Guarding Food and Bowl

English Bull Terrier guards his food bowlI wonder what started Reggie’s guarding behaviour as it’s hard to see how it fits in with the rest of his personality.

The 4-year-old English Bull Terrier is only guarding food related items. He doesn’t guard toys or anything else.

He is an interesting character. Apart from guarding food he is affectionate and gentle. He can also be very demanding, especially in the evenings when he occupies himself with anything that he knows will get a reaction, whether it’s knocking over a flower vase, pushing over a full mug of tea, or fiddling around in a corner where there are cables.

It took a while for Reggie to stop trying to jump onto me, and he just checked again several times during the evening. Mostly he settled beside me – something very unusual with visitors. There was no reprimanding. I simply showed him by my response what I didn’t want and, more importantly, what I did want. He understood.

Strangely, although Reggie is happy to set off on a walk, he’s not gone far before he wants to come home again. He is a heavy dog, and if he goes on strike he’s very difficult to move.

He normally takes little notice of other dogs, though what prompted them to get in touch with me was the other day he attacked a smaller dog – something unprecedented and seemingly for no reason. The dog was on lead, Reggie wasn’t. Reggie refuses to go for walks

Reggie is a dog whose day revolves around his own wishes and much of that is food driven! I know his humans won’t mind my saying that he carries too much weight. He is given treats simply for looking at the cupboard and asking. They all share their food with him while they eat. He may even lunge to snatch something out of their hands like a bag of crisps.

I have created a ‘recipe’ for them to follow to resolve his obsessive behaviour around his food.

They have been tipping his food on the floor so there is no bowl to guard. He goes at it before it’s even hit the floor – like he’s afraid he will lose it. He wolfs it down but freezes and shows the whites of his eyes if anybody goes anywhere near.

The key is to convince Reggie that his humans are ‘givers’, not ‘takers’. We will first get him used to receiving food a bit at a time in an empty bowl.

To stop possible guarding of any one location, they will put the bowl in a different place each time. To avoid possible guarding of a particular vessel, they will use a variety of bowls and pans.

We also considered whether the marble floor which resulted in his bowl sliding around may have encouraged the pushing and guarding of the bowl itself, so bowls will now be placed on a mat.

After several weeks probably, they will move on to placing all the food into the empty bowl.  Next they will fill the bowl before they put it down and gradually teach him some impulse control so he doesn’t dive in too fast. They will walk about and they will stand still – regularly dropping good stuff in. Instead of taking the bowl away from him, they will call him away and out of the room before lifting it. Ultimately they will be able to take up the bowl in return for something else – chicken maybe.

When Reggie knows that people near his food mean better stuff is always added and when access to all food will be under the control of his humans and not himself, he will stop all this I’m sure.

I believe that all dogs should be left to eat in peace, and that a lot of guarding behaviours have been triggered by humans ‘training’ their dogs to have their food taken away from them by interrupting the meal. It somewhat predictably often has the opposite effect.

Our ‘slowly slowly’ strategy is much the same with Reggie’s walks. He will start with many short sessions near home where he is happy, and only very gradually, a few yards at a time, will they take him further afield – always coming home before he’s had enough.

He has a life of too much fussing, too much food, and too little to occupy himself in terms of healthy stimulation. Change this, and most other things will fall into place.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Reggie, 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 – most particularly where any aggressive behaviour 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).

Jack Russell With Big Ears

Jack Russell attacked a dogNot being able to trust your dog can ruin walks. The human is anxious all the time and the dog loses freedom.

Little Jack Russell Rags is nearly 4 years old now, and he has lived with the lady since he was one. To date there have now been four episodes culminating in Rags attacking a dog that he knew.

Each incident had seemingly been over a resource of some sort – a ball or food. From how the lady describes it, it’s probable that in the most recent and worst incident with the friend’s dog that she herself was the resource.

I noticed that wherever we were standing Rags carefully placed himself between us, watching me.

In the most recent and worst incident the lady was with a friend in the other lady’s kitchen. The dogs had met a couple of times out on walks previously and had been fine together. The two ladies were chatting and both dogs were under the table between them. Suddenly Rags went for the other dog’s throat. Being long-haired, the much bigger dog wasn’t hurt and he didn’t retaliate, but it really upset Rag’s lady. She decided she needed to do something about it.

Already she has started to put into place some of my advice over the phone regarding encountering dogs on walks and the situation is getting a lot better. The hackling, lunging and barking has reduced dramatically.

It can seem unfriendly and embarrassing when meeting a person with their dog if you simply walk away from them! For this reason I suggest a ‘dog in training’ yellow vest for Rags. This may help a little too with those off-lead uncontrolled dogs whose owners give one an earful when our own on-lead dog responds to being approached!

