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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My 4 month old pup is starting to become a little defensive around his food. Not so much to me, but other dogs. He has growled at me twice when I tried to take something he liked chewing on away, but I responded by taking it and telling him no, showing him I would not tolerate that and that I control the food. But the other day my friend brought her dog over, and he got aggressive each time she (her dog) went near his empty food bowl. Another time this happened was at the park around some treats that weren't even his. I've responded each time by telling him no and removing him from the situation for a minutes or two. Should I be concerned? What can I do to prevent more of this?
 

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A good way to exacerbate the problem is to punish the dog for a behavior he's had a history of reinforcement for. There is nothing innately wrong with eating, so you're likely to make the problem worse, not better, by punishing him in the way that you are. So yes, you should be concerned about *your* behavior and how it will effect the dog's.

How do you change the behavior? Break the pattern leading up to it and teach the dog behaviors you prefer. Practice NILIF religiously.

If the dog is guarding the bowl, put the bowl away when it's not in use, and I would even say don't use it at all. A dog that is showing resource guarding should be hand fed a portion of his meal, and using his food to install behaviors you do want is ideal. If you want what's in his mouth, give him a reason to relinquish it. Trading often works, running out of the room sometimes works, coveting a squeaky toy might work too.

*I* wouldn't be too concerned if my puppy where showing this behavior around other puppies...that's what puppies do. But if he's showing these behaviors at the dog park, or around other adult dogs, he's in the wrong place. He needs to be in a place where you can control these other dogs and the resources around him. Otherwise, your opportunity to reward good behavior and extinguish bad behavior is minimized and will likely be ineffective.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Like I said he's not really doing it around me. And I don't think that I'm punishing him. I'm not, he usually get it right back. But he's learned not to growl at me. Also, he doesn't get anything for free, or without a reason for feeding him (like going to a new place or building positive association). I'm not concerned about his reaction to me, it's around other dogs. And it's only around food, never anything else.
 

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The training is to teach the dog to give it up willing (not guard it) and not have to take it away by force. That sends the wrong message...he really does need to guard it before it can be taken away from him. Thats why we teach the Give or Drop It command along with the resource guarding training (hand feeding, putting your hands in the bowl, etc).
This is for human/dog. For dog/dog they don't understand the concept of sharing. I just feed them separately, pick up the food bowls when done and pile them in the sink.
 

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Like I said he's not really doing it around me. And I don't think that I'm punishing him. I'm not, he usually get it right back.
Having his food taken away from him is a punishment. It is something aversive, something he wants to avoid -- a negative reinforcer. You don't want him to learn that his food can be snatched from him any time; that just teaches him that he DOES have to be defensive and guard his food.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
Ok that makes sense when you put it that way. I thought the idea was to teach him that I control food in that manner and that he shouldn't growl at me. I would note that he hasn't done it to me sense. He's currently learning leave it. Hopefully drop it will be next in class. What should I do if he's being aggressive with another dog (food or otherwise)? He just got his last shots, so I'm about to start bringing him to the dog park. But I want to know how to proceed should something like this happen before we go.

Having his food taken away from him is a punishment. It is something aversive, something he wants to avoid -- a negative reinforcer. You don't want him to learn that his food can be snatched from him any time; that just teaches him that he DOES have to be defensive and guard his food.
So what's the "positive" reinforcement for this? Esp if he's got something he shouldn't that I NEED to take away?
 

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You can teach him that you control food through NILIF. Taking food from your dog by surprise makes him defensive and suspicious, and ruins the trust he has in you. Start teaching "give it" using trades with better items, and use that each time you want to take food from him. I realise that he hasn't growled at you since you took his food, but a 4 month old puppy sees the world in a very different way from a 1 year old... and repeatedly taking food away from him as he starts to come into his own could end badly.

Avoid the dog park for now. It's not worth it for him to have a bad experience with another dog at such a young age. Dog parks are generally not a great source of socialisation for this reason... too uncontrolled, too many dogs that could give him a bad time. You only need one ignorant owner to bring his aggressive or obnoxious, untrained dog for your puppy to fear other canines.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
That makes sense. I do practice NILF religiously. Also, is the dog park that big a deal? He's been going to day care 3 times a week so he's had alot of experience with other dogs (esp older dogs), all positive. The staff tells me every time that he is doing well and has never had a problem. I really think he'd do ok there.
 

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I started when my puppies were small. I was always close to them when they ate, leaning over them and petting them and talking to them while they were eating, and putting my hands into their food. I took their bones and toys away from them, praised them and gave them right back. They got used to me being there. And I fed them side by side and stood guard and didn't tolerate any guarding of their food, nor did I tolerate any ventures to others' food bowls.

