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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Protective or Possessive ? Using the Learn to Earn Program

This is my rescue dog Skylar. When I first
brought her home she was possessive aggressive
with my other young dog. After about  a month of
living here I had given all of my dogs a special treat of frozen yogurt.
I bent down to take a picture of Skylar eating hers and
she growled at me. This told me that her possessive tendencies
were transferring over to humans and she viewed this item
as  high value. Up until then I had not had a problem with her.

Possession Aggression in Dogs

Several times a week I do get customers whose dog is snapping, growling or biting those that come near it when the dog has a toy or valued item.  However this is not limited to dog treats, bones, or toys. The human in the dog’s life can also be considered an item to possess, but the human believes that the dog is being protective over them. Usually dogs that are protective do it in a silent way by staying near the owner in a situation where the dog feels the owner may be harmed in some way, but they rarely act out until they feel it is warranted.
 A dog barking at a stranger that approaches your front door, is more of an alert to you from the dog stating someone is here, it does not mean necessarily that the dog is in protection mode. If your dog is possessive over items such as those mentioned above then it is likely possession not protection that you are seeing.

I once owned a Newfoundland dog named Chance and he was a protector of me though he and I seemed to be the only ones that noticed this. He was a therapy dog and I often took him for walks through town to keep him in touch with people, other dogs, and strange noises.  One day while walking through town about 7:30 AM I saw a bicyclist coming up the sidewalk so I moved closer to the storefronts and put Chance in a sit stay so the man could pass by safely. The man however was not going to just pass by; I had actually stopped in the area where he was going, which was a local Moose Lodge.  When he got off of his bicycle he began to talk with me and I could smell alcohol on his breath. Chance must have felt the man to be a danger because he began to pull me away from this man rather than greet him as he would any other person. You can’t really stop a 170 lb dog if they want to leave a situation!  I also had a situation arise when I went on a therapy visit. We did visits to the local prison and on one occasion a guard brought a prisoner   into the room that we had never met before. Chance was laying on the floor relaxing as he would do normally on these visits but as this prisoner came close to us to find a seat in the room, Chance sprung to his feet, came to me and put one front foot on either side of my seat, then leaned his whole body into mine, pressing me against the back of the chair as his head followed this prisoner. Once the prisoner took his place in the room Chance still did not want leave me. I had to physically push him off of the seat and that was no easy task!  From that day on Chance never left my side when this person was in the room.  That is protection. Never a growl, a snarl, or a bark came from him; it was his actions that told me I should be leery. 

  Dogs that are used for protection are taught to bark, lunge, and act out when a stranger approaches such as you would see a police dog do.

That being said let’s talk about how to stop possession aggression so no one gets hurt.

Training daily in commands will help and doing this in a positive way will actually reward the dog for it’s good behavior as well as show the dog you are consistent in what you expect from it. When humans are not consistent then the dog feels the need to take over.   Training daily in conjunction with a the learn to earn program will help the dog to see you as ( for lack of a better word) being in charge.   

Some trainers will tell you to teach the dog to trade the item that they have in their mouth for a higher value item but there are problems with this.

A)  The dog does not necessarily have to have the item in its mouth to be possessive of it; the item only needs to be in the same room as the dog. I have seen a dog shoot across the room and bite someone because they accidentally stepped on the dog’s favorite squeak toy!

  B) While using  the 'trade' method  may work for those that know the dog is possessive aggressive, it will not work for the unsuspecting guest in your home who does not know what to do. This well meaning person who goes to pet Fluffy and does not know that Fluffy has issues and that Fluffy’s favorite toy is across the room,  then this person suddenly becomes a threat to Fluffy. Thus a bite can incur. Do you really have time to explain to everyone that visits you how to “Trade” an item with your dog and do you always have a higher value item on hand?    

The best practice is to try to eradicate the possessive behavior altogether so you don’t have to explain rules to guests. Children especially are not going to fully comprehend what you are telling them.

What we want here is to tell Fluffy we are in control of the home and Fluffy’s  prized possessions so that Fluffy does not need to take on that job.

