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Aggression over possessions

Sue G

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Ozzy has developed a new behavior that I have to nip in the bud. He has just recently become very possessive over certain items. This morning it was his duck. My son moved his foot which was next to the deck and he nipped at him. When I approached him to scold him, he growled at me quite harshly. I got the duck away from him and gave him a timeout in his crate. Oddly enough, I caught my 1 year old grand-daughter tugging a bone away from him last night and all he did was win the tug and trot off with the bone where she couldn't reach him. I was mortified, because I have tried to keep a close eye on the kids with him. Still, no aggression with her. Actually, I have 2 young grand daughters who have grabbed multiple toys away (including the duck) without incident.

Can anyone out there give me pointers on how to break him of this? After scolding him a few times over this kind of thing I figured he would quit, but evidently I'm not doing something right, or he just hasn't got it yet. Any other dog that I've had only took one or two good scoldings to learn that Mom is the ultimate ruler.

Thanks everyone!

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I have not had direct experience with this but just saw a show of Dog Whisperer with this same exact issue. It can became very problematic and lead to aggressive behavior. Cesar worked with the dog by showing it that he was the 'pack leader' and would take ownership of these prized possessions, putting his foot on the bone or toy and staying there while the dog growled until it would finally back down and let go of his possessive stance. Then Cesar would give the toy back later when it was his choice to do. It seems that repeating this behavior starts to change the dynamics with the dog. I am not sure that dogs connect the time out with the bad behavior. My mother had a dog years ago that had this behavior and it was not controlled. Ultimately, the dog had to have a leash on indoors at all times. It was the only way to retrieve the dog to take it outside. Even walking near the dog resulted in growls. Good luck with this. It seems that addressing the behavior early should fix it for good.

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IMO the best way to correct this behavior is to use positive training methods. You teach your dog to "drop it" by rewarding him for doing as you ask. If your dog is food oriented than use food as a reward. If he's toy oriented use another toy. Show the dog the treat and when he drops whatever he has in his mouth to reach it, say "drop it." If you do that a number of times he will begin to associate dropping something with a treat. And it will also cement that when you ask him to do something, that it's a good thing for him too and not a battle of wits or tenacity.

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Thanks everyone. Once again, my grand-daughters were over this afternoon...the little one PLAYING with the duck with absolutely no reaction from Ozzy at all. Weird. My daughter seems to think that the issue this morning was a fluke and that perhaps he was so into the duck that when my son moved his foot he didn't realize it was him. Still not a good reaction, but better than knowingly going after a family member. He is treat oriented, so I will deinitely try that, removing the coveted item for awhile. This morning I removed the duck for awhile and then made him sit and wait for it when I decided to give it back. I have no intention of ignoring this and letting it get any worse. I'm pretty pro-active with dog training. Thanks again for the suggestions!

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We have experienced this behavior in both rescue (older) dogs and puppies and, frankly, we handle it exactly as you have with your dog--immediate correction. We had a rescue dog that was very scary--she appeared willing to rip your face off if you crossed her--frankly she scared me but, fortunately, not my wife who challenged her on about the third day and backed the dog off--in about the same manner as the description of the Chavez manner describe above. It worked.

With our puppies, we handle them while they eat, stroke them, play with them. We take toys from them and while we will get a tussle and a few growls, we do not back up--take and keep the toy. Consequently, the grandchildren can play with the dogs without any fear of getting nipped.

Ever once in awhile we get food aggression from our new pup and when that happens, she is physically removed from the shared plate and verbally chastised, held away while the other dog eats--it seems to work.

I think you are on the right track--these dogs are aggressive in everything they do and if they can get their way with a growl and a lunge, they will use it--as an owner you must make them realize that the tactics don't work. Ignoring the behavior certainly won't work.

Keep up the good work but I certainly wouldn't reward the dog in any way--a firm "No!" and a removal of the dog from the situation seems to work best in my experience. Zero toleration of aggression, teeth, and snarling is the rule around here. So far so good.

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I agree with Cairnmania. Everything in the house should belong to you. Make sure that Ozzy learns this. Id work on feeding him kibble by hand. Allowing the kiddies (If you feel comfortable with that)and yourself to feed him by hand for every meal, Work on a bit of obedience with him and make him work for it. Nothin in life is free and that should apply to the dogs also. Especially when working on aggression. Zero tolerance for that is essential as stated above.

Maybe remove any toys or stuff that belongs to him while to eliminate the possibility of a bite till you get through to him. Just allow him a toy while under supervision.

Sounds like little Ozzy just needs bootcamp. Positive training is best with these lil buggars, with a splash of tough love. He'll get through it. :)


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Thanks again everyone! He really is a very nice little dog, he just seems to lose it sometimes when he's too focused on something. He's been a little angel since this last incident. Well, angel is a relative term! I'll continute with the take it away and scold...give it back when I'm good and ready and make him work for it routine. I'm used to having dogs as puppies and have never run into this. I normally teach from early on that aggression is not OK. Ozzy is a year old and is testing the waters, I'm sure. Thanks again!

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I had this incidence once with my Maxwell, and it was the first (and so far the last) time that he had showed aggression over a possession.

I have to say, IMO talk of 'dominance' is outdated and not fully applicable. I agree that the best method is to use a positive reinforcer and train the dog how you want him to act.

When Maxwell snapped because I took his toy away, this behavior was immediately "punished" with a very forceful "NO!" But that's it. No point making a big deal about a behavior that you DONT want. What you need to do is make a big deal, repeatedly, about what you DO want.

So, I taught Maxwell several commands:

Maxwell can be told to "leave it" if he is showing interesting in an object that I don't want him to have, or something that he may be possessive over. Essentially, its a word that lets you control what your dog plays with and when - but its not domineering, because its simply a request you make of your dog and, when it is respected, he can get praised for it. You say what you expect, and your dog makes the decision to listen because its what he wants (well, because he wants praise / treats / to not get punished).

Maxwell knows the words "easy" and "gentle." If he gets worked up over something, for example if we are playing with a toy and he begins to play too rough or starts to nip / play bite then either of these words tell him to settle and calm down. Usually, when I request these, of course I him to listen, but his behavior is also a sign to me that I need to take the game down a notch so that he doesn't become so worked up - maybe I'm the one who is playing too aggressively and inciting his behavior. So, for example, if your dog shows his teeth as you approach something he wants, this will help you to let him know his behavior is out of place / how he should be responding.

Lastly, Maxwell knows the command "give it." This is great when he is playing with something and I decide that play time is over or he has had the toy for long enough - works real great with rawhides or bully sticks. I tell him the command, put my hand on the toy, and he releases. I let him know what I am doing before I go reaching so that my actions can't be considered aggressive, and he makes the decision to give the toy.

Of course anything that facilitates a bond between you and your dog is a good idea. Playing with the toy together, maybe using food treats if he is playing appropriately. Also anything that reminds the dog about having a soft mouth; for example, hand feeding, teeth brushing, etc.

I guess, my thoughts on the matter are that the behavior should be stopped immediately when it occurs but the primary goal is to create situations where the proper behavior can be exhibited and praised heavily. If a situation should arise that the dog feels antsy and may want to nip, he will have lots of experiences that tell him he shouldn't and you'll have lots of ways to vocalize your wishes as well as to let him know what you are doing.

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