He is clever, affectionate and dearly loved. A lot of time and effort is spent on him as his owners do their very best for him in every way they know how.
Using confrontational tactics in trying to get a dog to stop wild behaviours including stealing and guarding things, always backfires in some way. The kind of methods promoted by a certain well-known TV dog trainer, when copied, have actually caused the behaviour in many of the dogs I go to.
Joe steals things and what happens? Because they feel they should be dominant over him, a chase game follows and then he is cornered. Whatever he has, even if only a tissue, is forced out of his mouth. People can’t let the dog WIN! It’s due to this approach to stealing that he guards things.
Then what happens? Starting when a puppy, the dog learns to protect his ‘trophy’. The man has now been bitten several times which is totally unnecessary. The dog has merely been indirectly taught to protect a resource. It becomes a sort of scary chase game where he gets a lot of attention.
Joe seems more Cocker by nature than Poodle. He is a very energetic dog, flying all over the place and jumping up at people – perhaps grabbing clothes or humping them if he is frustrated at getting insufficient attention. The usual response of getting angry and exasperated simply fuels the behaviour.
This lovely dog has never actually been taught how to be calm or how to exercise some self-control. He also needs much more ‘regulated’ stuff happening in his life – activities initiated by his humans and not himself. He has recently started agility which he adores. At home he needs to learn that his antics get no result – and if he steals something they would do best by simply walking away. Anything valuable or dangerous will now be the subject of exchange – for something of higher value to him. No more confrontation and he will eventually lose interest.
Exchange really does need working at, whether it is to get him to let them have a ball without a fight so they can throw it again or to let go of a tug toy at the end of a game. It can be fun. A range of different items starting with something of not much value to him being exchanged for something of slightly higher value, and that exchanged for something of higher value still and so on, can teach him the concept of giving things up willingly.
Joe will be earning some of his food now – for good behaviour. We sat at the table and he kept jumping up at it. It is quite hard for people to ignore this and not constantly scold and give commands. They soon saw, though, that if the only attention he got was when his feet were back on the floor whereupon a piece of his food was promptly given to him, it worked a whole lot better. He was soon sitting down, lying down, having another try at jumping up and learning for himself this wasn’t nearly as rewarding in terms of attention as having his feet on the floor.
We worked on a list of short, controlled activities to punctuate his evenings in particular – when he is at his most demanding. It’s best to pre-empt trouble if possible. He always goes for a short walk at about 7pm (putting the harness on is like fighting a whirling dervish) and when he gets home he’s at his most manic. To calm him down they can put his harness on earlier, just before they put the food bowl down when he knows he’s not going out straight away. Then they can make it part of his routine to go straight into his pen for fifteen minutes (where he’s happy to be) immediately he gets home – with something special to chew so he can calm himself down. He then should be less demanding and hyper when they let him out again.
I broke off halfway through writing my story of Joe because I had an appointment with an advisor at my bank. We soon deviated from financial matters to dogs (a whole lot more interesting!). The young man said he had a Cocker Spaniel that could do with my help. I said, let me guess? Does he steal things? Does he guard them? Does he act aggressively when cornered? Have you been bitten? The answer to all was, ‘Yes’.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Joe, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good, particularly where aggression of any kind is concerned. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).