 Think how exhausted you would be if you had to check every room in the home to see if any item was taken from you while a repair man was there working on your pipes. It could take hours before the repairman finished his job and instead of being able to relax you are constantly going from room to room looking for your prized possessions.  That would be mentally and physically exhausting. Having the items you treasure  put  away in one spot would be able to help you relax a bit more while the repair man is there.

Learn to earn for possession aggression

1)Pick up all toys, bones, food and put them out of reach of the dog

2) Put the daily dose of food in a sealed tin on the counter top

3) Pick up all food related toys and bowls. Leaving only a water bowl

What learn to earn training means is that you are taking charge of the dog entire life’s wants and needs.  No more is free food put down in front of them. Keep the daily dose of food in a closed tin in the area where the dog is fed, call the dog to you and ask him to sit. When he sits, he gets a handful of food. Do this throughout the day using any command that the dog knows. The dog must obey that command in order to get some food.  Feed the  dog its kibble by hand throughout the day but when you call the dog to you not only should the dog obey a command before getting food but the dog should see you eat something before you hand over any kibble. So keep a cracker or something on the counter for yourself.

You will also take control of when the dog can play. The toys, bones, etc. should be put away, then when you are ready to play take out a toy and play with the dog, when you decide play is over, put the toy away again.

Petting does not come to them just because they nudge you, you decide when this takes place, which means you would call them to you, ask that a command be obeyed and pet them at your discretion. If they nudge to be petted, you ignore that, but you can give the dog a command at any time to obey and reward that behavior with petting. Again you always want to reinforce a behavior you have asked for. So even though you know the dog has nudged you to be petted, you don’t have to totally ignore the dog, turn that nudge into a trick or command and praise and reward the dog for that.  

Anything your dog takes for granted such as you opening the door to let it out, putting on a leash to go for a walk, allowing it to walk though a door before you, etc. these are all privileges to a dog that come naturally due to the human’s repetitive actions over time but many humans don’t realize this.  So, before you go through that door put the dog in a wait command and you walk through first, then invite the dog to walk through. Again this should be rewarded with praise.  Before you put the leash on for a walk you ask for a sit ~ stay.

Furniture is a big no, no for dogs that have aggressive tendencies because it puts them in a higher charge over the others in the home, especially children.

             Dogs should not just be allowed on the couch without specific invitation and sometimes not at all if the aggression is severe. The need to be close and cuddle is more a human thing than a dog thing.  While dogs do like to be close to the one they love, taking a few minutes to sit on the floor next to you will be enough to please them. Remember that it must be your decision to sit on the floor and then call them to you. Don’t sit on the floor if they are whining or pawing at you for attention. Wait for that to stop then you can sit on the floor and call them to lie down next to you. If you are sitting on the floor and the dog begins to approach you without being asked, then give the command of wait and after a few seconds give the recall (come) command. 

This is not to say that no dog should ever be allowed on a couch, it is perfectly fine if you have stable easy going dogs. It is when there are problem dogs in the home that furniture should be off limits to all dogs.

As mentioned above, in most cases dogs have developed habits that the owner allowed over time but did not realize it.  What might be helpful to the owner is to sit and make a list of all the good things your dog gets for free by an action that you have allowed the dog do for years. This will help you to turn those free behaviors into commands or tricks that can earn a reward.

When the dog tries an action to get the desired reaction from you, stop and think. Did I call the dog over to be petted? Did I tell the dog it is time to go out and that is why he brings the leash? Did I say let’s play so that is why he dropped the ball in my lap?  All of those actions got the dog reactions in the past usually in a positive beneficial way to the dog. So now it is time to turn that all around. 

Dogs that are well balanced within a group to begin with do not really need any of the above things to change; it is your right to spoil a well rounded dog!  It is only homes with dogs that have social limitations around other dogs that should need the above direction.

Some of you may think that the above is cruel or negative and how dare the human take these things away,  however you are actually setting the dog up to succeed by taking away any worry it may have over its possessions. 

This is Skylar today. Notice how she is sharing
her ball on a rope with Brody my other dog.

 In this  video link below  you can see plenty of toys strewn about
which at one time Skylar considered hers even though they
were here before she came to us.  Though there are still
high value things I have to control for now she is getting the message. It is
always a work in progress and you have to do what is best for
your dog and your family 


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