Now, I have 4 adult dogs (2 GSDs) who eat side by side and can all have bones in the same room or whatever and there's NEVER been a fight or even close to it. Never even a growl. They eat their treat and don't approach the other dogs.

So, I say it all depends on what you want. If you don't mind your dog growling and protecting his food or other belongings because "it's the natural thing to do", or crating him to feed him so that no incidents happen, or making sure other dogs or children don't approach him when he might be in a possessive mood over a toy, a bed or treat, then let him growl and guard his food and manage his environment by removing him from the situation in which he might behave possessively.

If you want him to not be possessive and defensive around food, you can do what I did. I know I'm going to be slammed for this post, but that's ok. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

I would start feeding your guy by hand and praising him. Then alternate by feeding him a kibble from your hand, then dropping one in his bowl. And alternate like that, always praising for good behavior. The next step I'd take is to feed him some by hand, some from his bowl, but move I'd my hand around his bowl, eventually touching it (you're still feeding him some by hand). I would just slowly get to the point that he's not uncomfortable at all having your hand around and even IN his bowl while he's eating. It associates your hand with having plenty of food.

I can take raw meat or a bone from any of their mouths and they just relinquish it. That's just the rules here. Once I had to dig in Cara's mouth to get a stuck rawhide out. I felt certain that she would allow me to and she did, of course. I STILL take things away from them while they're chewing and I always will. :)
 

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I agree with 4isCompany. I don't want to teach the dog that 'he doesn't have to worry about somebody taking his food away'. I want to teach him that I (and anyone else in my family) can take his food or anything else away anytime I please and it is not acceptable in any way to defend it.

Our dog does by the way start eating extremely fast if I walk by his bowl ....LOL, but I can take kibble right out of his mouth if I want without any protest.

I don't agree with people who let their dogs growl at them. Its a sign of disrespect - the tip of the iceberg IMHO.

Another litmus test: ever step on your dogs foot or tail accidentally? Dog should yelp and look at you pleadingly for forgiveness for whatever he did wrong. Instead, some dogs respond with a growl. My bet is the dogs that growl are the same ones who growl around their food bowl. Its a symptom of a lack of respect.
 

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I don't agree with people who let their dogs growl at them. Its a sign of disrespect - the tip of the iceberg IMHO.

Another litmus test: ever step on your dogs foot or tail accidentally? Dog should yelp and look at you pleadingly for forgiveness for whatever he did wrong. Instead, some dogs respond with a growl. My bet is the dogs that growl are the same ones who growl around their food bowl. Its a symptom of a lack of respect.
Ummm no. Growling, fight, flight, flee are respondent behaviors (reflexes). They are conditioned to the stimulus. The dog doesn't have time to think whether he respects you or not, as far as he's concerned his life is in danger. This is natural behavior and necessary. A growl could be the one and only warning saving a child from being bitten. Plus, not all growls are equal. Some are elicited during play.
 

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His life being in danger and his food being approached are two very different scenarios. I would expect a dog to growl if he felt (or thought or reflexed) that his life was in danger. Or to protect his people or property from intruders. But a known human or dog approaching his food bowl or being anywhere in the vicinity of his food, toys, bed or other items is NOT a life-threatening situation.

And of course all growls are not equal. But we're not talking about a play growl. We're talking about a protective growl, lip curled, aimed at known humans or animals for the purpose of intimidating, brought about by their approach upon "his" food or other belongings, such as his food bowl. Bringing other growl scenarios into the discussion does nothing but attempt to confuse the issue.

And it's not that we don't want the dog to growl. Growling is the symptom of guarding. It's that we don't want him to guard resources from known associates in the first place.
 

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But a known human or dog approaching his food bowl or being anywhere in the vicinity of his food, toys, bed or other items is NOT a life-threatening situation.
Says who? I have news to all the dog guardians out there, the world doesn't revolve around your perspective of the world, we do not volunteer behavior for our dogs, nor do we communicate with growling like dogs do.

And of course all growls are not equal. But we're not talking about a play growl. We're talking about a protective growl, lip curled, aimed at known humans or animals for the purpose of intimidating, brought about by their approach upon "his" food or other belongings, such as his food bowl. Bringing other growl scenarios into the discussion does nothing but attempt to confuse the issue.
Confusion is good, it makes people think before acting. My dog often growls when I pick up her tug toy before she does. You could easily interpret this as guarding. You'd be wrong.

I'd rather someone think through a scenario than haphazardly call a behavior 'unacceptable'. Don't you agree? There is no good reason to label our dogs, or worse, define a protocol based on that label.

