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I've been reading this forum for the last week or so and have learned so much in that short time. Unfortunately, I haven't seen much in the way of a solution for this slightly complicated problem. My mother and younger brother (he's 25, in case that matters) share a dog named Eclipse, a 4-5 year old Dachshund/Pomeranian mix, who has a classic case of small dog syndrome. They have raised her from about 6-weeks old with very bad habits. One of those habits is what would be called "greed" in a human, but I'm not sure what it is in this particular dog.

After talking to them about dominant dog behavior and bad habits, I got them to start making changes by making Eclipse walk behind them whenever they have her on the leash. That had an amazing, positive impact on her behavior. Unfortunately, from the time she was a puppy, my brother would rile her up by spinning her around, teasing her with her chewing bones, and a few other tactics I'm sure. All of these were done for the same effect -- to get her growling. As far as I know, the growling only happened during those times he "played" with her, and she actually seemed to thoroughly enjoy the sessions (much to my dismay, and despite my nagging for them to stop).

On another front, my mother has instilled what I can only recognize as greed in Eclipse. Since she was a puppy, Eclipse has been spoiled with treats and toys. Whenever she wouldn't eat a treat, my mother would call the cats to eat it instead, making a big deal about it. She eventually ended up using this as a threat for the dog to get her to eat everything. Just saying "The kitties are going to get it!" will, without fail, send Eclipse rushing back to unwanted food to gobble it down. (Despite this, she still weighs just 13 pounds, and a recent vet visit left the veterinarian very happy about the dog's health, weight, and record of no injuries or illnesses her entire life.) Now for the problem...

The other day, I was visiting with Eclipse and saw that she was chewing on one of those huge smoked soup bones. My mother asked me to throw it away and get her a new one, as the old one had been laying about for a couple of days. I had absolutely no problems. I gave her the new bone, but then took it from her to help her carry it to her bed because it was too big, and gave it back to her with no trouble whatsoever and thought nothing of it. Then my brother came over, said "Watch this," and took her bone from her with a bit of rough talk (something like, "Gimme that, it's mine").

Eclipse set off in a terrifying growling fit! I expected as much, because my brother has basically taught her to growl at him, but she continued to growl even at me. When he walked away, she eventually settled down into quietly chewing her bone, but when I reached out to pet her, she started growling at me. Whenever my brother approached, it grew more fierce. After a minute, I noticed that she was making eye contact with me and holding it as she growled.

I'd had some inklings about the reason for the behavior, but this had never happened before. She'd always been the sweetest dog to me, even after those "play" sessions with my brother. When I noticed the eye contact, I wondered if maybe she felt that her dominance had been threatened by my brother and so I must also be shown who's boss. I thought that it might also be that she thought her food might be taken from her, because of my mother's "kitties" threats. I wasn't sure what to do, so I decided to try just resting my hand on the bone while she chewed it and letting her growl it out. Now I've no idea if this was the proper course to take. She'd start growling for a few seconds, and then stop chewing to make eye contact, which she'd hold for about thirty seconds before the growling would taper off into a closed-mouth yodeling sound. That's when she'd stop growling, break eye contact and go back to chewing, my hand on the bone the entire time. She also had both her paws on the bone the whole time, right from the beginning, holding it down pretty tightly. She never snapped at me at all, but after fifteen minutes of doing this, it just didn't seem to be helping anything.

Through this, I never actually took the bone from her, which I thought was right at the time. I thought teaching her that her food wasn't in danger every time someone touched it was the best thing, but now I'm reconsidering. I still don't actually know if she was growling because she was showing dominance or if she was just protecting her food. Is that the same thing? What would be the best course of action for this? The major problem with this situation is that I can't recreate the behavior without doing something wrong in the first place (letting my brother rile her up). I'm so sorry for the long post, but this seems to be a slightly complicated situation to me. I can't fix it until it happens, but I can't make it happen unless I have my brother set her off. I wouldn't mind leaving it alone, but I'm getting my own puppy in October, and I have to be sure that the growling won't happen (and won't escalate to biting) should that puppy wander near Eclipse's treats, toys, or food bowl. Any advice is very much appreciated!
 

