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Cocker Spaniels/my 5 yr old cocker spaniel has become possessive aggressive towards her toys/bowl


QUESTION: Hello Delores,

My 4.8 year old female cocker spaniel Ibby, was spayed 6 months after the vet recommended it. She's been playful, if a little obnoxious and occasionally snappy.

However, her behaviour has suddenly changed in the last month while she was staying at my parents' - she has begun to guard her food bowl, toys, stuff she finds, even trash (even a plastic bag or  a cabbage leaf).

Her new vet says that's because she is experiencing a ghost pregnancy/motherhood. Is it possible? And, if it is, how long does this last? And how am i supposed to help her? She has become really weird and aggressive trying to bite anyone who touches her bowl or anything/toy she takes fancy to.

Please help.

ANSWER: Gauri, the key words are "while she was staying with my parents".
Do your parents have a dog?  How long was she there?  Describe the circumstances.  Something there has created this behavior.

And yes, you can deal with this.  I need to know specifically what things she's being possessive about.  Her bowl.  Toys. What else?

Right now..when you feed her, make her Sit.  Then have her eat  out of the bowl while you hold it (a few inches off the floor - hands cupped under bowl).  I want to know what happens.  Don't talk to her or disturb her.

I need to know if she growls first or just tries to nip.  Has she even actually bitten?
What does she do if you try to take something away?

Put all toys away temporarily and try to ensure there's nothing around for her to grab.  We'll need to deal with this one thing at a time.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you so much for replying immediately Delores.
To answer your questions:

1) No, my parents dont have a dog and she stays with them often when I am traveling for work ever since she was a baby. And she usually loves it there - playing in the backyard with my 4 yr old nephew (she has nipped at him a couple of times and while they play with toys together toss/fetch, he doesnt hug her at all or pet her too much as he's asthmatic) and chasing birds and squirrels. This time, she was there for a month. It's monsoon season here, which means nonstop rains for days.

2) Ibby's history:
   a) Ibby has always been a bit defiant even earlier - a new toy, my nephew's toys, her rawhide chewsticks, stealing food off the table occasionally (she is now on a hypo-allergic diet since diagonosed w skin allergy a year ago).
    b) there have been 5/6 incidents in her entire life, where she has huddled up with a chewstick or an object (wrappers/erasers/etc) and bitten me when i've tried to remove the object.
    c) She also bites/tries to, when we try to put a raincoat on her while taking her out in case it's raining badly (she hasnt been trained to go to the bathroom and prefers the outdoor). However, that we control by keeping a couple of treats in the hand and feed as she allows to be dressed. The raincoat has also come up after her skin allergy was diagonosed.
     d) Yes, she has bitten bad enough to break skin and cause severe brusing. She is also used to growling and baring her teeth when she gets defiant but that is usually gone with a combination of scoldings and treats. Ringing the doorbell also works as a distraction. Biting is usually a last resort when she is really angry
      e) Ibby also has had a history of constant urinary infections and her earlier vet used to prescribe her a lot of steroids (wysolone) for the urine infections as well as skin allergies. I've switched to a new vet since last year.

3) About Ibby's current situation:
     a) Her unreasonable attachment to her toys/bowl and other stuff has been more visible in the last couple of weeks. She doesnt even let go when bribed with treats or with the doorbell ringing. Then, I have to take a long stick to pry lose whatever she's picked up (which she furiously bites hard) and push the item away from her reach. She is 'normal' immediately as if nothing has happened.
     b) she has had a urine infection for almost 3/4 months on and off, controlled with medication (homeopathy)

4) Yes I have taken to hand feeding her (holding the bowl) and also put away her toys. And her vet has prescribed some hormonal meds a couple of days ago. There's a sort of uneasy calm and when i did try leaving the bowl down once, she immediately pounced on it. So, back to square one with holding the bowl now.

I hope the above allows you a better understanding of her situation.
Thank you once again for such a prompt response.

Much regards

I'd like you to try a couple of things which will help me decide on the best approach.

1.  Get a plastic spray bottle & fill with tepid water.  Put it on "mist", not a hard stream of water.  The next time she growls, say NO and spritz her right in the face.

2.  When she next has a toy she's possessive about and growls at you - sit down on the floor,
be physically very still, STARE into her eyes (think Clint Eastwood) and say NO in a calm but threatening voice while never losing eye contact.  Continue saying NO.  Do nothing else.

Let me know what happens.

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Delores Beck


Health, nutrition, training. Please note: I used to highly recommend Innova products but, unfortunately, as with Canidae, they have sold out to Proctor & Gamble. This guarantees lower quality to a dangerous point so I will no longer be advising anyone to buy it.


20 years of owning this breed.

Psychology, MA

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