Frankly we should thank our dogs for growling when we approach. It's much better than a bite! We should thank them for acknowledging *we* need to work on this area.

This attitude that the dog is suppose to respect us, suppose to tolerate us, and is suppose to submit to our whims is ludicrous and an injustice to our dogs. My opinion only.

And it's not that we don't want the dog to growl. Growling is the symptom of guarding. It's that we don't want him to guard resources from known associates in the first place.
Of course, and we should be aware our treatment has nothing to do with growling behavior.
 

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Says who?
Someone approaching the dog's food is not an attempt on his life. It's NOT life-threatening. Perhaps he interprets it as such. And that's where the training comes in. We teach him that someone approaching his food is not life-threatening. Dogs can easily learn that.

I have news to all the dog guardians out there, the world doesn't revolve around your perspective of the world, we do not volunteer behavior for our dogs, nor do we communicate with growling like dogs do.
I haven't suggested anything to the contrary.

Confusion is good, it makes people think before acting.
Confusion isn't necessary in order to think before acting. I completely believe that you're quite a fan of confusion and obfuscation. I prefer clarity and straightforwardness.

My dog often growls when I pick up her tug toy before she does. You could easily interpret this as guarding.
I wouldn't interpret it as anything until I heard more about it. The OP was clear and detailed in their description of events.

I'd rather someone think through a scenario than haphazardly call a behavior 'unacceptable'. Don't you agree?
I absolutely agree. But I don't see anyone jumping to conclusions here or making any such haphazard statements.

Frankly we should thank our dogs for growling when we approach. It's much better than a bite! We should thank them for acknowledging *we* need to work on this area.
You go right on and thank your dog for growling at you. I'll pass. My dogs have NEVER growled at me except in play. Based on results, I guess I don't need any work in that area. My dogs are not about to bite me.

This attitude that the dog is suppose to respect us, suppose to tolerate us, and is suppose to submit to our whims is ludicrous and an injustice to our dogs.
I haven't said that our dogs are supposed to respect us, supposed to tolerate us or supposed to submit to our whims. I don't know if dogs feel respect. I'm not invested in them respecting me. But they will tolerate me, whether they're "supposed to" or not. That's the rule here. They will tolerate me taking things out of their mouths and messing with their food. I don't know where this "submit to our whims" thing came from. Nobody has suggested such.

Just recently, Mia tolerated me pulling large cactus spines out from under her tongue with pliers. Never a growl, never a snarl, even though she was in great pain. And I was 100% certain she wouldn't bite me. Call it injustice if you will, but I disagree. I'm the mom and they will tolerate me. :)
 

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Quote:
Frankly we should thank our dogs for growling when we approach. It's much better than a bite! We should thank them for acknowledging *we* need to work on this area.

You go right on and thank your dog for growling at you. I'll pass. My dogs have NEVER growled at me except in play. Based on results, I guess I don't need any work in that area. My dogs are not about to bite me.


I have to side with Curb on this for the simple reason that the average dog owner always wants to punish any growling. Whether the growl is out of fear, pain or whatever, the owners don't know/care....all growls are considered 'bad'/'aggressive' and they take the approach of "Stop it!" or the dog will be put down instead of trying to understand the WHY.
 

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4IC said:
I completely believe that you're quite a fan of confusion and obfuscation.
That’s your opinion and this one doesn’t belong on our forum.

You go right on and thank your dog for growling at you. I'll pass. My dogs have NEVER growled at me except in play. Based on results, I guess I don't need any work in that area. My dogs are not about to bite me.
Well, I don’t work exclusively with my own dog and I’ve been growled at by many completely normal dogs. Had I ‘passed’ on these dogs 1) I wouldn’t have learned how to modify the behavior and 2) they’d likely miss an important opportunity to learn differently. Bottom line; growling is normal (acceptable) dog behavior, and also modifiable.

I haven't said that our dogs are supposed to respect us, supposed to tolerate us or supposed to submit to our whims.
You haven’t but my response wasn’t made on yours.

But they will tolerate me, whether they're "supposed to" or not. That's the rule here. They will tolerate me taking things out of their mouths and messing with their food. I don't know where this "submit to our whims" thing came from. Nobody has suggested such.
Well, someone Did suggest such, but that’s not important. I’m not concerned with you and your dogs. I’m concerned with the notion that rules are inflexible…that ultimatums are attached when they are broken. You said it yourself…your dogs “will tolerate” you whether they’re “suppose to or not”. It begs the question, what is the ‘or else’ when they don’t? Why must we assume our rules are infallible?

