My Dog Bites Me When I Take Something Away
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Any aggressive behavior in a dog needs to be looked at in context. We need to look at the events which have led up to the aggression, the well-being of the dog, their usual personality and any pertinent information which can help us understand the reason for this behavior. Dogs can vocalize through barking and other sounds, but their main form of communication is through body language. Too often, the signals dogs try to communicate with guardians go unnoticed or are misunderstood. This is often the case when a dog bites or snaps at a guardian when we take a toy or anything else away from them.
At AnimalWised, we help to understand this behavior by finding out why my dog bites me when I take something away. We do so by looking at the causes of possession aggression in dogs and what we can do to address this potentially troubling problem.
Possession aggression in dogs
Resource protection is the main reason some dogs become aggressive when we try to remove their possession. This can manifest in various ways, including growling, snapping or even biting. Only in the most severe cases will a dog try to attack if we try to remove one of their possessions. This behavior is known as possession aggression and is a result of their perceived need to protect their resources.
To better understand why a dog bites when we take something away from them, we need to understand their relationship to their resources. Possession aggression in dogs can occur when we try to take away an object from them such as a toy or food. It can also occur when we try to remove people from them or remove them from an environment in which they feel secure. An example of the latter could be their bed or a favored resting place.
For a domestic dog, their greatest resource should be their guardian. They are the one who provides their practical and emotional needs, as well as forms a strong bond with them. Possession aggression doesn't have to occur when something is taken away. It could occur because the dog thinks their guardian is being attacked.
This defense of resources is an instinctive mechanism which is necessary for a dog's wild counterparts. Wild dogs will often have to defend their resources because other animals do indeed try to take them away. This is not the same in the domestic environment. A dog which lives with a guardian in their home will need to feel secure that their food, toys, resting places, family members and anything else are safe with them.
The reason a dog snaps or bites when something is being taken away is because they feel insecure. They believe they will be harmed in some way, especially from the removal of something which helps sustain them. Below, we look at the specific reasons they may feel this way.
Reasons a dog bites when something is taken away
As stated above, resource protection is a natural instinct for dogs. It is the reason a dog will hide a bone in the back yard. It is only a problem when it develops into possession aggression. Here are the main reasons a dog will be aggressive with their possessions:
- Poor socialization: the socialization period starts when the dog is a puppy. It is a vital time during which the dog learns boundaries, appropriate behaviors and how to interact with the world around them. It starts when they learn behaviors and boundaries from their mother and siblings. When the puppy is removed to early from them, their socialization is affected and they may not learn the lessons they need to live securely. Once we adopted the young dog, caregivers need to provide other healthy modes of socialization. If we don't, the dog can become secure when faced with almost any stimuli and enact behavioral problems such as possession aggression.
- Trauma: even if a dog is well-socialized, there may be events in their life which can lead to feelings if insecurity. These can often lead to specific incidents of possession aggression. For example, if a dog was abused by a male person, they may feel particularly insecure in the presence of other men and become possessive.
- Stress: stress is different from trauma in that it is not necessarily an incident or series of incidents which make them feel insecure. When a dog is stressed a lot, it can come from many sources. As animals of routine, interruptions to this routine can be stressful. These include moving home, introduction of a new family member or a generally hectic household. Changing their food or feeding routine can also be stressful, something which often manifests in possession aggression with their food.
- Scolding and poor training: if we scold a dog when they do something we perceive as wrong, it can lead the dog to suffer anxiety. They may associate this with possessions and react aggressively. For example, if we scold them when they play with us, they may associate their toys with a violent attitude and become aggressive when we try to remove them. Training a dog should be based on positive reinforcement which is both better for the well-being of the animal and more effective.
- Neglect: if we do not spend enough time with the dog or stimulate them appropriately, it often results in possession aggression. Since we don't play with the dog, they will have to play on their own with their toys. If we subsequently try to take away their toy, they feel we are removing their only outlet for play and can try to bite us to prevent it from happening.
Possession aggression is only type of aggressive canine behavior. Take a look at our guide to the types of aggression in dogs for more information.
What to do if my dog bites me when I take something away
If your dog has growled, snapped at or bitten you, you should not scold, punish or lock them up. This will only worsen the situation by increasing their stress and anxiety levels. If you respond to their aggression with more aggression, the attack could escalate in a more serious way.
It is important to act in a calm and balanced way after aggressive behavior. Maintain a neutral position, without staring at the dog or making any gestures that could be perceived as threatening by them. Once they look away from you, walk away calmly without turning your back on them.
When the situation is relatively mild, there are some things we can do in the moment. We can distract them with treats laid out on the floor, take them to another room or provide an alternative object of interest. Only then should be remove the object which lead to defensiveness.
Unfortunately, these situations can also be very serious. This is especially the case if the dog tries to bite someone vulnerable such as a child as a form of possession aggression. In these cases, it is imperative the dog be taken to a professional for behavior modifications sessions. They will be able to asses the dog and introduce guideline which are specific to the individual dog. It is very important you do not do this yourself if you do not have the training and experience. Without it, it could lead to a dog attack which will result in the dog being put down.
In our related article you can see some practical ways to avoid dog bites in general.
How to prevent possession aggression in dogs
If we want to prevent aggressive behaviors related to the protection of resources in our dogs, the best thing we can do is invest in their early education. While your dog is still a puppy, you will need to teach them to drop objects. At the beginning, you should always offer a treat in exchange for their decision to share their resources with you and others around them.
It will also be essential to correctly socialize your puppy to teach them to relate positively with other individuals (both people and animals), with their environment, their objects and other stimuli. We must also encourage them to ignore certain stimuli and not overreact to any noise or other unknown stimulus. In this way, you will ensure they can build their self-confidence and gain self-control. It will help to avoid impulsive reactions when someone approaches their resources or tries to take something from their mouth.
We should assess their situation and look for any stressors which may encourage possession aggression. If there have been changes in their environment, they will need reassurance and help in adapting to the new circumstances. Their basics need to be covered, we need to ensure a proper routine and we need to provide enough time to interact with them. We should stop scolding them, provide positive reinforcement and be affectionate.
As stated above, if the possession aggression poses a serious problem, the only recourse is to go to a professional. This will be in the form of a canine educator or ethologist. You should also go to a veterinarian to ask advice and assess the dog's general well-being.
Take a look at our related article on why dogs bite when playing for more information.
If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Bites Me When I Take Something Away, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.