What Should I Do When My Dog Does Not Let Me Take Something They Have Stolen and Snaps or Tries to Bite Me?

Dog resource guarding a bone

Dogs have evolved to be excellent opportunistic scavengers. If they smell, see, or hear something that they believe may be helpful to their survival, they will often grab it with their mouths. If we or anyone or anything tries to take away what the dog has acquired, the dog may growl and be willing to fight and bite to keep possession of that item. This behavior is called resource guarding, and while undesirable, it is a normal behavior for a dog. The video above illustrates a dog guarding a bone.

This article is meant to teach you what to do when this behavior occurs and how to prevent this behavior from happening in the future. The safety of you, others in your household, the community at large, and your dog must ALWAYS be your first concern. Dogs that bite to keep something that they have may be classified as dangerous dogs.

If you have not had this problem with your dog, you will still benefit from learning how to prevent the behavior. The best place to get that advice is from a certified professional dog trainer or certified dog behavior consultant. Because the potential for getting bitten is a real possibility when a dog guards a resource, I recommend that you see the advice of a professional. In my 20+ years of experience working with people and their dogs, I do not believe that dealing with this type of behavior can be learned from the internet, a book, or a video.

FMI – How to Choose a Dog Trainer –  http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/08/how-to-choose-a-dog-trainer/

What to do when your dog steals and protects something

If your dog has something they are not supposed to have, do NOT:

  • get mad at your dog,
  • be embarrassed,
  • or punish your dog.

None of those actions will be helpful. Any type of punishment is very likely to make your dog even more defensive and will substantially increase the odds of your being bitten. Dog bites are very damaging to the relationship we have with our dog. Both you and the dog will lose trust in one another, and it may take weeks and months for this trust to be restored, if at all.

If your dog has something they are not supposed to have, calmly assess the situation. Dogs steal things. I find that these items tend to fall into one of the following three categories:

  1. things that may cause your harm if they ingest them, such as a bottle of medicine, a sock, or pair of nylons,
  2. things that could harm your dog and/or cause you great expense such as a cell phone, or a remote control, and
  3. something we would rather our dog not have, but will not cause them any harm. The latter could be a napkin or a paper towel.

In the first two cases, you want to get the items back from your dog as easily as possible without you or the dog becoming injured or traumatized. The best way to do this is to offer a trade with a high-value piece of food such as a piece of deli meat or cheese. Yes, technically, this is rewarding a behavior you do not want; however, it is the easiest way to retrieve the object without you getting bitten.

If the dog has something in category three and you do not feel that you can safely get it away from the dog by trading them for something better, I would just let them keep what they have. Consuming a napkin or paper towel will not be harmful.

After you have possession of the object, you should start planning on how to prevent this type of behavior in the future.

Signs of guarding behavior include those shown in the video above, as well as:

  1. Freezing and staring at you while maintaining possession of the object,
  2. consuming the object as quickly as possible,
  3. running away with the object and trying to hide,
  4. growling,
  5. snapping and biting at the air,
  6. and biting you if you get too close. This may either be an inhibited bite, with little or no injury or a bite that punctures the skin.

Because resource guarding is a behavior that can result in a dog bite, and because a dog bite can cause irreparable damage to both you and the dog, I recommend that you meet with a reward-based certified professional dog trainer or certified dog behavior consultant as soon as possible. You are unlikely to resolve this problem on your own. In my 20+ years of experience working with people and their dogs, I do not believe that dealing with this type of behavior can be learned from the internet, a book, or a video.

FMI – How to Choose a Dog Trainer –  http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/08/how-to-choose-a-dog-trainer/

FMI – What Should I Do When My Dog Growls? – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/18/canine-behavior-what-should-i-do-when-my-dog-growls/

FMI – Reward Based Training versus Aversives – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/04/25/dog-training-reward-based-training-versus-aversives/

 

Why do dogs steal and guard things?

Most dogs have strong instincts to survive and thus may growl to protect resources that they believe are essential to their continued existence. Canine behavior specialists and dog trainers typically describe this behavior as resource guarding. Put another way; it is the dog’s fear of losing something that the dog believes is essential to life. The item most frequently guarded is food, but resources can also include; toys, spaces, trash, inanimate objects, particular people, basically anything the dog believes is worth protecting because of the value it offers to them; sustenance, comfort, attention, and affection. It is important for us to understand that the dog decides the value of something, not us. We may see an object as being totally without value to our dog, but if they believe it has value, they may choose to protect it.

