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Speaking of Dogs: Aggressive Behavior

My 3-year-old fox terrier (whom we have had since a puppy) bit my 9 year old daughter. My daughter simply walked near our dog as she was by the garbage. Normally you can approach or even take food from the dog without incident; so what happened this time? Andrea H.

What you’ve described sounds like “possession aggression” or “resource guarding,” a complex behavior problem that demands immediate attention before anyone else gets hurt.

Often, aggression that appears “suddenly” has actually been brewing for some time, unbeknown to the humans. Please don’t assume this was a unique or one-time incident. Without proper intervention, aggressive incidents usually increase in frequency and intensity.

Possession aggression can be particularly dangerous because you never know what the dog will decide to guard. Children are at greater risk of being bitten by a resource guarder because most dogs view children as subordinates.

Warning! Punishing the dog for resource guarding is not a solution, and in fact can escalate the aggression.

Some mild forms of possession aggression can be remedied by taking steps to increase your leadership and gaining the dog’s respect. In these cases, the dog who has been allowed more privileges than she can handle is placed on a “nothing for free” program. The dog is asked to perform simple obedience tasks for all the good things in life: food, belly rubs, attention, toys, and access to favorite places. The “nothing for free” program reduces the dog’s status in the family pack, making her less apt to try to exert authority.

We urge you to seek professional help immediately to evaluate your dog and outline a training/management program for your family to implement. We recommend you consult one of us or another Certified Pet Dog Trainer through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Go to www.apdt.com to find a trainer in your area.
Other Resources include:

· The Animal Behavior Department at UC Davis for an in-depth behavior analysis.
· Suggested reading: “MINE! A Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs” by Jean Donaldson. Available through Dogwise.com.

(Editor’s note: This is from anewscafe.com’s best-of archives. It was first published in January, 2008.)

Carla Jackson is a professional pet dog trainer and owner of Jackson Ranch for Dogs, a kennel-free boarding and training facility. She specializes in private training, behavior consultations, puppy socialization and day training.  You can find Jackson Ranch on Facebook, visit the website, or call (530)365-3800.
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