The seven-month-old Cocker Spaniel may growl and snap when they touch her – when physical contact is somehow imposed upon her.

She also can snap when they try to take her harness off. It’s like, when they want to remove her harness, she’s guarding it.

She became very angry when the young lady tried to put her collar back on again yesterday.

Change in her behaviour a couple of weeks ago

Over the past couple of weeks Hazel has increasingly guarded resources and become precious about her own personal space. These two things often go together.

They used to carry her upstairs at bedtime – but they can’t pick her up now. She used to be willing.

They used to be able to take things out of her fur, but not now. She bites and it hurts.

Because things have escalated since just a couple of weeks ago, they took her to the vet; this will be followed up tomorrow with an X-ray to check Hazel’s not in any kind of pain.

Stirring up trouble

Hazel increasingly finds fun in nicking a shoe or tissue and running off – hoping for a chase, like she wants to have an opportunity for confrontation and to react aggressively when they try to get it off her.

When having a cuddle on the sofa, she easily becomes excited and then she becomes rough.

She may lie on her back ‘for a tummy tickle’ and growls when they do so. Exposing the belly can actually mean the very opposite – don’t touch me! See this.

How can they encourage willing participation?

So what can they do that they’re not doing – which is already a lot of the things I would advise.

They should get her to actively participate in everything they do with her that involves touching her; there are a lot of small pieces to this ‘jigsaw’.

A simple example in getting her to be willing: when they call her in from outside, they won’t call until they know that she will come. Then reward. Always invite and then reinforce cooperation.

She’s fine when she comes to them through choice and they touch her, but even for small things like fussing her she should be invited to participate. If she’s lying near them, for instance, they should encourage her to move even a few inches in their direction before touching her.

They should keep fussing short and keep stopping, inviting her to participate and keeping her willing. She will lean in for more, look away or do nothing. It gives a clue as to how she’s feeling about it and they can respond accordingly.

Arousal fires up the guarding

When her general arousal levels peak, she defaults into guarding behaviour – either of an item or her own self. Guarding seems to give her an outlet.

As well as avoiding avoidable arousal, they will find her other outlets to defuse it.

A couple of specific suggestions

When working on getting her to accept the collar being taken on and off, they should use a second collar. This then takes away the pressure of having to make sure she has a collar on for the next walk so they can work more slowly.

Also, they will invite her to be a willing participant in controlling what they do. Chirag Patel’s Bucket Game is perfect for this.

My suggestion for when Hazel gets a resource they can’t ignore is to turn it into a game. To call her name and throw some chicken across the room. As she goes to get it, instead of rushing to pick up the item, to throw another bit of chicken somewhere else. Do this a few times, lift the object, and carry on with the game for a couple more throws afterwards.

Trick her into not feeling tricked!

All the time they will ask themselves ‘how can we invite Hazel to be a willing participant rather than imposing something upon her?’.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ and is always written with permission of the client. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help