Defusing Possessive Aggression - Michigan Humane Society

Defusing Possessive Aggression

Possessive aggression (object/food bowl guarding) can be one of the more treatable forms of aggression in dogs if it is caught early.

April 1, 2015

Possessive aggression (object/food bowl guarding) can be one of the more treatable forms of aggression in dogs if it is caught early.  If you know what to look for, it is easy to identify the symptoms and a desensitization program, started early, is relatively simple to maintain since the owner can closely control the environment (unlike dealing with other types of aggression).

Identify the Symptoms

The key to successfully dealing with possessive aggression is an early diagnosis.  If you notice your dog exhibiting any of the behaviors listed below, contact a qualified Behavior Consultant to help you get on track with a behavior modification program:

  • Does your dog begin to quickly gulp down food (or a rawhide) when you get too close?
  • Does your dog "freeze" (hold his head perfectly still) over his food bowl or a toy when you      approach?
  • Does your dog take stolen objects or toys and "entrench" himself under a table or bed to prevent you from taking the object away?

Remember, the earlier the problem is diagnosed, the better the prognosis for defusing the behavior.  Dogs who have already growled, snapped or bitten to protect their possessions require a more in-depth modification program.  Do not attempt to handle such behavior on your own!  Possessive/aggressive dogs can be dangerous, especially to children.  Contact a qualified Behavior Consultant for a diagnosis and a specific behavior modification or management program.

Prevention

Of course, not all dogs have issues with their possessions and/or their food bowl.  To be sure your dog enjoys having people around when he eats or has a rawhide, practice the following exercises.

Teach your dog to "drop" by giving the command "drop" and taking the toy from him then immediately giving it back to him. 

If your dog has trouble understanding "drop" or won=t drop the toy, show interest in another toy by tossing it in the air and catching it.  Turn away from him.  This makes the toy in your hand more desirable.  When he drops the toy in his mouth, praise and reward him by giving him the toy in your hand.  Once your dog understands "drop," continue to give the command, taking the toy away and giving it back.  At times, smear peanut butter or squeeze a small amount of canned cheese on the toy before returning it to him.  Soon your dog will LOVE to have you take his toys since they come back even better.

Practice the "drop" command with all types of your dog's toys in all rooms of your house, as well as outside.  Teach him that "drop" means "drop" no matter what he has or where he is.

Avoid punishment.  If you catch your dog with an inappropriate object, talk in a calm, happy voice.  Speaking this way will allow you to approach him and take the item away.  Remember, yelling and punishing will only teach your dog to be afraid of you, which could result in him hiding, and eventually growling, upon your approach.

Practice hand feeding your dog, reaching down to his food bowl while he is eating and dropping bits of extra special treats inside.  Before long, he'll love to see hands near his food bowl because it means good things happen.

Last but not least, practice obedience taught through positive reinforcement.  Besides having a well-behaved dog, obedience improves your relationship with your dog, which is a benefit to you both.

Special Note

It is important to note that possessive aggression, no matter how mild, is still aggression.  Don't try any of the exercises listed under "Prevention" if you have ever noticed your dog displaying any of the symptoms as outlined in this informational handout.  Instead, seek help from a qualified Behavior Consultant.  Remember, possessive aggression, caught early, can, in many instances, be successfully overcome.

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