Resource guarding has nothing to do with your dog trying to dominate you. In fact, science tells us that dominance has little or nothing to do with our relationship with our dogs. Trying to intimidate a dog into doing what we want is more likely to cause our dog to distrust us and is less likely to get the dog to work for us than reward based training.

FMI – Dominance: Reality or Myth – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/20/dog-behavior-dominance-reality-or-myth/

FMI – Reward Based Training versus Aversives – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/04/25/dog-training-reward-based-training-versus-aversives/

 

What Will A Canine Professional Recommend?

The first thing that a qualified dog training professional will discuss is the importance of managing the dog’s environment to prevent resource guarding from occurring. That means that you need to make sure that things your dog may want to steal are kept someplace where the dog cannot get to them. Socks and shoes are put away in a room that the dog cannot access, or better yet in a dresser. Trash is kept in a container in a closet or pantry or a trash can that the dog cannot open. If your dog always guards a specific treat like a rawhide, then the trainer may recommend that you no longer give your dog this type of treat. Managing the dog’s environment is about us using our more powerful human brains to outsmart the dog.

If your dog is guarding their food at meal time, a professional will advise you to, first of all, leave your dog alone while they are eating. How would you like it if someone kept stealing your food off your plate while you were eating? While we want a dog to be safe when eating in our home, the best way to do that is to teach them good things happen when we are near them while they eat. A trainer can show you how to do that safely.

Lastly, a trainer will teach you how to train your dog to respond to a behavior like “Give” and “Leave It.” We discuss both of these behaviors in our Basic Manners class. “Give” is used when we want the dog to relinquish something they have in their mouths and “Leave It” is used when we want the dog to choose to focus on us, rather than trying to get something they find tempting. Keep in mind that your dog will not learn either of these behaviors quickly. They will take more time and effort on your part than teaching a behavior like “Sit”, because in the case of “Give” or “Leave It” we are asking the dog to do something that is against their instincts. A dog may find it unnatural to relinquish a sandwich they scarfed off the table, just like us find it difficult to drive past a donut shop.

 

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)

 

How to Choose a Dog Trainer –  http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/08/how-to-choose-a-dog-trainer/

What Should I Do When My Dog Growls? – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/18/canine-behavior-what-should-i-do-when-my-dog-growls/

Reward Based Training versus Aversives – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/04/25/dog-training-reward-based-training-versus-aversives/

Dominance: Reality or Myth – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/20/dog-behavior-dominance-reality-or-myth/

 

Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show (http://www.woofmeowshow.com)

 

How to Choose a Dog Trainer –  http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/08/how-to-choose-a-dog-trainer/

Dominance: Reality or Myth – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/20/dog-behavior-dominance-reality-or-myth/

©20-Aug-17, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
< Click for Copyright and Use Policy >

PODCAST – Listener Questions #16 and #17

WMS badgeDon and Kate have recently completed two new Woof Meow Show episodes where we answer a variety of questions.

Listener Questions #17. This week’s questions include; What do I need to do before I get my new kitten?, My dog screams when I leave him alone and gets destructive chewing on things. What can I do to stop the chewing?, I’ve just adopted an 8 m/o old dog and my son is nervous around the dog and that seems to make the dog anxious. What should I be doing?, Our dog will grab things that he is not supposed to have (socks, paper towel with bacon grease, chicken bones, etc.). He then growls and snaps at us when we try to get it back. What should we do? and My dog eats her feces. What can I do to stop her? – You can listen to this episode of The Woof Meow Show at: http://traffic.libsyn.com/woofmeowshow/WoofMeowShow-2015-08-08-Listener_Questions_No17.mp3

Listener Questions #18. This week’s questions include; How old should a puppy be at its first grooming? Can a dog get too much exercise?, My boyfriend and I are going to move in together. I have two dogs and he has one but we’re worried about them getting along. What should we be doing ahead of time? How important is water for our pets? Do we need to be concerned about radon, arsenic, bacteria and other things in the water? We have an older cat and just adopted a kitten and they’re not getting along. What should we do? and Our neighbors think our dog is aggressive. Can you evaluate our dog and certify that he is not aggressive? – You can listen to this episode of The Woof Meow Show at: http://traffic.libsyn.com/woofmeowshow/WoofMeowShow-2015-08-15-Listener_Questions_No18.mp3

You can download these episodes of The Woof Meow Show at the Apple iTunes store, or you can download them at: http://woofmeowshow.libsyn.com/webpage

For more information on the Woof Meow Show go to: http://www.greenacreskennel.com/woof-meow-show/the-woof-meow-show

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Canine Behavior – What Should I Do When My Dog Growls?