The lady now needs to address the issue of Rags’ possessiveness of herself, including guard duty in general. She will work on a couple of training exercises to get and keep his attention and give him a bit more mental stimulation.

One month later: ‘walking is going well. I am feeling more relaxed. “Look at me” is wonderful. He knows” find it” . i am better at “reading” Rags now.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rags, which is why I don’t share all the exact details of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. 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).

Rottweiller Agitated by New Baby

KodaMy last visit was to an older dog being introduced to a new puppy. Today it was another older dog and a tiny brand new baby.

Rottie Koda is a very fit 8-years old and the baby is under 6lbs in weight. You can see from the panting the stressed state Koda is in. He only relaxed very briefly in all the time I was there – four hours.

Because he is such a well-trained, obedient dog they hadn’t considered him having difficulty accepting the baby. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but things would now be a lot easier with preparation over several weeks or months.

Koda has to keep the new baby in sight all the time. Fortunately he is able to stay temporarily with the lady’s parents, and they are taking baby around there for just an hour every day.

Koda wants to put his big head under the pram hood. He wants to jump on the pram and on the occasion he succeeded it was to give the baby a big slobbery lick. His intentions may well be good, but the sheer weight of his head would be several times that of baby and the natural anxiety of his humans isn’t lost on Koda. With a small dog they wouldn’t need to worry too much.

Not only does he want to get at baby, he constantly barks at family members as though to tell them to give him the baby.  Barking to get things he wants has always worked in the past – in fact it is one downside to a well-trained dog being taught to bark for things. Koda goes frantic when baby is picked up. When baby is taken out of the room or back home, Koda is almost in meltdown.

I believe that this is a sort of resource-guarding issue, the resource being the baby.

I imagine that in the past, Koda being their ‘baby’, anything exciting (noisy or smelly or cuddly) that has been brought home has been for him. I wonder whether he feels baby belongs to him and it seems like he is increasingly frustrated because despite all the barking nobody will give baby to him.

Quite a few changes need to be made in Koda’s own behaviour and his family’s behaviour towards him.  As he’s used to calling the tune, he expects his persistent barking to get what he wants – the baby. He is obsessed, poor dog.

With a bit of experimentation we worked out a plan, stopping negatives like scolding and using clicker and reward instead. We had Koda on long lead.

With baby quiet in his pram, Koda began to realise that if he pulled the lead tight to touch the pram with his nose he could go no further. There was no scolding. As soon as the lead relaxed click and treat. He was learning! He was also learning for himself that lying down was much more rewarding than pulling towards baby or barking.

Soon Koda was responding even when the baby was crying in the pram. He began to find it harder when the young lady stood up and went towards the pram, so we worked on that. Then she touched the pram. Then she touched baby. Still we clicked and treated. When she lifted the baby, Koda was well over his threshold and no longer reponsive to clicks and treats, so the lady put baby back. We need to break it down into even smaller increments.

I suggest that they start their routine with a doll wrapped in baby-smelling blankets before going on to the real thing.

With patience I’m sure Koda will begin to lose interest in the baby and they will be able to settle down to normal family life with their lovely baby and beautiful dog.

‘Possessing’ Objects and Growling

Jack is a good natured, affectionate and very energetic young Cocker Spaniel 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.

German Shepherd Trying to Fit in to his New Home

Charlie is settling in to his new homeCharlie has had quite a few ups and down in his two years of life. As soon as I saw him he reminded me so much of my Milly who also had a difficult start. At some point somebody must have cared because he has been taught quite a few commands, but he was discovered somewhere left to starve, then kennelled and then fostered. Considering all this he’s doing brilliantly.

He has been in his new home for one week now, and one or two disturbing things are surfacing. He is very reactive and aggressive towards other dogs when out – something they’d not been warned about. Also, some occasional growling at the family is starting. With resources it’s all about owning them and hanging onto them, and when he has a toy or a bone he will parade it, growling.

Most of the time I was there Charlie was trying really hard to calm himself down, bless him. The family interpreted his behaviour around people as friendliness where I see a large element of anxiety. He’s not hyper at all, but more like the swan gliding on water and paddling furiously underneath, so the signs are not too bovious. They hadn’t read his somewhat obsessive licking of people, yawning, lip-licking, pacing, foot lifting and general restlessness as stress. The adult son asked me how could I know what these things meant. I said I can understand Charlie’s body language just as he can read another person’s face when they smile or frown. It’s through training and experience.

Where walking is concerned, so long as they patiently follow the plan, just like so many of my other clients with similar problems who have stuck at it, the family will ultimately have their daily long walks – and walks will be a joy and not something to dread.

