Possession Aggression in Dogs
Aggression is complicated.
Just like all dogs are individuals and have individual behaviors, dog aggression comes in varying degrees and forms.
As always, if you feel as if your dog may pointedly bite or attack you please, please seek the help of a boarded veterinary behaviorist. For more information about why click here https://thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/recommend-veterinary-behaviorist-dog-trainer/
It isn’t worth being bitten or having anyone else in the family bitten or attacked.
People ask me all the time to help them with very specific and dangerous aggression issues, but the truth is if I can’t see the dog and his precise behavior, I can’t ethically help you. As a trainer with integrity I can’t risk jeopardizing your mental or physical health.
Possession Aggression or Resource Guarding can go from as low level as a whale eye and getting a little stiff, to attacking anything that gets near the perceived resource.
That is another dangerous area for dogs that have severe resource guarding issues.
You never know what they perceive is “theirs”.
I worked with one client who’s dog attacked him because the dog perceived that the Thanksgiving turkey (which was cooling on the counter) was his. This was a tough lesson that required quite a few stitches.
The older the dog is and the longer they have shown the behavior, the more dangerous it is to work on fixing.
The general rule is if you are worried or concerned about being bitten at any time during this endeavor, please stop and find a veterinary behaviorist.
Interesting to Note
It is interesting to note, early on, that resource guarding is not always broad enough to include humans AND dogs. Often times, a dog is either possessive aggressive with humans, or possessive aggressive with other animals.
Treating or behaviorally modifying a dog’s behavior when he has issues resource guarding with humans is usually easier treated that a dog who protects his things from other dogs.
I can teach many dogs, especially if they are young, to give me the things they have and allow me to take things they want.
If you want to know how I handle a dog like this, you should look into my Emotional Re-calibration Training Class that I teach twice a year, specifically for fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs.
Dogs and Other Pets
It is nearly impossible to force a possessive dog to allow other animals to take their things without conflict.
You can teach respect for yourself and hopefully other humans, but you can’t force your dog to respect other animals when every movement is not vigorously scrutinized.
It is easier to avoid this conflict by feeding animals separately and not allowing them to have items they consider special, unless they are in their crates!
Making a Difference
Remember the older a dog is especially after sexual maturity (even if the dog is spayed or neutered) the more dangerous it is to work on this behavioral problem. Keep your wits about you. I have been bitten more by sneaky resource guarders than any other aggressive behavior.
The next thing to remember is to do your best to avoid conflict.
No one really likes conflict. When you are conflicted you usually have to choose between two negative things.
We need to change your dog’s sensitivity and inability to share and convince him that sharing or giving you something is actually a positive experience.
Conditioning the Cue
First we must teach your dog that the command to spit something out (drop it, out, etc.) is rewarding.
***If you have been using a certain command or cue that is not working and actually causes you’re your dog any negative feelings CHANGE THE COMMAND.
It is very challenging if not impossible to change the feelings behind a certain command. It is much easier to just change the command or the cue.
Now for at least a week say the new cue, let’s say OUT, and then toss high value treats in the opposite direction of where your dog is laying.
The purpose of tossing the treats is to get him to get up from where he is laying and chase the rewards in another direction.
I don’t want him to be chewing or playing with anything at all, just laying still.
I also don’t want you to get near him or do anything else, just use the command and toss the treats.
We are conditioning the dog that OUT is a wonderful command that brings high value rolling treats. I want him to hear the command and get up and run in another direction in apprehension or wonderful yummy goodness. This puts him in a happy frame of mind and will eventually make your job easier.
After a few weeks (please don’t try and shorten the time frame, conditioning of behavior takes time and consistency) of conditioning the dog that this cue is wonderful, it is time to ask him to drop low level things.
For instance, I wouldn’t give the dog a pig’s ear and expect him to give it up at this point; but I could probably get him to drop a boring toy or something he is only mildly interested in playing with at the time.
Again, I want to avoid conflict.
It is important that when you give the command and toss the rewards that you don’t break the trust by taking what the dog has had in his mouth.
Again, I am conditioning the dog that the command is positive and has no negative aspects.
Simply give the command and toss the treat and let the dog do what he desires with whatever he has in his mouth.
After a few weeks of this session, you will see that his immediate response is to spit out what he has on the ground in front of him and run off for his rewards. This is exactly what you want!!!
The Next Step
The next step isn’t quite as positive in the beginning but your dog will learn to love it!
We all have to take things away from our dogs.
We must teach them that moving toward their face, touching their muzzle, and even opening their mouth comes with no conflict.
So we are going to do all of these things in slow succession, one at a time until we get to opening their mouths.
Move toward the dog’s face give the command, drop rewards and back away. Do this for many sessions.
Next move toward the dog lightly touch their muzzle, click or mark and reward with more treats. For more on clicker training click here https://thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/basics-started-clicker-training/
We don’t want the dog to panic or get aggressive when you move toward him and touch his face. When he welcomes this it is time to move to the next step.
Move toward him, touch his muzzle, open his mouth and put a handful of treats inside as you click and back up.
We are teaching your dog that opening his mouth leads to wonderful morsels being dropped inside.
Instead of your dog threatening to bite you, he should excitedly look forward to the command and your moving toward him and his face.
Everything should be fun and positive and it should eliminate any kind of conflict!
Imagine how much happier he will be to give you what he has taken now!!!??
After weeks and weeks of conditioning the command you have chosen has come to equal good things and rewards.
Instead of feeling full of conflict and preparing to go to war with you because he doesn’t want you to take the item he has, he will instead happily drop what he has to get a more valuable reward.
This is an easy way to turn around resource guarding without risking being attacked or bitten.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.