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Building a relationship with your puppy/dog and Preventing guarding/possessiveness.

Sub-heading:   ‘Its MINE! You can’t have it………..’  🙂


Labradors are very mouth orientated dogs. They also have a very quick sense of fun… they are also mostly greedy. Put these three things into a mix and you get a dog VERY easy to teach that its ‘great fun’ to charge about with something in its mouth, that you want…. ESPECIALLY if its food… and, eventually, when set in this pattern, very much feel its worth defending. The adrenaline burst is great, both doing the ducking and weaving (or the laying and protecting) and the fact that if its food, they then get self rewarded by eating it is a treble win win thing.

If its not a food item, even just the adrenaline of playing can’t catch me’ and then later on ‘OK so you;ve caught me so therefore i’m going to try and see you off in a different way – by growling – by trying to communicate the only way i can saying ‘this is MINE!’…. is hugely rewarding to a dog especially if you DO then back off at the growling….

So how do you prevent this/break the pattern if its started?

Training. Methodical training over several sessions/days.

Boring eh? Be nice if I had a sentence to write that would cure it in a second. A magic word to throw out there that ends it all. That makes that dog gallop to you with that dead rabbit and not lay in a puddle and eat it slowly, skipping away if you come too near, and making you 30 minutes late for work AND coming home at lunchtime to huge piles of vomit….


1) From day one, be that as a 8 week old puppy, through to day one being the first day you get your rescue/older dog home, form a RELATIONSHIP with it. Get in its head. Take time to get to know it. Try and form a partnership. be hands on. Be affectionate, but be firm. Know pups and dogs understand firmness a lot better than pleading and shouting. Teach it kindly that it fits round YOU, not you round it. Teach it you can touch anywhere on its body without it objecting… paws, ears, lips, tail, genitals…. Teach it squirming doesn’t stop that sort of thing happening. be logcal. If you want to do something to a dog, make it happen. Put a LEAD on it so it can’t get away, and get it done. Then reward instantly. Make your dog believe you are capable, a person to be secure around because you are pretty predictable and clear in the important issues and basically take no crap. What OTHER people in your household do is not your concern…. YOUR relationship with the dog IS. It matters not if your rules aren’t *their rules*… its better they ARE but its natural they aren’t as we are all different. Just make sure of how you feel your relationship with the puppy/dog is.

2) OK, so lets start with feed-time. Old advice used to be based on old fashioned dominance training. Which is frankly a load of old bollocks. What you are trying to do is show the dog you are useful to its world and you make some bloody GREAT things happen that he couldn’t make happen himself. So from day one – be the dog big or small… ADD food to your dogs bowl. Stand close whilst they eat. Stroke them here and there. I must admit this is one of the reasons I’m not a big RAW feeding fan as naturally dogs will protect meaty bones etc more avidly than kibble… but even so, same rules to me. Don’t badger the dog but be able to be close, touching him here and there, even if you are standing doing the washing up. And here and there….. ADD food to his bowl whilst speaking cheerfully. Do NOT take the bowl away, it achieves nothing. This is a far more positive way of teaching the dog you are great to be around when he has a prized resource. Later on when the dog is happy with you standing close, and adding etc… taking the bowl away once in a blue moon to add a forgotten tablet etc is a doddle…. or just add the tablet like you have been food. There is RARELY an instrinstic need to take the bowl away, however once you have the above ‘going happily’ you can if you WANT to, but know its not necessarily necessary.

3) Do the same with play. Sit on the floor, big or little dog…. and PLAY with the dog. tap its paws, roll it about, stop making TOYS the centre of its fun providing world… you can’t just play with a dog with toys, or you become unimportant. Be important to provide entertainment TOO!!! Stop the game if he gets too overexcited, and just give him a pat and walk away…

4) Chucking a ball, for example, does not show the dog YOU are entertaining. It shows the dog the BALL is. How many dogs get ball obsessed? How many get owner obsessed? How many would not run up to another dog if you wave a ball about? Many. How many would not run up to another dog because you waved yourself about? 0.000000001% 😉

5) Do similar with toys. Toys are to share… bring toys TO the dog and play together with them for a minute or two… give, take away, share… give take away, share…. If you dog brings any toy TO you, or anything for that matter, be HAPPY. If you don’t have time to play, fine, a pat and a ‘thats lovely, but the spuds don’t peel themselves poppet…’ is just fine! Don’t feel overwhelmed by trying to do the right thing all the time.

6) Can at this point I say how lazy those of us are that own multiple dogs. We tend to inadvertantly give all the ‘entertainment rights’ to the other dog(s) in the house, and then a load more to the toys we provide… and forget to teach them WE are fun too… that WE are important in a entertainment sense. Think it over. I’m guilty of it too….

7) So onwards to prevention of possessiveness. The above in all honesty will prevent most labradors even thinking about being possessive of most items… as they are so used to you being a force for entertainment and positivity as regards items of value such as toys and food bowls… HOWEVER its ALWAYS worth running through this at least a half dozen times with a pup, then sporadically as it grows, just to cement the good things it has in its head already.

– Good natured dog without a possession problem, or, blank canvas puppy.

i) PREPARE. Have a pot of chopped cheese cubes or cooked bacon in a couple of places for a few days. So you can do this randomly when it suits you and be prepared so basically you don’t mess it up smile emoticon.

ii) Give free treats. IE… pup has nothing, call it to you with a trigger word such as ‘ohhhhhh! whats THHHIS!!!!!’ and OVERTREAT it. Don’t use boring treats, save biscuits and kibble for another day, use HIGH VALUE TREATS. Spend a couple of days just doing that. Trigger phrase… pup comes screaming… treat, treat, treat, for absolutely nothing but coming to you. Do it when the pup WILL respond firstly…. when it is not remotely distracted… then raise the level of distraction. Do NOT be unfair, do NOT call it from sleep to do this. When the pup is screaming to you for the free high value treats willingly, move on…..

iii) ……..ACCIDENTALLY on purpose, drop something of high value near the pup/dog. Maybe a sock you’ve worn all day…. knickers….. a croc…. a used teatowel… something with APPEAL but that isn’t devestatingly high value like a meaty bone, a brand new fluffy honky toy, or something that equally would blow your dogs/pups mind. Ignore it for a few seconds skipping about with the prize… let it have its fill of the item for a minute or two…. the repeat step ii)…. roars in, takes SEVERAL treats, WHILST you take its collar whilst you pick the item up and put it out of reach. Praise verbally then release.

iv) IF the dog/pup objected to coming to you… drop back to step ii) for a few more days. AND raise the value of the treats…. swap to chopped chicken tikka from a packet… something INCREDIABLE.

v) Set this up as many times as you feel you want to. Doing it twice then never doing it again will reap you absolutely zero reward when you come to need it… Doing it ONLY when you NEED IT, will reap you ZERO result. You need to go out and set this up, 10, 20, 50 times.

vi) The point being that slowly you will become more random how MUCH treat you give when the pup roars to you with the ‘accidentally dropped’ item… sometimes eventually just use praise, but always HOLD THE PUPS COLLAR AS YOU TAKE THE ITEM, or pick it up… so the pup doesn’t charge to you, grab a load of treats, then charge back to the item and piss off with it!!

Vii) The second he is slow to come to you with an item, drop back to using JUST your trigger phrase when no item has been dropped and giving free, high value treats for a couple of days randomly. Be CONSISTANT with the phrase you use and the pitch you use it at. Give the pup something to LEARN as a trigger, don’t be random and vague. he will WANT to learn the trigger to all that free easy high value food, so give him a chance to.

– The dog with a possession problem or that has been chased about when he grabs stuff he shouldn’t have.

Undertake steps i) and ii) above, making sure that you have put plenty of work into Items 1 – 6 at the start of the article.

What i would change up for an older dog IN the habit of protecting stolen items OR running around out of reach is twofold.

– 1) I would put a long thin, light piece of trailing line, even just string with some big knots in it, tied to their collar each time you decide to work on this, even in sorting steps i) and ii) above… so that if you NEED to, you can walk TO the dog, put your foot on the line… and wind them into you, hand over fist using the knots, to conduct step ii) where they get loads of free treats for nothing but coming.

– 2) The second thing is I would use a trigger phrase BUT I would back this up with something more exciting and piercing… I would buy a couple of very small rubber squeaky toys. Palm size preferably… that really squeak well. go up pets at home and test a few wink emoticon If every dog there drags their owner to you, its about the right pitch wink emoticon So each time you call the dog to you with your exciting trigger phrase… you squeak the toy multiple times too…. The dog never GETS the toy, the noise is just a marker to say ‘the dinner bell has rung!!!’ smile emoticon

You need to methodically TEACH the dog that coming to you upon hearing the trigger phrase results in great reward for him. To START with the reward needs to be greater than the item. When you PRACTICE and SCHOOL this into the dog the reward needs to be greater than the value of the item! Why? Because at some point the dog will have a item in its gob than is greater than the reward you have to hand. If PREVIOUSLY the reward has always been better than the item this idea does fix into the dogs head….. and the repetition causes the dog to just repeat a learnt pattern of behaviour that has always been rewarding even if the minute you have your hand on his collar he thinks ‘duh!!!!! The rabbit WAS better!!!!!!’

– Taking this ON a step…..

