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Ugh. This is honestly what I was dreading. We just had our very first episode of resource guarding.

Peggy's now 6.5 months old and has been very good with all the Christmas ornaments in the home, largely ignoring them. But tonight, in a terrible twist of bad luck, I kicked a small Christmas light while we were playing a gentle game of "soccer."

Peggy followed my eyes to the sharp red piece on the floor, likely sensed my heightened "UH OH" energy, and lunged for it. Knowing from experience I'd never catch her while she's in that state of mind, I ran to the pantry and offered her a favourite piece of chicken jerky. She dropped the shard, took the jerky, and ran with it to her x-pen. (She's never run away with a treat before.)

My husband, hearing the commotion and knowing something bad had happened, followed her into the pen and tried yanking the jerky out of her mouth. (He didn't realize it was just the jerky - he thought she still had the bulb.)

I explained what had actually happened, so, feeling bad for scaring Peggy, my husband reached into the pen to pet her the way he always does—just a gentle rub on the back.

Oh boy did she ever growl!!!! She has NEVER growled at us before. But her body was stiff and she meant business.

Now I know these were strange circumstances. We don't make a habit of yanking food from her mouth and emotions were certainly heightened.

Should I be worried?

We've practiced "trading up" with her food, treats, and toys since we first brought her home. She's never guarded anything before, from us our anyone. But anyone who knows our story with Peggy knows she growled at the vet at 9 weeks old, and we almost returned her to the breeder due to temperament concerns. All those concerns had evaporated in the past few months of puppy classes and getting to know her (and her getting to know us), but in the back of my mind I was always afraid she'd start showing behaviour issues in adolescence.

This isn't one of those issues, right? Just a normal reaction to a bad series of events?

Looking for reassurance.....
 

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P.S.If anyone feels I'm over-reacting, PLEASE say so. That's honestly what I want to hear. I want to hear that your perfectly normal poodles did the same thing at this age or would do the same thing in similar circumstances.

It's just.....the first month with Peggy was very emotionally hard. And shortly before that, we lost my little senior girl who would never in a million years guard ANYTHING. So that's what I'm used to. That's what's normal to me.
 

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I don’t think you’re over reacting at all. Growling at people is totally unaceptable and a big NO-NO. I think your husbands actions triggered it and now you have an open window for teaching her how to behave.

The trading game is probably one good way of doing it. She is young and I am certain she will grow out of it, especially if you are careful not to give her reasons to fear that her food will be forcefully taken away from her.
 

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I'm not a trainer or an expert, but to me that is scary. I have small kids so I wouldn't keep a dog that had any issues with resource guarding. Even though my kids are well behaved (most the time) and know to be respectful they are still kids and forget once in awhile. I'm sure someone will chime in with some helpful advice soon!

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I don’t think you’re over reacting at all. Growling at people is totally unaceptable and a big NO-NO. I think your husbands actions triggered it and now you have an open window for teaching her how to behave.

The trading game is probably one good way of doing it. She is young and I am certain she will grow out of it, especially if you are careful not to give her reasons to fear that her food will be forcefully taken away from her.
Thank you for the compassion and also the reassurance. It's been hours and I'm still so disproportionately shaken up. I want to be able to say I trust my dog completely, but I worry I'll never be able to feel that way about her. Then again - sheesh! Does that ever feel overly dramatic when I see it typed out like that.

I wish I could borrow some of my husband's calm. He very much shrugged it off, like, "I yanked a treat out of her mouth. She was afraid it would happen again. She communicated her concern. No biggie."

But I tend to see it as: My last dog would have NEVER. Plus, we've worked on preventing this sort of behaviour since day 1. Why was all that hard work suddenly undone?

Or perhaps it was cumulative—the straw that broke the camel's back—and I just didn't realize? We did have multiple scares in a short span of time when she kept swallowing my hair scrunchies. Maybe all the panicked grabbing added up? Maybe we started taking her willingness to drop "treasures" for granted, and unwittingly undid our own training and/or lost her trust....
 

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I'm not a trainer or an expert, but to me that is scary. I have small kids so I wouldn't keep a dog that had any issues with resource guarding. Even though my kids are well behaved (most the time) and know to be respectful they are still kids and forget once in awhile. I'm sure someone will chime in with some helpful advice soon!

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Would you rehome a dog that growled once at you or your kids?

I'm not saying I feel the same way as them (because I very much don't), but I have definitely known people over the years who mostly shrugged off their dogs' growls, just seeing it as normal dog behaviour or, in some cases, FUNNY. (Eek!!)

