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We have a 2 year old male mixed breed, Leo. He has always been incredibly loving. Just this past couple weeks he is showing negative signs of aggression. Example: we gave him a t-bone as a treat, something we do occasionally. He enjoyed it for quite awhile and then it was time for him to come inside for the evening. I went to pick up the bone, which we have always done, he bared his teeth at me and started growling. Both my husband and myself were shocked at this new behavior. My husband put the lead on him and took him on a short walk while I got rid of the bone.
A couple days after that he got ahold of a little plastic toy. I went to get it from him and he growled and actually bit me. I am at a loss, this is so not like our sweet boy. We’d appreciate any advice you can offer.
Sudden behavioral changes, such as being aggressive when your dog hasn’t acted this way in the past, becoming depressed, or simply behaving differently than what is typical of your dog can sometimes indicate a bigger issue. I will offer training advice below, but do recommend that your dog first be examined by a veterinarian to rule out any health or pain issues.
Now, if you’re positive that your dog is healthy and not in any pain, it sounds like you’re dealing with what is referred to as Resource Guarding. This is a normal behavior that dogs do, so don’t be too discouraged. I understand that it’s frustrating and upsetting but there is a way to remedy the situation. Please also remember to NEVER punish your dog for growling. Many pet parents mistakenly punish their dogs for growling or baring their teeth. What they’re actually doing is punishing the dog for warning them. This teaches the dog not to give the warning and often leads to dogs that go straight to biting, without giving a warning first. If your dog growls, back away and give him space.
Firstly, I recommend that you hire a certified trainer to help you with this problem. I am going to give you advice, but it is definitely something that is easier to deal with with actual help.
Resource guarding is when a dog feels like a resource is not readily available and that the dog needs to protect it from being taken away. Dogs can guard food, toys, people, places and other things. With that being said, the way that I go about remedying this situation is showing the dog that instead of taking the possession, I give him something. With repetition of this, the dog views you coming up as a good thing, instead of a bad thing. Every dog is different which means that the amount of repetition needed to get the results you’re looking for varies.
The overall idea is to approach him while he has the valuable object and to give him good things. Once again for safety reasons I am not going to break this down anymore because I really recommend that you hire a trainer for help. Overall, hiring the right trainer will help Leo overcome this issue. You can check out these sites for a trainer.
The first two links above, I highly recommend asking the trainers questions about how they would go about modifying the behavior. If they mention anything about needing to be a boss, alpha, or anything that involves force, hang up the phone. Unfortunately the dog training industry is unregulated and anyone can call themselves a trainer, even if they are using old school methods that have been scientifically proven to do more harm than good.
Thank you for the question!
Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA
Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT.org) and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio with his dog, V, a six-year-old Shepherd/Lab mix, where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC, specializing in helping build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions using clear communication, not pain and fear. For more training tips and tricks, and to meet his amazing dog, V, follow him on Facebook by clicking here.