They have done wonderful work with their two beautiful dogs, 18-month-old Cocker Spaniel Pudding and their eight-month-old Australian Shepherd pup.

Both are obedient and polite and were it not for Pudding’s recent ‘defensive behaviour’ problem rearing its ugly head, all would be well.

The young owners are fortunately now nipping this in the bud.

Growling ignored

defensive behaviour when in bedThe incident that started everything was a couple of months ago. They were staying away from home and Pudding was resting after a busy day playing with three other dogs. His stress/arousal levels will have been very high. He probably had had enough and wanted to recharge his batteries.

The lady of the house had knelt on the floor in front of where he was lying sleeping on the sofa. She put her face to his and fussed him.

The well-trained and usually eager to please Pudding growled. The lady carried on petting him. Pudding, for the first time, snapped. She had unwittingly pushed him too far.

Now the dog has learned that if he doesn’t want to be approached or touched, he can drive the person away by either growling, or snapping. Probably he has never much liked being approached and fussed in his bed or when asleep on the sofa, but has tolerated it. He probably has always given subtle signals but nobody read them.

Because loving humans assume he likes it, they have forced the attention on him whether he likes it or not. He has been given no choice.

After this event, whenever the young gentleman owner had walked towards his bed, to touch and fuss him like he always had, Pudding displayed defensive behaviour. He growled. Once he snapped.

This can only go one way if any form of force at all is used, particularly in the name of dominance and being Alpha. Fortunately the couple have wisely heeded Pudding’s growls and backed off rather than advice to show who is boss.

If they were to up their game and listen to ‘other people’, very likely would Pudding up his game too. I have seen this many times where the owners actually cause the problem. Pudding is a fortunate dog to live with owners who wanted to find another way.

Getting up to date

Old-school methods are today being replaced by modern positive, reward-based methods. This isn’t to say the old methods didn’t work in a way, but it’s a different emphasis now.

Where before one might have prevented a dog from doing something by imposing something he doesn’t like – such as a pet corrector for barking , modern methods deal with how the dog is feeling. In the barking instance, this deals with the fear or arousal that causes the barking. Why would you punish fear? Punishing fear quite obviously would make the fear worse. It also destroys trust.


The main problem with old methods that work by getting the dog to avoid something he or she doesn’t like, is fallout. It will erupt later, somehow, somewhere.

Many dogs prefer to be left alone while they are sleeping or resting. Some love attention and fuss. Others will tolerate people interfering with them or touching them, just as Pudding has until recently. Some never tolerate it and it’s something I have seen many times in Cocker Spaniels (not only Cockers).

Fallout from trying to show the dog who’s boss is that it can become confrontational, a battle of wills.

There are two main things for them to do now in order for Pudding not to feel any need to growl, defend his personal space or snap.

No need for defensive behaviour

The first is to make sure he is as calm and fulfilled as possible so that his tolerance levels are higher.

The second is for Pudding to change his expectations when he sees someone walking towards or past where he’s lying in bed or anywhere.

Nobody will go over to him or touch him when he’s lying down. People will leave him alone. If they have to pass close by, they can drop a bit of food in passing. If they want a cuddle, they can invite him to come over to them and then he has choice.

The aim is for Pudding to feel relaxed, pleased even when someone approaches him which in the long run will mean anybody who simply forgets or doesn’t know won’t trigger defensive behaviour.

Over the past couple of months he has become increasingly sensitised and touchy. He has been thoroughly checked over by the vet so there are no physical problems like pain.

Now they need to desensitise him.

Here is that famous example of a TV trainer actually causing the extreme defensive behaviour. Why anybody would want to do this I don’t know.

Four weeks later: We are really happy with the progress and are less stressed about him, we are really pleased with the help you have given us and proud of Pudding. He is so much calmer, I think a lot of it is to do with the fact he is busier and not holding in too much energy which maybe turns to aggression, that and the fact he has his bed back and his own space when he needs it.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete report. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help