I feel like my tolerance for this is at the other end of the spectrum. But I do also know that growling is part of the canine communication toolbox, and perhaps my fears are a little extreme....

I recently watched a Zak George video in which his puppy guarded a new and tasty treat from his wife. They just took it in stride as a common (albeit undesirable) puppy behaviour and immediately began counter-conditioning exercises.
 

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I also don't think you're overreacting at all. As I shared with you before, I would have returned her to the breeder after the growl at the vet at 9 weeks old. That was a major red flag for me. My dogs would never dream of growling at me or any other person, for any reason. It is extremely disrespectful for a dog to growl at a human. Growling at each other is different--and something all of my dogs to communicate with each other on a daily basis.

I honestly think you've done everything right in regards to training her. Do you feel you're able to accept her with this resource guarding aggression? If it's just you and your husband, I think you can definitely manage it. But I would be a little concerned if you are planning on having children.
 

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I also don't think you're overreacting at all. As I shared with you before, I would have returned her to the breeder after the growl at the vet at 9 weeks old. That was a major red flag for me. My dogs would never dream of growling at me or any other person, for any reason. It is extremely disrespectful for a dog to growl at a human. Growling at each other is different--and something all of my dogs to communicate with each other on a daily basis.

I honestly think you've done everything right in regards to training her. Do you feel you're able to accept her with this resource guarding aggression? If it's just you and your husband, I think you can definitely manage it. But I would be a little concerned if you are planning on having children.
You don't think these were rather unusual circumstances? That's what I'm trying to tell myself right now, because no.... Resource guarding beyond puppyhood is absolutely a dealbreaker for me.

Even worse, afterwards she regressed to anxious behaviour I've not seen in months: Obsessing over reflections. Lips stretched. Pacing.

My heart's in my stomach right now.
 

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I should make clear: Peggy's been wonderful for months. She gets excited and nips and bounces and has a short attention span and drives us nuts. But she has the gentlest mouth. Her bite inhibition is so good, I can slide my hand into her mouth while she's chewing on a toy and she will gently try to spit my hand out. I can run my fingers over her teeth, and I feel elated when I feed her even the tastiest treats, because she takes them so gently. She is soulful and affectionate, leaning her head on our shoulders, curling up against us with a toy (or even in my lap when she's sleepy!), and checking in with me or other nearby humans when her dog friends get a little too rough.... She learns fast (too fast!) and I can constantly see her brain working to digest the world around her. Today she was so gentle around a 9-week-old puppy, ran full-speed with her adolescent buddies, and then went straight back to gentle mama mode. She's an athlete but also fully capable of adjusting her style to her playmate's.

She's a star in so many ways.

Edit: And that's not me defending our decision to keep her. That was a heart choice (albeit a hard choice!) after seeing her blossom so quickly. I just think it's important to have the full picture when we discuss behaviour issues.
 

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I think your reaction is understandable, but so is Peggy's. She pounced on something interesting, and her Mum became very anxious. She took a treat in exchange for the treasure she had found (Good girl Peggy! Excellent work by human to build this behaviour!), but was still worried enough to take it away to a safe place while things calmed down. And then someone tried to take it from her, while she was still highly stressed. Even then, she just growled a warning rather than snapping.

I am one who believes in permitting growling as useful communication, and working on the anxieties it reveals. I would double down on the games of exchange, and also work on a really reliable Leave it. I use Mine! for anything that is on the floor that I don't want them to touch, or stuff I drop accidentally - a long history of really good rewards means the behaviour is pretty reliable. But the dogs will occasionally resource guard stuff from the cats or from each other, and I have come to recognise it as a completely natural and normal behaviour, which I ensure never gets beyond a little sound and fury signifying nothing. Once upon a time children were taught never to approach a dog while it was eating or chewing a bone, as to do so was to invite reprisal. Nowadays we expect dogs to bend their behaviour around human rules - the amazing thing to me is how well they learn to do so most of the time!
 

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I actually agree with fjm. I think she was in a highly excited state of mind. She is a dog and I will bet your husband just reached and grabbed rather than talk while changing Peggys mind set. Renn has a very soft mouth and has never growled at anything being taken from his mouth however I bet in a similar circumstance when not given time to think, it could happen. I would do as said and continue the exchange games. I also think that because of her history you may be more anxious and she picks up on it and will take advantage of it. Also I always will ask my dog to drop it, they know that command pretty well and and if for some reason they didn't I have their mind on me and that is when I take it. But I'm no expert .
 

