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As a background, we have a 2+ yr old lab/shepherd mix who we found as a stray when he was 4 months old. He is healthy and neutered. He is a loving, happy, very docile and quite submissive guy who has been well socialized and trained since the day we got him. He loves all dogs, and people and he socializes with both a lot.

I work from home so he is with me all day, every day. I go out of course for errands, gym etc but we are together a lot and I imagine he sees me as the pack leader in the house. My wife works and comes home at the end of a normal work day. He is very close to her as well and probably shows more "affection" towards her than he does me. Typically, if one of us is not here when we normally are, he will hang out by the door rather than in the family room waiting for that person to come home.

Yesterday due to a family illness, I had to leave the house at 1:00 in the afternoon. My wife got home at 5, took Bailey for a walk, played with him, fed him, the usual. Afterwards he spent the rest of the night waiting for me, by the front door.

While she was watching tv, she noticed he was chewing on a piece of paper or something that he'd taken out of the trash can in my office. She went over to him to try and take it and he growled at her and snapped. She did what I thought was the right thing and corrected him with a loud "no". She moved to take the paper away again and the same thing happened. She then backed off into the other room and called him to come. He did, she praised him for that and then went and got the piece of paper with no further incident.

She was very upset when I got home, one reason being that she got scared but more so because her feelings were hurt that he did it.

After some research online last night and this morning I think we came to the conclusion that he was already stressed out about me not being there all day and into the evening and that the growl was his attempt to vent some of his stress.

My questions are: Does anyone agree on why he might have done this and if it were to ever happen again, what is the correct course of action to take?

Sorry for the length of my first post here!
 

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Welcome to the forum!

Firstly, what your wife did was wrong initially. Never correct a growl or a snap. Those were warnings and if you teach a dog to stop warning (growling) then they will no longer growl and go straight for a bite. That is NOT what you want. Never ever correct a growl.

This is resource guarding and is very common. This site has lots of good ideas and information. http://ahimsadogtraining.com/blog/resource-guarding/

What your wife did after was awesome. Calling the dog to come and praising him, then safely removing the object. That is much better.

You want to teach the dog that you approaching them and their valued items is a good thing. When they are eating their meals, walk up and throw a really yummy treat in there from a safe distant. Then over time walk closer. Then closer. Get to a point where you can call his name, hand him a treat, then allow him to go back to his meal. Eventually you can pick up his food dish as he is eating, put something extra yummy in it, then set it back down for him. He'll learn that "people near my food dish is a good thing".

You also want to work on trades. Giving the dog something really great when they allow you to pick up something they have.

Also, management. My dog resource guards some things but is a lot better now. Even still, if I give her a high value item (raw bone), no one is allowed near her except me. This way she feels safe to chew her bone without the pressure of people coming up and bugging her because this item is so high value to her.
 

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I agree with Nil's suggestion. In addition, I think it'd be useful to determine why the dog snapped (after 4 years), so that it doesn't happen again.

Was there an interesting smell or taste on the paper?
Did he need a walk, exercise, potty that he'd normally get between 1 - 5pm ?
 

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Nils, thanks for the valuable input. I had just read a bit about resource guarding this morning so your reply kind of reinforced what I'd read. Something that is good to understand though!
Hanksimon, he's actually only a little over 2 years old, we've had him since he was 4 months. As I mentioned, when my wife got home she took him for a nice walk, played with him etc. Additionally, he has access to a big yard.
As for scent on the paper, my wife feels that since he might have been stressed out over me not being there, it might have been MY scent on the paper.
 

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How's the dog's bite inhibition? I only ask because there's also the possibility the behavior was misinterpreted, and it was actually play. Growling and mouthing are common in play. I agree more with the above, but it's never too late or too often to work on bite inhibition.
 

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How's the dog's bite inhibition? I only ask because there's also the possibility the behavior was misinterpreted, and it was actually play. Growling and mouthing are common in play. I agree more with the above, but it's never too late or too often to work on bite inhibition.
No, I'm pretty sure he was serious in his intentions. As for bite inhibition, we never really trained him on that since there was never an issue. However, whenever I wrestle with him he can be pretty mouthy. He will stop if I give an "ouch" though.
But in this case, I think Nils is pretty spot on.
 

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Do lots of trading up. It really does help. Teach "Drop it". "No" doesn't seem to work. Telling a dog not TO DO something is more difficult than telling them WHAT to do. So use "Drop it" rather than No.
 

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Sounds like resource guarding (dog is anxious that you will take his stuff.There is a very good protocol for curing this/make it better in a book by Jean Donaldson called "Mine". I would order that if you can, it's not an expensive book. The very first thing your wife did- correcting him with a no and trying again to take the paper was the WRONG thing to do. The dog is already anxious and full of adrenaline. And you are proving to the dog that you will try to take his "stuff" by force. I would definitely rather have a dog who growls and air snaps than one who bites. Dogs are very accurate with their mouth and unless your wife has superhuman reflexes, if he had met to bite her he would have. And if she pushes him in this situation, he might see that as his only option, as all other, more subtle communication has failed him.
It is easy to read a dog who is resource guarding. He will generally appear very tense and if the object is not in his mouth, he will be hovering over it. If you can diffuse the situation at this point, chances of a bite are less likely. I would teach this dog trade, give, leave it and out. While you are teaching you must have something more valuable to give the dog than what you take. And sometimes, if it is safe, give the object back so he understand that you are fair.

BTW the second thing your wife did (back off and call him) was a very smart thing to do. Now you need to start working on trading up etc. in situations where he's not so anxious.
 

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Do lots of trading up. It really does help. Teach "Drop it". "No" doesn't seem to work. Telling a dog not TO DO something is more difficult than telling them WHAT to do. So use "Drop it" rather than No.
This is how we handle such matters our house. We always trade what our dogs have for something else of better value (food.) Our word to release something from the mouth is "out" and we use it for everything whether it is a tug toy, a dumbbell in obedience, or something like underwear. :) We also play tug often with the word "out" but the dog will get the tug toy back after a second or two. That way "out" doesn't always mean the object gets taken away for good or the game ends and the dog becomes wise to the word "out"
 
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