Many dogs show the tendency to guard their possessions from others. I also refer to this as resource guarding or possessive aggression. This happens with space, food, toys or anything the dog perceives as valuable to them. It can also be called social aggression, but to me it’s all about a resource. For example, my dog loves toys but not as much as he loves food. Zeus would consider letting a dog take a toy away from him, but he would be willing to fight if a dog tried to take his food away. It’s all about how the dog perceives things. This is important to take into account because, I would not want to have tasty chew bones around with my dog and another dog in the area. My dog would display some of the signs previously mentioned, i.e. lip curl, baring teeth, low growl, Etc.., He actually displayed, this behavior as a young pup, when I first brought him home. We can now take his bowl away, when he’s eating, but I had to work up to it.
Possessive Aggression: Once this dog notices the camera getting closer to his resource (the ball) or his human; he begins to show us he plans on doing something about it.
Don’t try to take away a pet’s valuable resource, instead show first that you don’t want to take it, you just want to invade space a little and add something even more valuable. Walk up to bowl and add valuable things. Eventually the dog will try to come to you as you approach the bowl in anticipation of getting something better, and at that point you can attempt to take the bowl. For canines with extreme issues, use a pole as an extension of your arm to slide the bowl away. Of course, first you’ll have to condition the dog to know the pole is no big deal. To do this, slide it over to you on the ground rather than picking it up, add something great and give it back, then repeat. If what you are doing seems to make the dog frantic and upset, that means you are pushing it too far. If this is the case, don’t go to the next step so quickly. Remember to always end on a positive note and keep training sessions short.
I see possessive aggression with little dogs all the time. The thing that bothers me is their aggression has been conditioned by the owner. The progression is easy to see as an outsider. Essentially, the owner loves to cuddle with their little dog all the time; I don’t blame them, I love to cuddle with my Zeus too, but not all the time, because he needs to respect my personal space, as I do his. Little dogs lose that respect because the owners don’t insist upon it. With a small dog on the lap while driving, or on the couch or in bed; the dog sees itself as one of the people. I can’t blame them at all; if you step back and look at it, it makes sense. Again, it’s important that the dog doesn’t see itself as an equal; sure they are part of the family and we love and respect them, but due to the way they are hard wired, we need to honor some of the basic laws of dog language and that includes the fact that a domesticated dog must see its owner as the being in charge.
Little dogs don’t know how tiny they are, they just know they are consistently allowed in the same space as the person and eventually the dog thinks they own that person. The dog first begins to insist on being near you or on your lap, then as other people or dogs come into the picture, the little dog feels uncomfortable and that turns to eye stare, wide eyes, tense body, lip curl, low growl, lunging, snapping, nipping and eventually latching on biting if pushed too far. I also see people react to this type of behavior as if it’s funny because it’s such a little dog. The problem is that nowhere does this response convey that the human is handling the situation or is in charge; therefore, it progressively gets worse.
The first step is to establish a more balanced approach to the little dog in the person’s space. For example, don’t let the dog sleep in bed. Put the dog in a crate or on a leash tethered to the bed side. Note, that I don’t always advise a dog not being able to sleep in bed, but if a dog is showing aggression, that’s one of the first steps to teach them they are not an equal.
In fact, my dog sleeps in bed with me. Most dog trainers would say that is forbidden, however, I feel our relationship is balanced enough that it’s okay. I also never let the dog just jump up when he decides, I tell him when to come up. It is also important not to let a little dog back a person away, otherwise they will learn it’s easy to scare people. In fact, I use that for training protection dogs. If I want a canine to have the confidence to bite a person on command, I build up their ego when they lunge toward the human decoy. In this example, you can see how you wouldn’t want to do that with a pet.
Possessive aggression and resource guarding is behaviors that should be taken serious. Your dog will not grow out of the behavior and typically it gradually gets worse, if you do nothing. Remember to shift the dog’s mind from thinking that something will be taken away too, they will receive something of higher value. The big picture is trust, when is comes to dog resource guarding or possessive aggression. Secondly, is the dog thinking they are equal to the human. By demonstrating yourself as your dog’s fair leader possessive aggression typically lessens or stops.