The lady says she feels it’s cruel not to going for daily long walks. I say what is cruel is to have a highly stressed dog, pulling painfully on the lead, being forcibly held or corrected, wearing a muzzle which he is constantly trying to scrape off, trying to chase traffic, watching out for danger all the time – and when he sees another dog it’s a nightmare. That is cruel. It’s what many people with the best will in the world subject their dogs to, day in and day out.

Charlie is a wonderful dog. At last he is with the sort of family he deserves, who want to understand him and do their best of him.

Trouble Brewing BEtween the Two Dogs

Sleeping Jack Russell Lou


Blue Merle Rough Haired Collie can be a little nervous of visitors to the house


A coincidence! Only yesterday I visited Blue Merle Sheltie Robbie, and today a larger version –  seven-month-old Blue Merle Rough Collie, Jasper. He moved in with cute little Terrier Lou’s family a few weeks ago. Lou is two years of age.

The dogs get on very well for the most part, but little Lou, who, being little trouble, has been accustomed to having everything to himself and largely doing as he likes, is becoming increasingly possessive around chews and certain toys, and Jasper is now challenging him.

This is now happening when the lady owner is making a fuss of one of the dogs – it’s like she, too, is a resource that the dogs are quarrelling over! They have three young boys, and Lou is likely to growl and snap if they pick him up or try to move him when he doesn’t want to be moved.

Getting a second dog can make a very big difference – more than double trouble sometimes! The order of things needs to be changed. Jasper, at the age of seven months old, is starting to ‘try it on’. He is also a little fearful of new people and some other things, so needs to grow up with the reassurance of firm leadership. Lou in particular needs leadership. It is asking for trouble when young children physically make a dog do something he doesn’t want to do by picking him up or dragging him. Willing cooperation needs to be worked on whilst his personal space should be respected.

Once things start going in the wrong direction between two dogs, when they start to fall out over resources, it usually gets worse if nothing is done, and it’s the humans’ own behaviour that needs changing. Any ‘contact sports‘ play needs to be interrupted very early on and I have shown them the best way to do this – just as another, stable, dog would do it to keep the peace.

I’m sure things will calm down soon so long as they are consistent, and then I shall be helping them to achieve more enjoyable walking.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

Puppy Jumps Up, Nips, Bites and Guards

What a beautiful face Springer Pebbles has Pebbles is six months old. Her mother is her father’s daughter – which isn’t a good thing! This means her father, a Springer Spaniel, is her grandfather – but fortunately her grandmother was a Border Collie so there are some new genes in the mix.

I absolutely loved her! Look at that face!

Before I went I assumed that in-breeding would be the main cause of her problems, but I think not now. She parted from her siblings too young and consequently never learnt bite inhibition. She gets excited and rough to easily, and she jumps up persistently on people – maybe grabbing and nipping also. She guards things that she steals and also her food.

I believe that a lot of this unwittingly has to do with the home circumstances.

The problem has been allowed to escalate because, although she is fortunate to have company during the day, while the family is at work she is alone with the old lady who is neither mobile nor active enough to respond appropriately. Unfortunately Pebbles has bitten her twice – quite badly. She’s not bitten anyone else – yet.Springer Pebbles with a toy

This is a difficult situation because the lady loves Pebbles and wants to touch and spoil her. We have to play safe for Pebbles’ sake as well as the lady’s. For now I hope Pebbles will be left behind the gate and that the lady will not let her through when she is alone in the house. They can all then work on being calm, consistent, quiet and firm. Only when Pebbles has calmed down, learnt some rules and boundaries, stopped being possessive and using her teeth, should she again be in the same rooms as the old lady when nobody else is there to help.

To deal with jumping up and nipping in a way that doesn’t cause things to escalate or develop into aggression or defiance, one needs to be fairly agile, to be consistent and to react fast. Anything confrontational like scolding or saying NO only encourages her, as does waving hands about and trying to push her away.

I taught Pebbles to respect me by how I reacted to her jumping up and soon she was virtually eating out of my hand. You could see how happy she was being taught rules and boundaries in terms she understood. I concentrated on showing her what I DID want instead of the jumping. Not once did anyone tell her off, say ‘No’ or tell her ‘Down’.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

Moving in together with their dogs

Poor Springer Murphy isn't a happy dog just now



Poor Murphy is not a very happy dog at the moment. The Springer Spaniel and his male owner have recently moved in with the man’s girlfriend, who has two-year-old Akitas, brother and sister.

