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Hi guys! I adopted a 9 year old black lab mix from a shelter almost 4 months ago, and when I met with him before I got him, he seemed like a great match. The only thing the shelter told me was that he was not good with children (a family had to surrender him because of this). I filled out the paperwork, and a couple visits later, I was able to take him home with me.

Looking back, there were signs even on Day 1 that he was aggressive (much more so than the shelter led on). He growled at my friend while she was sitting in the backseat with him on the drive home from the shelter. He growled at me within the first hour of being home: I sat on the same couch as him. He growled, got off the couch, and moved across the room. I would pet him and he would pretend to try to bite me, and sometimes would mouth me. I assumed that a good amount of this behavior was due to him being in a new environment, and I figured that it would improve after a while.

However, things have not gotten better at all. He growls, snarls, mouths, and has bitten me (and my roommate) a few times in the past few months. You can barely even be in the same room as him when he is chewing on a bone, because he becomes so aggressive. He is also aggressive at very random times (which the unpredictability almost scares me more than if he were just aggressive all of the time). I discussed his aggression with my vet, and even got a trainer/behaviorist involved, but it doesn't seem like anything has helped, and my vet told me because of his older age, it would be next to impossible to change much of his aggressive behaviors.

I'm at an impasse. I'm not sure I can properly take care of him anymore because I am becoming scared of him. I am scared that he is going to bite someone, especially a little kid, while we are in public. At the same time, I don't want to take him to a shelter because I don't want this responsibility put onto another (unknowing) person. In addition to this, I almost feel like the shelter lied to me about this dog because he is much unlike what I was told, even though they may have not known much about these behaviors.

Any tips on what I should do? I cry several times a week about this situation. I am desperate, and have no idea what to do with him anymore.
 

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If you can't find a good trainer that is willing to and, knows how to work with an older dog that has issues, you may need to rehome him or, return him to the shelter. I'd take him to a different shelter or rescue since he might be sent out again if you returned him. Were he mine, I'd try a month with a good trainer and, if that didn't work, it would be a rescue where he could live out his life with minimal human contact or, euthanasia.
 

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It sounds like a pretty extreme case of resource guarding. Guarding the couch, guarding food. It can be manageable...but you have to decide if you want to do that. So that means no food on the ground, no high value rewards outside of a crate or physical separation from humans, no access to the furniture if he's going to guard it, and you being very, very respectful of his space. He sounds like he also has some anxiety and fear issues, as well.

Sometimes this is something you can improve with training, but he's probably always going to be a resource guarder, and it's difficult to say just how much better he would get, if at all. Your best bet is working with a professional, rewards based trainer. But if you're not seeing much improvement and you don't feel you can or want to manage a severe resource guarder, there is no shame in returning him to the shelter.
 

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Precisely what Lillith said. Resource guarding to this degree is genetic based and hard wired in. It will take life long management.

This dog and your experience is why I have so many issues with some rescues and the dogs they "save." They cannot all be saved, nor should they be.

If you are not an experienced dog person (as in trained a few dogs to do things such as formal obedience or some dog sport) I always recommend going the extra money and finding a reputable breeder who will get you a genetically temperamentally sound dog that fits and be there with a ton of help to make it work.

There are some rescues who are knowledgeable. I do not find them to be common commodity (and a good breeder is not common either). Most have huge hearts and the people just want every dog to be happy and in a home. They don't REALLY know dogs and end up saving dogs that really should not be saved and saying "we are no kill.."
 

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Older dogs can and do benefit from behavioral rehab and training - the whole "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" is one of the biggest myths in dogs. That being said, since he has bitten, I would highly recommend finding a local behaviorist or force-free trainer who has experience with resource guarding and aggression. The CCPDT is a good place to start - trainers and behaviorists certified by them have to meet high standards of skill and use humane, rewards-based methods. The APDT is also good, though they don't specifically certify behaviorists like the CCPDT. We can give some basic advice about management, but a biter really needs to be observed in-person by a professional so they can create an effective plan that keeps everyone safe.

In the meantime, Jean Donaldson's book Mine! is a good resource specifically about resource guarding issues. Make sure that any food and treats are given in a space like a crate or pen, where he will be left alone by everyone and there's a physical barrier between him and others. You may have to block off furniture he guards, or use baby gates to keep him out of certain rooms. Basically, avoid guarding situations as much as possible.

I would also highly encourage you to buy a basket-style muzzle and train him to love wearing it. The Muzzle Up! Project website has a lot of great and free resources about how to make wearing a muzzle a happy, stress-free experience for your dog, and it will give you way more security when working with him, or when you can't avoid situations where he might guard.

But if you do decide that this isn't an issue you're willing or able to manage, there is no shame in that. It's a difficult and scary issue, and will likely require a significant input of time, money, and emotional energy to rehabilitate - and even then, he may always need management in situations. You did not sign up for this, and if you need to make a hard decision to rehome (with full disclosure of his issues to someone willing to work with them, of course!) or even euthanize that is respectable and understandable. Just like it would be if he had a physical problem that you couldn't afford to treat or manage.
 
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