The above method, if properly and consistently worked on at HOME and in the garden can REALLY help the dog absolutely forget the need to guard from YOU when the trigger phrase is used. Don’t stop the dog guarding items from your other DOGS however. You are not a dog and you MUST let them find their balance themselves.

One of the phrases that MOST irritates me is ‘puppy keeps *stealing* big dogs toys…’ These are not human children. No one dog owns a particular toy. They are the ‘dogs toys’…. so if a young dog is ‘hoarding’ an older dogs percieved favorite…. tough! Its down to them to sort it out. if you keep stepping in your muddy the waters of clearly sorting when you can and can’t ask the dog not to be possessive. JUST keep it that it can’t be possessive when YOU say to give something up. NOT when another DOG wants it to.

A problem carcass eater or other dogs ball stealer etc etc on a walk needs the above ALL cemented in. every bit of it. And again, they need to be taen out and the situation SET UP!

Now OK, IF you hammer the above steps at home… you very much raise your chances, as long as you have your squeaker on you and some good treats, that your dog will respond in a far better way upon it next grabbing something on a walk it shouldn’t have. But its only 50% of the problem ‘fronted’. You actually need to get out there and TRAIN for this. How?

1) carcasses etc…. Get a rabbit, a bird, something the dog loves… most people involved in gun-doggery have plenty in their freezer you can beg… OR if you are serious about this, get out there and FIND a load of mankyness and put gloves on and tie it into two carrier bags. You laugh. I MEAN it…. Genuinely you cannot cure problems by playing around the edges of them… if you DO then you will always just end up writing on facebook moaning about your horrible dog wink emoticon

2) Other dogs toys… Get a friend to come out with you with THEIR dog and ITS ball, its toy etc etc.

Now….. SET IT UP!!!! Tie a trailing line with knots in it to your dogs collar and send it off to have a jolly old time. Then randomly, drop the carcass/have a friend throw the ball….

i) Dog picks item up. Do EXACTLY as I said with the dropped item at home. Give them a second. Too soon and the dog will not respond as he is in the first flash of adrenaline…

ii) Step towards the trailing line…. make sure it is 20/30 foot long. Outside the ‘can’t catch me’ comfort zone of the dog. Stand on it. pick it up. Then get out your squeaker and squeak like mad and use your trigger phrase, slowly backing off and if need be, bring the dog to you hand over fist down the line. When the dog is IN…. IF it drops the item, great, treat treat treat… properly treat like your life depended on it, and pat and cheer and whoop and praise and cuddle … be crazy!!! Be truly thrilled!! Express this (but the food will be the main draw to the dog – sorry!!!! LOL) …. IF it doesn’t drop the item, take its collar once you have wound it in and physcially remove it from the dog, forcing its mouth open and be COORDINATED!!!! Hold the collar, and if you can put the item AWAY, Ball in your pocket… carcass in a bag and into a bag you have on, rucksack etc… don’t have it dangling around tempting the dog to grab it back… THEN massive treats, high value treats, use kibble or biscuits and you wreak EVERYTHING at this point…

I really hope you see how you go on from here. You train. You practice as much as you can without boring yourself senseless. You back it up in the house at home dropping right back to step I and II) now and again… you have a bad experience out walking and you have no treats and no squeaker… write it off and drop back stages at home.

The only limit to how reliable you can make this is how much you want to put in. You know it, *I* know it, but at LEAST sort all the ‘at home’ steps to increase your outside home chances….and for MONTHS have multiple squeakers an put them in in all your coats so even if you haven’t got great treats on you, you CAN get the dog to you. Don’t be too quick to remove the trailing line though.

– How do you deal with the dog/Puppy possibly growling at you in the early stages?

OK. This is not a simple answer. It will depend on your history with the dog, your relationship with the dog. Your confidence handling the dog.

Me? I’d do one of two things. I’d personally have the confidence to take the dogs collar, or scruff and give it a shake and remove the item from its mouth BUT that’s not in any way for everyone. And I would not do it with someone else’s dogs, only dogs I know inside out. To be fair, I have 9 dogs, I mix with dogs every single day, I expect to get bitten now and then. Dogs have teeth. Dogs bite. It hurts but no-one dies. If it made me feel more confident, I would go put gardening gloves on first.

However what I would do with someone else’s dog is trot off and find something absolutely amazing… maybe a whole packet of sandwich ham… and walk back, and sit close to the dog and either actually or pretend to eat it, ripping it into bits, and waving them about…. Its the rare LABRADOR that doesn’t take any notice and shuffle over close enough to put your hand on their collar.

THEN i would drop ALL the way back to step i) above… and take in a few of the steps 1 – 7 in the first part of the article and get myself back on kilter with the dog. A few ‘failures’ will be part of the process… and doesn’t mean this doesn’t WORK, it means your treats are not high value enough or you are rushing the steps.


Diana Stevens – January 2015

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