Question concerning Possessive Aggression
"I have a German Shepherd - Australian Shepherd mix, and he is almost a year old and he has started showing signs of aggression. But not all the time, he only does it when he has food and things like treats. I have been trying to work on not letting him be aggressive when his food is down but it seems that it is just getting worse. Also I have a family member that isn't around a lot and when he is around, the dog seems to growl at him. His aggression isn't all the time, just when he has food or this person is around."
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You report two dog behavior problems there:
- The first clearly is known as dog food aggression. Or maybe these days we should more precisely say food aggression in dogs, because dog food aggression could suggest "the dog is getting aggressive because of the shitty 'food' that he's getting". So no, let's be clear here: The first is food aggression in dogs ("he is almost a year old and he has started showing signs of aggression ... when he has food and things like treats").
- Your reported second dog behavior problem is much less clear though ("a family member that isn't around a lot and when he is around to the dog seems to growl at him"). This could be what is called territorial aggression in dogs, or fear aggression, or plain animosity - which might be for any reason: having been awful to the dog, having startled the dog, too fast body movements, or even just the body odor?? Whatever the actual cause, your description does suggest it's some form of aggression as well.
Although you didn't actually ask a question, it appears you'd like to know: "How can I stop my dog's increasing signs of aggression? Or at least, how can I prevent now that soon it's much worse?" Right?
Right. Because please note this: Dog aggression does not normally resolve itself, it gets worse, not better! Therefore it's great that you are taking action NOW.
Preventing food aggression in dogs is really easy: Simply apply our renowned Feeding Routine. All of it, ie including the "taking away any leftovers"! Have every family member take turns - if you've got a baby, have the baby in a baby sling in front of you. Once you have performed our Feeding Routine three or four times only, your dog too will no longer show any food aggression at all, so effective our Feeding Routine is! - Exception: A dog may still show the kind of food aggression mentioned above, if the lack of quality of the dog food makes the dog aggressive.
Here is what I myself can do, and you can too. For the video I purposefully show extra long Patience Training - yet indeed I often train the dog's patience during the Feeding Routine: filling the bowl on the ground right in front of his eyes:
You see there another component of our Feeding Routine: that we use the Stainless Steel Eat-Slow bowl, which is great for both health and behavior reasons. And you see how enormously patient this dog is even when the full bowl is right in front of his mouth! This is an automatic result of performing our Feeding Routine. Thus you can achieve the same with your dog. And a dog that is so patient around food shows zero food aggression.
Since you are saying your dog does show food aggression, I would advise that you make use of Patience Training too, in addition to our Feeding Routine itself (which is not visible in this particular video): Start by putting the empty bowl down and asking your dog to sit or to lie down in front of the bowl, let's say a meter away.
What if your dog gets up or creeps closer to the bowl when you start filling it on the ground? Then simply stop, and at "a year old" I would suggest you only once remind your dog "BACK! - DOWN!", and if he does not comply I would isolate him immediately (for say, a minute, no more than three minutes the first time). Thus you defer the meal. I've been doing that at least weekly with My New Puppy to get him to behave really well around food and during feeding times (you can see all that live in the Diary).
I also interrupt the meal at least weekly: I ask the dog to step "BACK!", and I add a tasty treat to his half-empty Eat-slow bowl (another chunk of meat, or a strawberry, or a piece of pear or whatever). This way, he learns through experience that "something good is to come about" when he gives up on his food - and although this is briefly, initially he couldn't know (this as well you can see live in the Diary). What we learn through experiencing it we subconsciously memorize. Same with dogs.
What if your dog continuously lacks patience around food when you defer the meal? Then I would defer the meal no more than three times (this may include isolating the dog three times), and if your dog interrupts you the fourth time while you fill the bowl, I would cancel the meal altogether and repeat the Patience Training at the next scheduled meal time! Dogs can last several days without food, so no worries. But not even one day without water, so always provide plenty of drinking water.
If only you follow this detailed suggestion, your dog too will soon show the same tranquility around food that you see from my dog in the video above: He will behave well around food!
Your reported second dog behavior problem may not be so easy to solve, because from your description it is unclear what the cause of the aggression is. I would say a safe bet is to proceed as follows:
If the "family member that isn't around a lot" cannot or does not want to spend some quality bonding time with your dog(??), yet he cannot or does not want to bear your dog's growling either, then he should as a minimum feed your dog every time he is around - and this of course per our Feeding Routine, yes!
I appreciate it may be hard to get such family member to read, learn, and practice the Feeding Routine, but you know life is about choices: Growling (and soon other signs of aggression!), or Feeding Routine.
Any alternatives? I can't think of any, no (it is past midnight).
ADDED: I got out of bed because I was just thinking of another important point. Well, three!
- Have you observed how the rarely visiting family member behaves towards your dog?
- And how do you react when your dog growls at that family member?
- And: What do you hold of the family member who rarely visits?
Because, be aware that dogs can sense your feelings for that family member - before he arrives, while he is there, and after he has left! Just as an example: Say you express discontent with that family member's rare visits (speaking to yourself or to other family members). Although your dog won't understand your words, a dog that "is almost a year old" (particularly a German Shepherd Dog) will normally understand your feelings perfectly well.
Now if you somewhat disapprove of that family member or of his actions (a dog doesn't make a difference there!), then this alone explains your dog's behavior that you described: Your dog feels that you are unhappy with that family member, and so your dog is unhappy with him too, and growls at him!
As said, this is just an example to explain the situation, and what you should consciously observe and consider. I can't know how your feelings for that family member are. Yet, your dog knows!
We also have a very helpful page on dog aggression, just click the link - or reach it from the menu at the top of any page.