Canine Behavior/1 1/2 yr old dog Agression when stealing things
Hi there, I could use some help with my 1 1/2 yr old Karelian Bear dog... It all started when he was 6 months old. broght him to the vet where the tech did his temperature little bear was fine, she was petting him and all was well... When the vet walked in he immediately flipped the lights off and went to wrap his arms around the dog to look in his eyes with a flashlight type thing, the puppy turned to nip him, Since then he is sorta aggressive around strangers, takes him abt 5 mins to get used to them,once he knows they aren't a danger he is your best friend and will lick you till no tomorrow...Now getting tot he aggression when stealing things.... THIS ONLY happens when he has stolen something he isn't allowed to have, candy tissues etc.... Today he stole a carmel candy and he growled hair stood up on his neck and had his teeth showing, my daughter and I had no choice but to back away and let him eat it in fear of being bitten. Other than this he is a great dog, sits when we tell him and lays on command... well for the most part he does
Thank you for your question. As for the issue with the vet, I'm surprised that a seasoned vet would walk in and immediately turn off the lights and try to manhandle a dog without taking a minute to let the dog get to know him/her first. Shame on that vet. I would encourage bringing a favorite treat to all vet appointments and have the vet take at least a full 60 seconds to introduce himself to the dog, tossing a couple treats on the floor or table, then inviting the dog to take treats from the vet's hand if the dog is comfortable with that. Let the dog sniff instruments before they are used so he can see for himself that they are not a threat. Gentle/quiet praise during each part of the exam, followed by a tasty bite after each part of the exam so the dog learns that the handling all means good things for him.
You can actually practice most of the vet handling stuff at home as well, offering the same tasty treats after looking into each ear, opening each eye, handling each paw, looking into his mouth, feeling his gums, feeling his belly, etc. This can help him feel better about such things with the vet doing it as well. You can even swing by the vet when you don't have an appointment and just sit in the waiting room for 5 minutes and offer him treats so that the office becomes Disney Land to the dog. Then, if the techs have a moment, you can ask if they'll just handle a paw or look in an ear so that you can give him a treat while someone else handles him. Most offices love it when owners take the time to help the dog feel better about the exam as it makes their lives easier.
Now, for the Resource Guarding that you're experiencing. Dogs, just like humans, are compelled to guard and protect the things they fear might be taken from them. The more valuable the dog finds the object, the more intensely they'll protect it. I've known dogs who guard food, water, toys, beds, couches, doorways, entire rooms, people, leaves and rocks or sticks, entire yards/property (known as territorial aggression). What the dog finds valuable enough to guard is entirely up to the dog, though some things are a bit more obviously valuable such as yummy smelling/tasting food stuffs.
The main reason such guarding behavior escalates is due to how humans react. So, the first thing to understand is that Resource Guarding is a FEAR based behavior. It has nothing to do with a dog trying to be in charge or take control. The dog who is resource guarding is NOT confident. He's anxious, which is why he is compelled to protect his stuff.
So, if he got something he shouldn't have and you chase after him, telling him no and trying to snatch the object away, then a couple of things are happening. First, the moment you make a big deal out of it, the value of the object goes through the roof. The dog thinks something like, "This must be REALLY valuable if my person is prepared to fight me for it!" When you try to snatch it away or strike the dog to get him to give it up (I don't know that you've done either of these things, but they are common human responses in this situation), then we are in fact fighting the dog which increases his instinct to fight back and protect.
That your dog is growling and showing teeth tells us he is serious about protecting the object, but more importantly, it tells us that he does NOT want to actually fight you. Growling and teeth showing are what we call "distance increasing" behaviors. They are designed to create distance and it clearly worked in the instance you described because you and your daughter backed away. That's GOOD! If you'd continued to push the dog at that moment, he would have been forced to be even more clear and he would have snapped or possibly bitten. If that happened, then he would learn that growling is not sufficient to warn you off and next time he may skip the growling and go straight to the biting. So it's a good thing that you respected his communication.
Now, in the end, even though resource guarding is a normal behavior, it's obviously not a comfortable or acceptable behavior. So we must work to help your dog feel secure enough that he doesn't need to guard from you. This is a bit counter intuitive because when a dog growls at us, our instinct is to tell him off (scold, speak sternly, shake a finger or physically punish). The problem with any of those instinctive responses is that it confirms for the dog he was right to be wary and the behavior will escalate.
So what do we do? We reassure the dog that he doesn't need to feel threatened by us. There's a great book called Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs
by Jean Donaldson which will walk you through step-by-step instructions for how to help your dog feel safe and not threatened by you. It's available in paperback and Kindle.
Along with retraining the dog to think that having you close to his prized possessions is not only not threatening, but actually predictive of even better things, you will also need to do some serious management in the meantime.
There's no reason why your dog should ever have easy access to candy or tissues or any other human things that he tends to steal. Candy should be kept in a cupboard, only take out what's going to be eaten in that moment. it shouldn't be living in a dish on a table or counter. Tissues should go into waste baskets that have lids or live inside cabinets or flushed down the toilet. In my own home, I had a dog for almost 15 years who was a trash picker and used tissue was her favorite thing in the world! I fixed this by just raising the waste baskets up enough that she couldn't easily get into them. The can that lived in my bedroom was put on the end table. The can that lived in the bathroom had a lid, and when I moved and switched baskets, I simply put the one I was using on top of another box so it was lifted up just enough that the dog couldn't easily get her face into it. Simple management will go a very long way to preventing your dog from practicing the undesired behavior. This is important because each time he practices his guarding behavior, he gets better at it. So, you want to manage the environment (dog proof) so that he can't access things he's likely to guard unless you're prepared and set up to do a formal training session following Jean Donaldson's resource guarding protocol.
If you feel uncertain about implementing such a protocol on your own, then I encourage you to seek out a local professional who is force free in their approach. Remember that this is a fear-based behavior and so you don't want to work with anyone who is going to use any kind of aversive tools such as choke chains, prong collars, electronic collars or any kind of physical force such as pokes, kicks, pinches, so-called "alpha rolls", etc. Key words to listen for when interviewing potential professional trainers are Classical Counter Conditioning and Desensitization.
Here's a link to a video just to give you an example of what a training session might look like. Take note that this is a bit fast-tracked, the dog is not done learning even though they achieve success in that session. It takes multiple sessions with multiple objects (each object the dog currently guards) to help the dog generalize that your proximity is safe. And once you've gone through the process with an object and the dog is comfortable with you, then your daughter should go through the process with the same object. If your daughter is very young, skip this and just don't allow the dog to have anything it might guard when in the same room as your daughter. If she's over the age of 10, but not yet adult, you should be present with her and work through the process with her - after you've successfully helped your dog feel safe with you. If she's over 18 but lives at home or is there with you often, she must go through the process as well. Safety first - never push the dog to the point he feels a need to growl.
I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist