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Old 03-14-2011, 11:02 AM
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Unhappy 8 month old Golden pup problems!! DESPERATE for help!!

Hello everybody,

I will try and keep this as short as possible.

We have an 8 month old puppy called Harry. We have had him since he was 7 weeks old and bought him from a very respectable breeder. We have always had a few issues with him but recently his behaviour has become a lot worse. The main thing being his item aggression. He is obsessed with picking everything and ANYTHING up. And also EATING everything and anything. Since we first got him, we have constantly had to take things away (twigs, stones, tissue, knifes and forks, keys, wallets). We did this by telling him off and opening his mouth to take the item out (I've now been looking online and realise this is not the right way to do it!). We've even had to resort to putting a muzzle on him when he goes out into the garden. The main reason being is that he would eat flowers, stones, dirt.. anything. He ended up having around 5 upset stomaches within a matter of weeks. We saw this as a bit of a pain but nothing more. However recently, he has become VERY aggressive with it. Whenever he does pick up an item, he then growls the second we approach him, shows his teeth and hides his face. Last week this resulted in me getting very badly bitten I'm so so so sad that he ended up biting me and I feel as if I have lost quite a bit of trust for him. I keep thinking now he has done it once, will he be more likely to do it again? I have been reading up online about item aggression and understand that you have to 'swap' things. The problem is that he is absolutly fine with the words 'drop' and 'leave' with his toys and anything that we have given him. It is ONLY when he picks something up that he shouldn't have. The other day he picked a button off one of his toys and he would not drop it. Not for a biscuit, not for anything! What do I do? He also doesn't just chew on these things, he swallows them. If I go near him, he immediately begins trying to swallow the item. I'm so sad because I feel as if he is becomming aggressive and he was always the sweetest, kindest puppy. Is it my fault that I have always taken everything away from him?? Someone said to us that it may be his age? And now he has bitten me once, will he do it again? Any advice would be appreciated!!!
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Old 03-14-2011, 11:14 AM
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All dogs have teeth, all dogs can bite.

I would recommend a consult with a board certified veterinary behaviorist. The fact he is trying to eat everything got my attention...while dogs can be very curious, dogs who are actually trying to consume non edible things (it's called "pica") can have underlying health problems that make them feel very very very hungry. A trainer or behavior consultant is not a vet and would not be able to address that aspect of the behavior.

As far as the resource guarding: This is not an uncommon problem, and you probably did make it worse in your attempt to make things better. I would recommend you purchase the book "Mine" by Jean donaldson and work step by step through all the exercises.

In the mean time, manage him closely, be sure things he should not have are removed from his environment.

But it will help to address the resource guarding AND the potential for any underlying health problems.
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Old 03-14-2011, 11:16 AM
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It sounds like you need to start practicing "Leave It" and "Drop". Start with love value (to him) items and trade him for a small high value treat. Always have a stash of treats (a treat pouch is handy for this). Practice every chance you get. You can also try hand feeding his meals so he learns that you are the Great Provider. It is a common phase in golden puppies.
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Old 03-14-2011, 11:18 AM
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I would take him outside on a leash. If you haven't I would enroll him in a basic obedience class, instill the NILF (Nothing in Life is Free) method of training, and teach the leave it command. It will be hard, we had a similar problem with Shellie on walks she wanted to pick up everything (except without the aggression), so I kept a toy in my pocket and when I could tell she was going for something I gave her the toy instead to keep something in her mouth. Also teaching the "Leave it" command will help. Shellie now knows to leave it when I tell her too. He is resource guarding so you might want to look up ways to deal with this. The book suggested above will be a great help to you. Have you tried high value treats? Cheese, hot dogs, liver treats? Anything like that? That also helped with Shellie, she thinks the cat litter box is her 'snack' bar lately and I've been really working with her, she'll drop them for a dehydrated lamb lung treat.
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Old 03-14-2011, 11:19 AM
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It sounds like the way you've been reacting has taught him that these low-value items (stones, sticks, etc.) are actually high value. So now, even if you're not planning on grabbing his jaw and forcing him to give it up, your body language, stress, and voice are probably all pretty similar to when you were grabbing him. So he's reacting in that way. Growling hasn't worked, so he's moved to biting, which has worked, so yes, he'll do it again if he gets put in the same situation.

His age is definitely part of your problem too. They do get into a challenging mode at that age, and if you train through it successfully, the challenging behaviors typically tend to fade.

What I'd do is constantly practice a really fun game of give. He gets a fun toy, and if he brings it to you, he gets a treat and the original toy back again. All he has to do is let you have it for two seconds and he gets the toy back plus something else he likes (a fun voice from you, a special treat, another toy, etc.). It'll take about a hundred successful repetitions of the game in the controlled environment before you have any hope of that behavior holding up outdoors.

Once the game is doing beautifully indoors try playing it outdoors, but use a 10 foot line and sit someplace where he simply can't get to something dangerous (like a rock). Eventually, he should get bored and play the game with you. The behavior will probably fall apart once you change the setting, but it should come back together fairly quickly if he never gets a chance to grab a rock and get agitated. The idea of doing it outside, but still controlling the situation is to give the behavior a chance to break down and build back up in a setting that's more similar to the problem setting.