Just recently, Mia tolerated me pulling large cactus spines out from under her tongue with pliers. Never a growl, never a snarl, even though she was in great pain. And I was 100% certain she wouldn't bite me. Call it injustice if you will, but I disagree. I'm the mom and they will tolerate me.
Who’s arguing what your responsibilities are? No one. I don’t quite understand why acceptance of the behavior excludes modifying it. Nor do I understand why the dog must tolerate it or else.
 

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Ummm no. Growling, fight, flight, flee are respondent behaviors (reflexes). They are conditioned to the stimulus. The dog doesn't have time to think whether he respects you or not, as far as he's concerned his life is in danger.
My dog thinks that his life is in danger because I come near his bowl or toy? LOL. Moreover, even if my dog did think his life was in danger in some other circumstances I'd expect him to be their acting submissively towards me not growling at me. You have it completely backwards. The dog should see you as all powerful AND trust you 100%. He does not get what he wants or escapes danger by threatening you, but by submitting to you / pleasing you.

This is natural behavior and necessary. A growl could be the one and only warning saving a child from being bitten.
I've seen this arguement made before and it is a sad fallback position for someone who has a poor relationship with their dog. Sure, a growl can proceed and be a warning to a bite. But the point is that your dog should never even consider the possibility of growling or biting a family member, and it won't if it respects you as a dog should.

Plus, not all growls are equal. Some are elicited during play.
We, and the OP, are obviously not talking about play growls here.
 

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Bottom line; growling is normal (acceptable) dog behavior, and also modifiable.
I agree that growling is normal dog behavior. But so is pooping. Each person has to decide whether the behavior is acceptable under various circumstances. So, yes, it's normal and modifiable. We agree.

I’m concerned with the notion that rules are inflexible…that ultimatums are attached when they are broken.
I think you're making assumptions (if this is directed at me). My rules are NOT inflexible OR infallible, but you're right. Sometimes ultimatums (more accurately, consequences) are attached, and sometimes they are negative. It all depends. That's life. I sometimes use mild punishment with my dogs. That's the way I have decided to raise my dogs and what I do works spectacularly. I couldn't be more pleased with my dogs and our relationships. Notice I'm not even intimating that what you do with your dogs is wrong or bad, it's just different than my preferences.

You said it yourself…your dogs “will tolerate” you whether they’re “suppose to or not”. It begs the question, what is the ‘or else’ when they don’t?
If they didn't tolerate me, I would teach them to, as I have advised the OP to teach her dog to tolerate her hand in her dog's food (forgive me if the OP is male). It seems that you're assuming an awful lot here. This is not an "or else" situation. If my dogs didn't tolerate me, I would know that I had failed and would work to correct my approach or method. If it doesn't work, it's useless.

Nor do I understand why the dog must tolerate it or else.
Or else learn to tolerate it by my thoughtful, loving teaching and training. I'm sorry if you don't understand that.
 

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My dog thinks that his life is in danger because I come near his bowl or toy? LOL. Moreover, even if my dog did think his life was in danger in some other circumstances I'd expect him to be their acting submissively towards me not growling at me. You have it completely backwards. The dog should see you as all powerful AND trust you 100%. He does not get what he wants or escapes danger by threatening you, but by submitting to you / pleasing you.
Dogs growl at threats, no? Why aren’t you asking the question, why am I a threat? Why does fault lie only with the dog?

How my dog views me is of no significance to our training…zero. The all powerful notion is archaic and flawed dominance theory.

I've seen this arguement made before and it is a sad fallback position for someone who has a poor relationship with their dog. Sure, a growl can proceed and be a warning to a bite. But the point is that your dog should never even consider the possibility of growling or biting a family member, and it won't if it respects you as a dog should.
Your assumption of my argument is grossly inaccurate and not relevant to the discussion.

4IC said:
It seems that you're assuming an awful lot here.
I’ve assumed nothing more than an obvious argument that would follow in the discussion. Again, it’s nothing personal but how else are we suppose to react to a statement such as, ‘you will tolerate whether you’re suppose to or not’?...without questioning, well, what if I don’t want to?

You say more training follows. I don’t have a problem with that or you doing it. Nor should you have a problem with me questioning dead-end statements for the sake of the discussion.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Sorry guys. I wasn't trying to start a big argument on here with this.

Being the master, I don't believe that my dog should show any aggression towards me whatsoever. I do know the difference between his play growls and his aggressive growls. I believe the latter should never be shown towards another human ever (save for a burglar, a stranger that I haven;t approved to be in our space). I can accept that dog will sometimes not get along.

I think everyone has made good points. But I do think it has gotten a little out of hand.
 
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