Aggression Over Food And Possessions In Puppies
It's normal and natural for puppies to guard things from us or other puppies. They cannot ask us to leave their possession or food alone, so some puppies use postures, growls or threats, or even snaps and bites to make us back off. Although it is a natural response, it is both unacceptable and potentially dangerous in a pet puppy as it may develop into a big problem as your puppy grows.
For possession and food guarding in puppies over 6 months of age, go to 'Aggression Over Food And Possessions'.
Do all puppies do it?
No, but many do. Possession and food guarding usually begins in the litter where food or items to chew or play with may have been in short supply. Shortages always makes items more valuable. Puppies quickly learn how to guard valued items from littermates and this naturally extends to people when they go to their new home
Why smacking or scolding doesn't work
If you try to discipline a puppy that is guarding food or a possession, the problem will become worse as they will try harder to keep you away next time. If you use physical means to cause fright or pain to stop your puppy guarding the object, you will teach him to be even more defensive next time. Although severe punishment may intimate a puppy while he is very young, it is likely to lead to much more aggression later, particularly with children or people whom the dog feels he can get the better of.
What does it look like?
Possession defence usually starts with stiffening of the body and, sometimes, a hard stare in your direction to try to get you to back off. This may be accompanied or followed by growling, baring of teeth and the raising of hackles along the puppies’ back. If this is ignored, or has been in the past, the puppy may step up its threat, snapping in the air close to you, running at you, or actually biting you to cause you to retreat. Some puppies will stiffen and grumble as you approach and let you take their possession, others will snap or bite hard as you try to remove it – it all depends on their character and previous experiences.
What do they guard?
Puppies, like young children who have not yet learned to share, can be possessive over anything they want for themselves. This can be toys, food, chews, bones, stolen items such as socks, shoes or tea clothes, or objects they have found, such as sticks, stones or a dead bird.
Possession aggression is usually independent of other aggressive behaviours, and the puppy can switch rapidly from being pleasant and biddable to aggressive and back again, depending on the position and value of the possession.
Can it be cured?
Yes, although great care is needed to ensure no one, especially children in the household, gets bitten before the puppy has learnt new ways of behaving. The treatment involves teaching your puppy that humans come to give, rather than take, and that we don’t really want what they have but we are willing to exchange it for something better. We need to change our mindset from thinking that a dog should give up their posessions to us and, instead, make them want to. We also need to find a way to devalue the object of their desires and to avoid the confrontations that can lead to problems. Eventually, it should be possible to teach a possessive puppy to retrieve and deliver valued objects so they can be exchanged or given back with a reward.
If you need further help, please ask your veterinary surgeon to refer you to a behaviourist that he/she recommends, or contact the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors to find an experienced pet behaviourist in your area www.apbc.org.uk
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