A dog that growls is not a bad dog.

<This article was also published in the July 14, 2015 edition of The Maine Edge>

While a dog’s growl can be frightening and disheartening, it also serves the very useful purpose of alerting us or another being that the dog is feeling threatened, uncomfortable or angry. It is the dog’s way of saying “If something in this situation does not change, I may have no other choice except to bite.” Growling is a communication tool that is designed to increase the distance between the dog and that which the dog perceives as a threat.

Dog growling over a stick
Dog growling over a stick

While a growl is usually associated with “aggression”, it is important to understand that there are many causes of aggression. Pain or other medical issues can cause an aggressive response, as can fear. Fear arises for many reasons; a reminder of a previous negative experience, a perceived loss of a resource or space, expectations of punishment and associated pain, and maternal protective instincts can all cause a dog to react “aggressively”. Sexual competition, barrier frustration, low tolerance for frustration, differences in personalities between dogs, and genetics may also cause or contribute to aggressive behavior.

As a certified dog behavior consultant (CDBC) I deal with a greater number of aggressive dogs than the average person. I appreciate it when a client’s dog growls thus giving me a warning and an opportunity to change my behavior so I do not get bitten. For this reason, I advise all my clients and students that it is NEVER wise to punish a dog for growling; even saying “No” or looking at the dog crossly can constitute punishment. Dogs that are repeatedly punished for growling eventually may not give warning and immediately escalate to biting.  A dog that has learned not to growl due to punishment is far more dangerous than a dog that will give a warning growl before escalating to biting. These dogs will also be much more difficult to rehabilitate.

If your dog is in a situation where they growl; as calmly as possible step back and assess the circumstances surrounding the growling. If possible, ask whatever is causing your dog to remain still and to increase the distance away from your dog. Keeping safety foremost in your mind, and with as little fanfare and emotion as possible, call your dog back to you or if they are on leash get them to follow you as you back away from the situation to a place where they will feel safe and secure. Your dog will pick-up on your emotions and if they sense you are upset, angry or afraid your dog is likely to become more reactive. Do not keep your dog in a stressful situation and try to reassure them or yell at them for growling, neither is likely to be helpful. Once you have ensured the safety of all parties, you need to try to determine what caused your dog to feel threatened and defensive in the first place. To keep you and your dog safe, you should make sure that they are on a short leash, nothing longer than 6 feet, in any similar situations in the future.

If your dog is growling frequently, or growling is very out of character for your dog, you should schedule a veterinary exam to rule out any physical causes such as pain or illness. If the growling and aggression are not due to medical reasons it is time to seek a consultation with a credentialed and experienced dog behavior consultant to work with you in resolving your dog’s behavior. The sooner you seek guidance the better. Aggression rarely improves without intervention and the more times it occurs, the more likely it is to reoccur and the longer it will take to resolve.

It is important to understand that obedience training alone is extremely unlikely to resolve an aggression issue. Training certain behaviors like “Look” and “Leave It” may be useful in managing your dog when they are reactive, but will not change the way your dog is feeling. Aggression is an emotional response, sometimes due to a feeling of having no control over a situation. Sitting and staying for you on cue does not afford the dog a sense of control and may actually increase their fear and the accompanying response. Imagine how you would feel if you were afraid of bees and someone forced you to sit in a room full of bees until you “got over it.” I think you’d agree that would only make you more reactive and afraid.

In order to resolve aggression, we need to change the dog’s emotions. This is most commonly accomplished through a program of behavior modification and may include the use of medications prescribed by your veterinarian as well as complementary remedies, such as Bach Flower remedies, selected by a qualified practitioner. Aggression will seldom go away on its own and the longer you wait, the harder it is to resolve. Dogs grow into aggression, not out of it. If you are having concerns, the time to seek help is now.

Links

To find a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant – <click here>

To find a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner <click here>

 

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>