Correcting a dog with problematic guarding behavior

In this video, a Rottweiler is growling and eventually snaps at a guy who is trying to take the dog’s beer (har har) away from the dog.

Now, I’ve never had a dog but would like to have one some day, so I’m curious – what would the best way to address this behavior, both at the time of the incident and in general (either in the effort to prevent that kind of behavior or correcting it once it’s developed)? I’ve often thought of adopting an older dog, so this dog might come to me already with guarding behavior in place.

My instinct would be to distract the dog and try to get him to leave the room voluntarily, then remove whatever object he is guarding once he’s gone. But that doesn’t teach him not to guard in the first place, and what happens if he doesn’t want to leave? I would be stuck with a large dog growling like one possessed by Ba’al and, frankly, I’d be scared.

What are some options?

The rotty in that particular video was hardly being serious. Mine makes similar noises when I’m giving her a belly-rub, as if she’s saying “Don’t you dare stop that!”

As I’m far from qualified from giving training advice though, I’ll just keep an eye on the thread to see what others have to say.

Just as a guess, I’d say you tell the dog “NO!” and take the object away however grumpy it might be about the matter.

(Maybe I should have put this in GQ?)

Anyway, that dog sounded pretty serious to me. I’ve known other big dogs that growl when they’re feeling good (getting belly rubs, etc.) but they never bared their teeth or bristled like that. If that had been my grandfather’s dog, a chihuahua, he would have bitten that guy once his hand was in front of the dog’s face. I wouldn’t tolerate that behavior in a chihuahua, never mind a big dog the size of that Rottweiler in the video. (And why, oh, why, some owners think hostile behavior is cute in a little dog is another rant for another time…)

Still, anyone have any tips?

A dog that is aggressive, when you try to take something away from it, needs to be demoted. People go through doors before dogs, dog must sit for all food, snacks and treats. Dog walks beside person on walks, not ahead of them. Additional training like putting dog into sit, down, stay and then walking away, dog is not allowed to get up until it’s called. No sleeping on any furniture or anywhere else that people relax. All of this can be done w/o yelling, hitting, or yanking on the leash.

Seconded. The dog has been trained (somehow) to put on this charade.

Ok, so never mind about the video. :slight_smile: What about in real life, when a dog gets aggressive when you try to take its toy away or when you get too near its food when it’s eating?

These are good things to keep in mind in general, but what do you do in the specific instances above?

Well, you have to know the dog. Captain is the sweetest, most gentle, fraidy cat dog in the world, but when he has a bone and you’re near it he growls. It happened the second day we had him, and we didn’t give him a bone again for a year. Then we did, and he did it again. So we scowled at him and took it away and he looked humiliated, and we gave it back. And he growled a little less long. And we took it away. And gave it back. And etc. Every so often we work with him on his bone - he doesn’t keep it, we do.

But I wouldn’t dare do that with my old dog, who was much smaller but also much more likely to bite the shit out of you. You have to know the dog and know if you can reach in there and grab the bone without the dog biting you.

When you do those things regularly, the dog will start to submit to you. I had two very bad (my fault) German Shepherds and I used the above methods to retrain them. It was a TON of work but I now have two good dogs!

I follow everything Cesar Milan says to do.

NILIF – Nothing In Life Is Free – is a training philosophy for dogs. At its most simple, it means that they must do a behavior to earn whatever you give them (like sit before the food bowl is placed before them). Going through doors first and walking beside are additional methods of demoting a dog, although not strictly NILIF. As FloatyGimpy says, no negative reinforcement is needed for NILIF to work – you are building a relationship, after all, not breaking a draftee down in Basic Training.

I concur with both parts of Zsofia’s advice too – the human controlling the defended object, and assessing the dog very well before sticking your hand in there. :slight_smile:

Our AmStaff/hound mix, Sadie, play-guards. She gets a toy and pins it with her paws and growls at us. If we try to take it away, she moves her muzzle to cover the toy and growls enthusiastically. The more we try to take it, the more fierce she will act – but if we stop, she will soon push the toy over to us with her nose and let us have it. This is fun for her but she’d very strongly bite-inhibited (when it comes to people, anyway) and she’s super-gentle with her teeth, and careful to avoid our fingers when we tug on the toy.

Of course, the first time she growled while play-guarding, my wife thought “is this where she turns on us, like the rumors say?” (AmStaff is one of the breeds commonly considered “pit bulls.”) Nothing of the kind, it turns out; she’s very submissive. She just likes to pretend to be fierce.

We try to practice NILIF but we are imperfect; occasionally one of us will hand out a treat without demanding a “sit.” Fortunately the dogs get the program even if you’re imperfect.

I should add that it’s not cruel; it’s the opposite, really. Dogs want to follow a good pack leader who can make good things happen (and one who knows how to open the treats). And dogs like having a defined role; they like structure. When a dog learns he or she can win praise and rewards from the pack leader for doing a behavior, the dog feels like he or she has earned a reward and been valuable to the pack. It helps them feel like they have some control over their role and gives them confidence in themselves and the strength of the pack.

