Give a Dog a Bone, Just Don’t Take it Away!
By Robert Forto, PhD
As a canine behaviorist at Denver Dog Works I see a lot of dog problems. I deal primarily with canine aggression and nothing can be more frightening than a dog that is possessive. I had a client whose dog was so aggressive if disrupted their entire family’s lifestyle.
The client approached me about two years ago and to this day I will never in my life forget this case: The family consisted of Two Adult Females, two pre-teen girls and two Shiba Inus. One of the Shibas was great but the other was Cujo from You-Know-Where. This Shiba, lets call him Max was so food aggressive that the family literally had to run upstairs and close the door while he ate. When feeding time came around the family set in motion one of the most elaborate and scary displays I have ever seen.
First they would lock the dogs in the laundry room and one of the adults would prepare the food while Max became more agitated and began to bite and attack the other dog. Once the food was prepared the lady would open the laundry room door with a string attached to the handle and hold a broom to ward off Max. Max would run at the lady full blast with its teeth barring while she fought off the dog with the broom as she fled upstairs with the rest of the family.
Max did not return to the bowl to eat, instead he would run around the house like the Tasmanian Devil and proceed to tear up anything he could; couch pillows, shoes, chair legs, everything, within minutes.
Max eventually went over to his bowl and ate his food and would calm down. This whole ritual would take about a half an hour. I observed the incident from the deck through the sliding glass doors. I can honestly say that I have never seen a dog more dangerous in my life. Before the feeding exercise Max appeared to be the perfect family pet laying at our feet while we talked and complied a history for the evaluation.
I never heard back from that family and I attempted calling them back several times to no avail.
Protecting valued assets is an important part of survival in the wild. While I agree that Canis Familiaris (the family dog) is far from being a “wild” animal they are still intrinsically wired that way deep inside their brains. In the wild, a dog that does not protect its valued assets is more likely to starve to death than one that does. Since possessiveness is normal behavior the owner should not punish the dog for it, instead we need to train the dog to think that good things happen when they give their valuables to us humans.
Some simple exercises to work on possessiveness are (not to be used with the example with a dog like Max, but maybe a dog that wont give up his ball, or looks at you “funny” when you take his bone, etc.):
1. Allow the dog to greet guests only when he is sitting. This is one of the tests in the AKC CGC Test, Accepting a Friendly Stranger.
2. Teach the dog “Give it or Drop it” and “Take it.”
3. Teach food bowl exercises (except with a dog like Max, of course) where you can take up the food bowl while your dog sits, you can put your hand in the bowl while he eats, etc.
If you have any questions on canine training or behavior, please give us a call at Denver Dog Works at 303-578-9881.