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Aggression Over Food And Possessions

It's normal and natural for dogs to guard things from us or from other dogs. They cannot ask us to leave their possession or food alone, so some dogs 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 dog.

 

 

For possessive puppies under 6 months of age, go to 'Aggression over Food and Possessions in Puppies'

  • Aggression over chew

Do all dogs do it?

No, but many do. Possession and food guarding has its origins in puppyhood when whatever they guard would have been in short supply, either in the litter or in the new home. Shortages always makes items more valuable. Puppies quickly learn how to guard valued items from littermates or their new family. A dog's personality and confidence will also have an influence on whether they work hard to keep their possessions.  Any aggression or scolding makes the problem worse as they try harder to keep their possession, and can lead to defensive behaviour in addition to the original possession or food guarding.

What does it look like?

Possession defense usually starts with stiffening of the body and 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 dogs’ back. If this is ignored, or has been in the past, the dog 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 dogs will stiffen and grumble as you approach and let you take their possession, others will run at you menacingly ready to bite as you enter a room – it all depends on their character and previous experiences.

What do they guard?

Dogs 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 something they have found on a walk..

 

Can it be cured?

Yes, although great care is needed to ensure no one gets bitten before the dog has learnt new ways of behaving. The treatment involves teaching the dog that humans come to give, rather than take, and that we don’t really want what they have but we are willing to take it in exchange for something they want more. 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 injury. Eventually, it may even be possible to teach a possessive dog to retrieve and deliver valued objects so they can be exchanged or given back with a reward. Dogs that are possessive of many different items usually need more exercise and stimulation, as well as a job to do to take their mind of their obsession.

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