Another interesting aspect of any playing is that a pack does not play when it’s in danger, under stress, or worried about the next meal – so, conversely, when you do play with your dog, you are sending the message that the pack has no serious concerns and it is safe to do this right now; it’s very comforting to them. When Sadie shows fear during thunderstorms, if I hug her and look concerned and say “aww, you poor thing,” she cowers; if I get the toys out and we play, she relaxes and gets into it.

Something you can also do to work on food protectiveness is to:

  • get a treat your dog likes even more (so if he’s gnawing on a bone, get the squishy meaty treats he goes apeshit over).
  • get down on the floor with the dog, show the treat he likes more, and say, “trade?”
  • exchange the yummy treat for the bone.
  • after he has nommed the treat, say “good boy/girl!” and give the bone back to him.

When you do this, it shows that “trade” isn’t a bad thing. He gets one of his favorite yummy treats! But since he also gets it back at the end, he doesn’t need to fear that what he has is actually taken away from him.

When you have a situation where you do need to get it away from him (chewing the remote, or whatever), have the initial treat and then something else that’ll distract him after (like a chewy bone) that you can give back instead of the remote.

It shows that you’re boss, since he’s listening to you and obeying what you ask, without creating “holy shit, s/he’s taking it from me!” anxiety.

These are great suggestions, thank you! The NILIF approach is very appealing to me and I’ll read up on it more before adopting a dog (which is hopefully sooner rather than later…). I was never allowed to have pets when I was a kid, and I’ve spent all of my twenties traveling around and living in places/circumstances that preclude dog ownership, but I hope to settle down in the next year and would love finally, finally to have a dog.

I work with pit bull rescue and we are currently fostering a 3 yo APBT with weird guarding issues. He will steal a shoe or piece of clothing and just not give it back.

Here is what we do…

Gather our supplies…spray bottle set to stream, favorite toy, treat of some sort.

First we apporoach the dog casually as if it’s all no big deal. They sense tension, so try to relax. Use a firm, but not angry sounding command, “Give” or “Drop” or similar.

If he doesn’t obey, tempt him with the toy or treat, if that doesn’t work, (and it didn’t at first with Desi), aim the spray bottle into his mouth. It’s not going to hurt him, but he will probably have to let go of the object to swallow the water, plus it focuses his attention on you. Then offer the toy or treat as a distraction and pick up the object. Always use the same command in a gentle, firm voice.

We have been working Desi for about 2 mos and he has improved so much. At first we would almost have to fill his mouth with water before he would let go of the object to swallow, the a quick spritz would work, then I just had to show him the spayer. Now all we have to do is pick up one of his toys and say, “Drop” and he drops the object for the toy.

Paitence and consistency are key…oh and keeping expensive shoes off the floor.

If the dog was serious, there’s no reason it wouldn’t have bit that guy.

It’s not really hard to train a dog to do this. I did it by accident with my golden retriever when I was a kid. I used to go up to my golden and say “Ooooo, wooogie-woogie-woo!” and wiggle my fingers, inching closer. If she let me get too close, I’d (gently) honk her nose and shout “HONK!” So the game became that she would growl and snap and I’d inch closer and closer, and she’d intensify the growling the closer I got. Of course, she never hurt me.

It was actually pretty handy, having a dog that growls and snaps on command. Mostly I used it to scare my sisters’ friends when they’d come over.

At the shelters shown on Animal Planet, when a dog showed that reaction while guarding food, it’d almost always be euthanized. This isn’t food, but imagine a child trying to take the bottle away.

Note how the dog froze when touched. Not a good sign.

What show is that? That’s awful! Most dogs can totally be taught not to be possesive of their food, if the person working with the dog takes the time to do so. We fostered an extremely possesive Bassett Hound and it only took a few days to a week of consistent training to fix it.

While I agree it’s correctable and that death is an unfair penalty, I’m guessing that the decision to kill such dogs is mostly a function of the extremely overtaxed resources and the endless supply of dogs from which such places suffer. If you’re going to get 100 more dogs in next week who do NOT show any food aggression, spending a week of consistent training on one dog and then killing most of the other dogs who come in without such issues anyway may seem unfair itself.

Some of these places are so overwhelmed they’re dysfunctional most of the time. I’m not apporving of that decision-making, just trying to understand it.

I’ve started reading a book which suggests that there a no-kill solution is really feasible on the national scale, but I haven’t gotten very far into it.

Just bumping this to say I found this video of a dog who has no guarding issues, and the owner talks about how she trained him to share. Bonus video showing no food guarding.

What a good boy!

PS. These owners have evidently trained the dog to understand English, Italian, and German commands, which is pretty cool. “Lascia” means “leave it” in Italian.