‘Possessing’ Objects and Growling
Fourteen-month-old Jack is a good natured, affectionate and very energetic young Cocker Spaniel (and I know what that’s like with my own Working Cocker, Pickle!). However Jack does have a problem and it is getting worse. He steals things and runs off with them, then hides under the kitchen table guarding them and growling. He will do the same with bones and toys. He may growl if someone simply walks past when he is possessing something.
Without realising it, the owners have unintentionally encouraged this. In addition to giving Jack a great deal of attention for it, the gentleman held the view that if he was going to be the ‘Alpha male’ then Jack had to give up the item. Consequently, he will corner him under the table and forcibly open Jack’s mouth to remove the object. All the time Jack is growling.
A dog can’t talk, so he growls. The danger is that if the growling is ignored Jack will soon feel it’s pointless giving this warning and move on to the next step – which is to snap. He has already done this to a lady who wanted to touch him when he was tied up outside a shop. In general, when Jack is approached and loomed over he will go over onto his back, an indication that he finds it a little threatening – as do many dogs.
When I was there Jack was given a new chew toy. The gentleman found it very hard to totally ignore Jack as he paraded it about! Jack’s antics have no power if the humans refuse to play his game – and ignore the whole thing.
Meanwhile, work needs to be done on getting Jack to willingly exchange things. They should never be simply wrenched off him. If the item’s not important, then they should deny him any pleasure in the form of attention and totally ignore it – maybe even walking out of the room. I suggest for now his guarding spot under the kitchen table is blocked, and that all his toys are lifted. They can be issued to him one at a time – and used for a ‘Give’ game before finally being handed over to him. He has already been trained, as a gun dog, to ‘Give’ the dummy, so this shouldn’t be too hard.
The regular gun dog training Jack has had isn’t sufficiently reward-based for my liking. He is being told ‘No’ without being shown they do want from him. It’s much fairer if he can be called away from things and rewarded or given alternative behaviours that are incompatible with what he is doing. He quite vigorously humped me when I arrived (not helped perhaps by my own dog Zara currently being in season), but being told No and Down and being dragged off only prolongs the situation. If he is given an alternative like ‘Sit’, he can’t hump and sit at the same time!
He’s a cracking dog and with consistent rules and boundaries, with his humans ditching ‘dominance’ techniques and using a bit of psychology, with less use of the word ‘No’ and more rewarding in terms of attention for the desired behaviour, I feel sure Jack will mature into a trustworthy and well-mannered adult.