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Relax. This is a people problem, not a dog problem. The dog problem is simple, so we'll tackle that first.

Terms about dominance and pack hierarchy tend to create unnecessary confusion and paranoia, so I'd set aside that theory for now. Focus on the knowledge that your dog WILL do whatever she considers rewarding. Underneath all that palava about walking first, eating first, staring down... that's the basic principle of dog training.

You have the basic concept right: the idea IS to teach her that hands on her food/toys are not always a bad thing. You want her to realise that there is no reason for her to guard her resources. However, you need to start a level where she is comfortable. She is clearly not comfortable with a hand on her bone, but is she comfortable with you sitting two feet away from her while she's chewing it? By comfortable, I mean not eyeing you, not tense, just lying there enjoying her bone as if you aren't there. If she's comfortable with that, is she comfortable with you sitting one foot away from her? What about with you sitting next to her with your hand on her back? Do you see where I'm going with this? You need to start at a base level with which she is comfortable, and slowly work your way up.

My older dog used to be a resource guarder when she was younger, and I know exactly what kind of behaviour you're talking about. She never bit me, but she would bark if my hands were too close to her object for her comfort, and she was obviously agitated. You want to avoid riling her into this stage. Remember, start low and slowly progress in stages.

- sitting two feet away from her
- sitting one foot away from her
- sitting right next to her (avoid sitting directly in front of her)
- sitting next to her with your hand on her back or side, petting
- sitting next to her with your hand on her head

etc.

It sometimes helps to give her a treat -- something really yummy, like a little piece of cheese or beef jerky -- while she's chewing her bone. It will associate the presence of hands with a reward.

One thing that definitely needs to stop is people randomly grabbing her bones when she's chewing them. That reinforces the idea that she needs to be on the defensive, and that's how you build a resource guarding dog. A lot of people try to remedy this kind of behaviour by randomly taking their dogs' bones or toys, to desensitize the dog to the experience of having their things snatched away. This usually serves to worsen the problem -- the dog learns that having people come close while she's chewing usually ends badly for her.

Instead, I would start teaching a "give it", where she will voluntarily let you have the bone, instead of simply tolerating it being taken away from her. You teach a "give it" by bribing with something she REEALLY loves... a precious toy or a high-value treat. Exchange the treat for the bone, deliver the treat, and then return the bone. Remember what I said in the beginning: dogs will do whatever is rewarding to them. If you want your dog to give you her bone, just make giving it a rewarding experience. That's all there is to it -- no need to worry about who's who in the pack.

Now the people problem. It sounds like Eclipse is a regular, non-guarding dog when she hasn't been riled up by your brother. This is actually really normal. The solution isn't to train Eclipse to stop guarding despite your brother riling her up. The solution is to get your brother to stop getting on her nerves. Many people are under the mistaken impression that owners should be allowed to do anything to or take anything from their dogs, and have their dogs concede to this out of respect and submission. This is flawed in many ways. Eclipse doesn't growl because she's trying to dominate your brother. She growls because she's learned that when your brother comes close to her bone, bad things happen.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thank you so much for you detailed reply! You really put this whole situation into perspective. The part that made it so complicated to me was that Eclipse doesn't act that way until my brother takes her bone from her. She actually does respond about 85% of the time to "Gimme" or "Can I have it?" That's how I got the old bone from her, and then the new bone when she was having trouble bringing it to her bed. She stopped chewing them and let me take them. It had actually never been a problem before because anytime anyone took a bone or anything else away from her, it was to get her to do something else equally or more enjoyable, like getting special treats or going outside. It wasn't on purpose, though, it just happened to be that way (thankfully, now that I see!).

