Check out the Michigan Humane Society blog on Wednesdays to see common pet behavior questions answered by our Senior Director of Operations and pet behavior expert, CJ Bentley. If you have an immediate behavior concern with your pet, please call a qualified trainer or behaviorist! If you have a non-urgent question you would like answered on the blog, you can comment here or email us at mail(at)michiganhumane.org.
“I have an Australian Shepherd/blue heeler mix… He’s about ten months old. Since he was about four months he’s had a resource guarding issue. However, not toward his food bowl. I can feed him, touch him while he eats, and take the bowl away no problem. If he happens to get hold of other food, however, he will growl and bite to keep me from taking it. He also does this with shoes, paper, pens, and many more. And if he gets hold of food around other dogs, he will get possessive in the same way toward them. Lately he has gotten better, but he still tends to “steal” things when he can. Is there anything I can do?”
Possessive aggression is a fascinating one. Dogs who tend to “object guard” do so over the items they place the most value on. And the key here is it is what the dog values. I had a client who could literally take chicken bones out of her dog’s mouth (don’t ask me how he got into chicken bones) but he bit her when she tried to take a woodchip from him.
So yes… some dogs are fine with us messing with their food, but try to take a piece of tissue and watch out. Object guarding can be tricky to deal with because for some dogs the aggression “spreads” to different items, making it difficult to put an effective desensitization plan in place. I would probably contact a qualified behaviorist to help with this one in person.
In the meantime, you could practice teaching your dog a “drop” command. Use a toy that he likes. When he has the toy, say “drop” and show him a super duper, once in a lifetime treat. Something awesome like a piece of hotdog. Something he won’t ever get any other time. When he drops the toy, give him the hotdog. Keep practicing with safe items (that he does not guard) like toys.
Don’t try it with a high value item until you’ve had a chance to have him evaluated by a behaviorist. And yep… the best defense while you’re practicing is to keep your stuff picked up. Don’t let him get a hold of anything he may want to guard. The good new is, your house will be super neat!