Murphy was his man’s companion for a couple of years and could do what he liked. It was no problem that he climbed on top of him, on the back of his sofa behind him and slept up on his pillow at night. Murphy’s tendencies to guard resources, food in particular, were not a problem.

Now they have moved in with Chikara and Kai, two beautiful young Akitas. In their past life they too slept on the bed and climbed on the sofas, burying their lady owner in their huge hairiness.

It’s no wonder that there is tension between the three dogs now. The female Akita, Chakira, has always been the bossy one, and now it is a contest between her and Murphy.  She has Kai to back her up.

There is trouble around all the predictable things. All three dogs now start the night on the bed with the couple, and there are nightly fights. If the lady tries to move Murphy or go and get him he growls at her, and immediately her two dogs come to her defence – Chakira with her teeth.

Poor Murphy isn’t used to sharing his owner and sits possessively in front of him. All three dogs are unsettled and restless. As well as fights over the lady, there are fights around food, there are fights around the bed and there are fights around the sofa – when one or both people are about. Sleeping on the bed all three together is no problem when people are not about. Sleeping on the sofa all three together is not a problem either, when they are alone.

Poor Murphy is becoming increasingly defensive and unhappy, growling when he is approached and wanting lots of attention from the man. The lady is a little wary of him and he will know this. She has on the whole had admirable control over her two large Akitas; without which the situation would be far worse.

The main kick off points have to be removed. No more going in the bedroom or on the bed, and feeding done in such a way that conflict is impossible. The dogs need to sit on the floor. Murphy high on the chair arm looking down on the others is not a good thing, particularly when he resists being removed, growls, and then a fight will start.  Murphy needs some special quality time and controlled activity instead, instigated by both the humans and not by himself.

As the man said, in the past it had been ‘my’ dog and ‘your’ dogs. Now they need to work on them being ‘their’ dogs. They are going to work on relationship building – man and Akitas, lady and Springer – mix and match! The humans need to gain the upper hand in a calm, quiet and controlled way – through the sort of leadership that the dogs already understand.

27th March: I visited these dogs today, the atmosphere was relaxed and the fighting has stopped. The couple are not longer living on tenterhoooks and there is no longer ‘your dog’ or ‘my dogs’. They have been very diligent in following our plan and the dogs are getting along very well now.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

Possessive Puppy


Golden Cocker 6 months oldLast evening I had the pleasure of visiting a beautiful Golden Cocker Spaniel pup called Monty (sorry I moved when I took the photo). He is nearly six months old.  His owners have been trying to do all the right things with training him, but as a little personality he is more of a challenge than some more easy going dogs!

He was the bossiest and according to the breeder most dominant of the puppies in his litter. She was going to keep him but opted for an easier life!

Monty is ‘turning nasty’ when he is told to do something, or not to do something, and doesn’t wish to obey. There is a bamboo plant in the garden that is like a magnet to him and he loves to tear bits off and chew them up. The people are confrontational in their approach, may try to pull him away, tell him ‘leave’ or shout at him or even go to pick him up.  He has taken to growling, snarling and biting them. The same happens if they try to get him off the sofa.

He will show aggression if he has anything in his mouth that they don’t want him to have, or even if he thinks they might want it. It can be impossible to get it off him without a battle. He has now also started to guard his bed.

In every other respect he is a brilliant dog and the way to change this behaviour is for the owners to change theirs.

At present there are too many commands and words. There are five adults in the household and someone is on his case most of the time, either fussing and cuddling him or teling him what not to do. The word NO is overused. NO is even used before he does something, when he may do it and isn’t even doing it yet. This must be very confusing.

They are going to tone down the ‘controlling’ of Monty and keep commands to the minimum – try to cut out the word NO as far as they can and find other ways, positive ways, to get Monty to cooperate and to work things out for himself. I find a lot of people try to exert unecessary control over their young dogs.  You can achieve calm better by simply waiting in silence as you can be repeating Sit and Wait over and over.

When Monty has something in his mouth, they are going to ask themselves ‘does it matter?’. If the item isn’t particularly important and if it will do him no harm, they should leave it. Walk away. He is probably taking it because he enjoys the challenge and the reinforcement he receives.  If it is important that he relinquishes the item, they need to go about it another way. In essence, Monty needs to see his owners as Givers and not Takers. This needs to be reinforced on every possible occasion, even through how they choose to play with him.

In the case of things like the bamboo, there is only one way to retain peace in the household and that is to remove the opportunity. Block access to it for a while until he loses interest. Removing the opportunity for behaviours can save a lot of conflict and stress.

If you don’t tell your dog to do something he can’t refuse and defy you can he! You can usually find a way of outwitting him so does what you want whilst thinking it was his own idea! Keep your sense of humour and it can be fun.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.