The only reason I worry about pack hierarchy is to teach her listen to important commands, especially when she's outside. She has never been taught a formal "Come" command, and my mother lives right on Main street. When Eclipse was a puppy, she was almost run over when her leash broke and she darted out of the front yard into the street. My mother had her out to pee at the time and it almost gave her a very real and literal heart attack. The only thing that saved Eclipse was the quick braking of the driver in the car. It was a huge scare for my mother (and us because of my mother's heart problems) and her remedy ended up being a super strong leash and keeping Eclipse leashed at all times, instead of teaching her to properly come when called. She can't even play freely in the fenced backyard because of my mother's fears, which is no life for a dog. I figured if I could get Eclipse to see me as someone she should listen to, then I could start the training to show my brother and mother how easy it can be. The great luck is that Eclipse is an astoundingly smart dog. She picked up a flawless "Sit" command in two tries as a puppy.

I did realize that my brother causes the problem, and considered that perhaps he should be the one to work with her on her resource guarding, as she only does it when he's around. On the other hand, no other animals have ever actually tried to share anything with her except a tiny cat they had about a year ago, which Eclipse considered hers. She willingly shared everything with that cat. The other two cats don't go near her, because she runs after them with barks and growls, chasing them from the room, but it's not consistent. Sometimes she lets them lounge around in the living room, other times she won't let them even enter.

My hope is that the new puppy will be able to have regular play dates with Eclipse, because there are so few friendly dogs in my area, and even fewer friendly owners. There are other issues too, but they're not relevant to this topic. My question (long-winded as it is!) is, should I have my brother do the work with her, or will it still be effective if I do it myself? And again, thank you so much. I really do tend to over-complicate things in my head, so it's great to have someone simplify it all. :D
 

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It doesn't matter who works with her as long as no one undoes the work. What I mean by that is: you can work with her, but even if your brother doesn't actively participate in the training, he needs to cooperate with the training by not grabbing things from her or riling her into being possessive. If he can't do that, that is a big problem. People are harder to train than animals. They're less predictable and a heck of a lot more stubborn. How often is Eclipse left alone with your brother?

Like I said before, throw the pack hierarchy stuff out the window. Focus on rewarding your dog for what you want, and withholding rewards for what you don't want. It would be great if dogs instantly understood what we wanted, and were immediately motivated to do those things just because we said so. But dogs are animals. They have instinctive motivations, desires and reasoning processes. Remember what I said: dogs will do whatever is most rewarding to them. So how do you teach important commands? Make the successful performance of those commands tremendously rewarding to her... and proof, proof, proof.

Proofing means training in different scenarios and settings, so that your dog will not only listen to you in your living room, but also out in the yard, in the store, at the dog park, etc. where there are plenty of other distractions. You need to increase distraction level slowly. Practice "come" in your living room until she's a master at that; then move it out to the backyard; the move it out to by the street; etc. Remember, she should always be on a strong leash if you're not 99% sure she's going to come when called. There are long leads available for working with her at a distance.

Eclipse ignores your commands because she doesn't think you're worth listening to. I know... the truth hurts. :) So of course you want her to think you're worth listening to... but not because you walk out the door first, because you make sure she sees you eating before you put down her food bowl, or any of that abstract stuff. Make her realise that doing what you want is rewarding for her. Whether she gets praise, food, a toy or a game out of it, make it fun to be obedient. Then of course there's the separate issue of actually teaching her WHAT it is you want her to do... which is a whole new ball game.

There is a wealth of information about dog training out there that I cannot possibly squeeze into one post. This will help with condensing the fundamentals:
http://www.dogforums.com/cms/dog-behavior-training
If you're interested to know more, check out the recommended reading at the end of that article. Or, of course, just ask and I'd be very happy to help you in any way I can.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks so much for all of your help. I feel so much better about this situation. And it's definitely a relief to know I just have to focus on rewarding instead of all that dominance stuff. I got all of that from long discussions with someone who's had and trained dogs for years, and that's all they stressed -- showing the dog who's boss. I like the idea of just finding treats and things that will make Eclipse the happiest to do what I'd like her to do. Maybe the reward system will work on my brother too. :D
 
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