Canine "Possession Aggression" and Its Treatment

Some of the signs of possession aggression are biting, snapping and growling when someone approaches an item that is considered valuable to the dog.

Created: 23/11/2020 Updated: 05/07/2021 - Shelley Audis-Riddell

behaviour, Behaviour & Training, dogs, new pet, puppy, senior, stress and anxiety, training

What is canine "Possesion Aggression"?

Canine "Possession Aggression" is sometimes know as " Food Aggression" or "Resource Guarding". The terms are self-explanatory. They describe a behaviour that can be a serious problem for dog owners, and one that requires a modification.

If your dog has this problem, it may growl, snap or even bite to protect something that it perceives as its own resource. This may be food, beds, toys or even a part of the room or the house. The aggression is an attempt to prevent that resource being used or taken away by a person or another dog.

Dog showing teeth

Guarding behaviour may include the obvious signs of aggression, standing over the resource or even running away with it to hide it. Different dogs exhibit different degrees of aggression. One dog may tolerate food or toys being removed but not allow a person or another dog near its bed or your washing basket, while another may growl if you approach its bowl, even if there's nothing in it. Dogs can also display different levels of aggression; some may simply growl or show their teeth - both normal warning behaviours - while others may simply snap or bite without warning. In some cases, the level of canine possession aggression may increase over time. Especially if the dog perceives that its warnings are not working and the threat remains.

Why do some dogs display canine "Possession Aggression?"

In the wild, such behaviour would be a normal way of protecting a precious resource such as food, but it has no place in a home environment and can quickly become dangerous. All experts agree this behaviour needs managing before it develops into a serious problem. As in most things, it is easier to prevent it than it is to manage it.

Early training teaches dogs not to worry about losing or sharing any resource. This pays enormous dividends later on. Teaching resource management and other vital social skills takes place at most puppy-training courses.

Dog howling

What are the signs of canine "Possession Aggression?"

To see if your dog is displaying these signs, watch it closely, on several occasions, in the same situations:

  • Growling, snapping or biting when someone approaches a toy or bone

  • Growling, snapping or biting when another dog approaches a toy or bone (ensure that each dog has the same access to a similar item)

  • Watch for the same signs when someone approaches the food bowl

  • Look out for signs of warning or fighting with other dogs over favourite people or possessions

  • Watch for signs of aggressive behaviour when approached by a person at a special place. For instance, the person's bed or preferred armchair.

What to do if your dog exhibits signs of canine "Possession Aggression"

Do not to compound the problem. A dog showing signs of concern that certain items or places are being threatened by a person, or another dog needs help. Don't attempt to wrestle an item away from the dog, unless absolutely unavoidable. Such an example might be if the dog is guarding medicine or a sharp object. It would come to harm if allowed to chew or eat them. In such an event, distract the dog with a choice reward - favourite food, a walk or favoured toy. Then exchange the dangerous object for the reward. Make sure you remove and dispose of the dangerous article.There are several resources available online to help you train your dog to give-up and exchange guarded items for high-value rewards.

With patience, kindness and repetition you should be able to condition your dog so that it is willing to swap any item, as part of learned behaviour, within a secure situation that removes any perceived threat.

If your dog is actually trying to bite you, or any other person, it is important that you seek professional help from a qualified and experienced animal behaviourist.

Your veterinary surgery can suggest local resources for you to help solve canine "Possession Aggression". A list of suitable people is available from, among others:

www. apbc.org.uk

www.asab.org

www.abtc.org.uk

www.rspca.org.uk

For information about general dog training, you can visit:

oscars.co.uk/blog

www.dogstrustdogschool.org.uk

www.dogsforgood.org

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email helpline@oscars.co.uk.