of Training and Behaviour


“Gotcha!” is a training and socialisation exercise for puppies, along the lines taught by Dr Ian Dunbar. Many dogs have learnt to avoid being taken by the collar, or even to bite when people try to take them by the collar, because it’s usually a sign that something unpleasant is about to happen. People grab the dog to put him outside, or to punish him. This used to be recommended as a training technique, known as the “scruff shake”. It resulted in people getting bitten. As an antidote, Dunbar suggests conditioning pups to welcome being handled gently, and gradually get them to like being grabbed in fun and given treats. This is your biggest insurance again ending up with a dog who bites when taken by the collar.


“Grabitis” is the reluctance to come right up to you when called, the tendency of many dogs to jump away from you to avoid being grabbed, and to bite if taken by the collar and restrained.

Practical exercises such as calling your dog, touching the dog’s collar and rewarding then releasing the dog have been advocated by Dr Ian Dunbar, to overcome “grabitis”.

When your puppy comes to you, squat down and keep your hands close to your body, and let the puppy approach you – avoid reaching out to grab the puppy, because puppies quickly develop “grabitis”.

If you find that your puppy has developed “grabitis” as a result of some accidental conditioning, then undo the damage – by calling, rewarding and releasing, calling, rewarding, touching the collar and releasing and so on, until the puppy no longer suspects you of being a grab-artist.

Please don’t grab your puppy in anger or frustration. And above all, do not hit your puppy. This will result in your puppy becoming hand-shy, ducking away in fear to avoid your hand. An older dog who has been hit as a puppy or grabbed by the collar to be punished may one day bite when a human hand reaches out or tries to take the collar. Avoid grabbing the collar of a dog you don’t know. It is a common way people get bitten – for example grabbing the dog next door who has got out, to put the dog back inside the gate.

From The Accidental Dog Trainer:

In the park, after an invigorating game of chasey, the dog should be grabbed by the collar, and dragged away. Some owners let go of the collar after a few metres and the whole performance is repeated, this time with the dog having learnt to evade capture for a longer period. After a few lessons the dog develops “grabitis”, which in advanced cases takes the form of coming instantly when called to a point about one metre in front of the owner, thereupon dancing and dodging just out of reach.

See also: The Simple Come and Sit


One comment on ““Gotcha” and “grabitis”

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