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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?
Last edited by tippykayak; 03-14-2011 at 03:27 PM.