Try to figure out all the things you do when he picks up a rock (do you tense? use a particular voice? run at him?) and stop doing them. In fact, until you've established a new habit, you have to avoid letting the undesired situation happen at all. As much as I'd hate to tell you to keep the muzzle on him, you may have to. Every time he goes through the undesired reaction and/or ignores a command from you, he more deeply ingrains the bad habit. The trick is to prevent him from going through that pattern outdoors and begin establishing a strong new pattern indoors and move it outdoors once it's well-established.

If your new pattern breaks down in a new situation (once you're outdoors, once you take the muzzle off, etc.) simply go back a few steps until you have a 100% success rate again and then move forward more slowly.

This problem is totally manageable. What you have is an insecure dog who feels he's defending something important. If he can relearn that people don't take away important stuff but are rather constantly producing wonderful stuff and very rarely take anything away, you'll be fine. If 99/100 times, you ask for something, he gives it, and he gets something wonderful in addition to getting the object back, that 1/100 times you have to keep the thing won't be a problem.

Does he fetch? It can be a great way to teach a dog that handing off an object results in a ton of fun and a return of the object.

All that said, at this point, I'd probably get a professional behaviorist on board, because some bad habits are already pretty ingrained. Also, there could be an underlying health issue (like hypothyroid) that contributes to feelings of hunger and/or aggression, so the vet might be the first place to start. Also, if the breeder is truly respectable, he or she should be a major resource for you. Have you conferred with the breeder yet?
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Last edited by tippykayak; 03-14-2011 at 02:27 PM.
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Old 03-14-2011, 01:45 PM
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Make sure when you are teach him to trade, you use a really high value treat. Examples are small pieces of fresh chicken, slices of hot dogs or sausages, stinky cheese, things he does not get at other times. Regular biscuits are not special enough.

Good Luck.
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Old 03-14-2011, 02:29 PM
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PS - when you say "badly bitten" do you mean he bit you hard and broke the skin? Did he hold on for more than a moment? Did he bite hard several times very quickly in a row? The bite itself can give you some info if you know how to interpret it.
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Old 03-14-2011, 03:51 PM
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Sounds like you are getting some excellent advice. My Jaro is 11 months and has for several months been in that pick everything up outside and run away with it stage. I do get him to trade with high value treats--lately oddly enough that has been plain bread, but in the past we used good cheese, hot dogs, puperoni, chicken.
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Old 03-14-2011, 06:54 PM
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If you got him from a respected breeder, please call the breeder right away and get information on how to handle this. The breeder needs to know that you are having this problem, and good breeders are more than happy to help you sort it out.
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Old 03-15-2011, 06:59 AM
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I just want to say THANK YOU everyone for your replies!!! Everyone has been so so so helpful.

We have started straight away on swapping low value items for high value items. I have also looked up 'resource guarding' online and printed off some great information.

One of Harry's favourite things is toilet paper. Yesterday I 'accidently' dropped some on the floor. He of course lunged at it and started chewing. I pulled out some special treats from my pocket, said 'drop' and he IMMEDIATELY dropped all of the tissue from his mouth. Something which I NEVER thought he would do!! So am very very pleased with that progress.

However saying that, this morning we have had a big issue with a banana skin. My brother was eating a banana and accidently left the skin on the side. By the time Harry had walked into the room and clocked it, it was too late for my brother to do anything. The only thing I had with me was his favourite biscuits, I told him to drop as calmly as possible (he was REALLY eating that banana skin quite scarily), he stopped and looked at the biscuit, thought about it, but decided the banana was better!! By the time I had run to the kitchen to try to get some cheese etc.. it was too late and the WHOLE banana skin was gone. So now worried sick about that?

I think his worse habit through all of this is that as soon as we approach him, whatever he has in his mouth he will try and chew as quickly as he possibly can. I'm so sure this is because the amount of times we have taken things away and also the way we used to do it. I have stood at the doorway hiding before while he has had something that he shouldn't and he has been chewing it quite calmly. The second I walk into the room... He tries chewing the item as fast as he possibly can. I think in his head, he feels as if this is the ONLY way that he won't have the item taken away (by swallowing it).


Another point to make is that since the day we have had him, he has always picked things up he shouldn't. Till around a month ago, he would quite happily let us take things from him (he would get a bit moany about it but NEVER growled or showed his teeth etc). This aggression only started around a month ago. I think he has just got completly fed up with having things taken away and it has progressed in this sad way .

Tippykayak - When he bit me I think it was mainly my fault. He had the item in his mouth. I walked into the room. He froze and started growling. I then walked right over to him and told him in a stern voice to 'drop'. He continued growling and trying to chew the item as fast as he could. He's never ever got so worked up as he was at that point and the growling and teeth baring was the worst I have ever seen. That should have told me to not approach him. But I did. I put my hand right near him face and he didn't even think about it, he just bit. It was a very quick bite, just the once. Literally teeth down, teeth up! He didn't hold on, it was over in a second. But yes it did pierce the skin and there was a lot of blood. But the second he had done it, he backed away and looked terrified. What does this mean?
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