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Noodle can give an occasional growl. And, particularly, as they got older and had more physical discomfort, so could my last two dogs. For both it was a short short communication like hey I'm not in the mood for that. But it never turned into anything more serious with the girls and I don't see signs of that with Noodle. Though we are working on it. I think all the work you do with Peggy sounds great. And I'm hopeful for the two of you.
 

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I agree with fjm - I'm in the "growling is communication" camp. I'd much rather have a dog that feels ok to growl when threatened than one that turns immediately to snapping. If it reassures you - one of the gentlest dogs my family ever had growled at me somewhere between 6 and 12 months. I picked him up, and he didn't want to be picked up anymore, and told me. That was the only time in his whole life that he growled at a human.

I'm not suggesting don't keep working on it - just that growling is on the spectrum of normal dog behaviours, and this may just be her testing her adolescent boundaries. I'd be concerned if it's repeated frequently, or if it broadens from "don't take it away!" to "don't come near me!", but one incident of growling is not a life-changing event for me.

In addition to trading, one of my favourite games with Annie is "I hold the treat while you chew it" (she taught me this game when she was a puppy, and we still play it). Basically, I sit on the floor holding an end of her treat to allow her to get her mouth on it better (lazy dog!). As part of our "trade" game, I occasionally take things from her, inspect them, and then return them. I'd never, however, allow someone else or a child to approach her when she has a treat as even though she has been 100% with me, she's still a dog.
 

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Would you rehome a dog that growled once at you or your kids?

I'm not saying I feel the same way as them (because I very much don't), but I have definitely known people over the years who mostly shrugged off their dogs' growls, just seeing it as normal dog behaviour or, in some cases, FUNNY. (Eek!!)

I feel like my tolerance for this is at the other end of the spectrum. But I do also know that growling is part of the canine communication toolbox, and perhaps my fears are a little extreme....

I recently watched a Zak George video in which his puppy guarded a new and tasty treat from his wife. They just took it in stride as a common (albeit undesirable) puppy behaviour and immediately began counter-conditioning exercises.
I don't know about if a single growl would be enough for me to make the decision to rehome. That would really depend on a lot of factors including the type of growl and the circumstances around it. But I would be very concerned. A tiny grumble to communicate is very different then the serious business kind of growl. A growl to say something hurts is different to me then a growl to say "THIS IS MINE". Sorry you're going through this

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I too believe a dog growling is communication. Also, I absolutely believe we humans should not expect dogs to feel it’s okay to have their food ripped from their mouths by us. They are animals and they have instincts. Your husband made the mistake and now it has to be fixed so your dog can trust him again.

If you have kids, they have to understand 100% that you don’t mess with a dog’s food. EVER.

Now, if Peggy is resource guarding her toys, that’s a whole other story and I’m not sure I would keep such a dog with kids around. It wouldn’t be safe. Or, if she becomes really bad with the food. But this is what you are going to correct now.

Don’t hesitate to get help from a behaviorist if you need to. You’ve come so far with her, I think it would be premature to give up now. Unless, of course, there is any risk a child could get hurt.
 

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Is your home often a bit emotional? It sounds like a pretty loud reaction to her gettting the light (indeed, scary, also a puppy thing to do); and in another post, you said you shriek if she dips her toys in your bath water. Could it be there is a strained quality to the home environment just now?

I agree with Fjm. And also wonder if trying for quieter reactions to what Peggy does might not help her, too. Sorry if this seems impertinent. Also, your past experience with your last dog? There is a spectrum, and this girl will never be able to be your last girl :).
 

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we've worked on preventing this sort of behaviour since day 1. Why was all that hard work suddenly undone?
What you have worked on is her trading what she has for what you have. That is fundamentally different to a dog from somebody coming and yanking something out of her mouth. She has not had that happen before and she doesn't like it, and she was telling your husband that she doesn't like it. If he had asked her to trade the jerky for something else, or even to "give it" without having something to trade for it she probably would have been fine with that. I hope that when you practice trades you are using a "give it" so that on occasions when you don't have a treat on you but you really need to get something away from her she will give it to you anyway. The key is to ask her rather than just grab it out of her mouth.

It's hard when the dog has something really dangerous in her mouth and you just have to get it away from her as quickly and any way you can. It is important to train a very solid "drop it", and "give it" and to practice and reinforce them a lot so that you don't have to jerk things out of her mouth.
 

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Misha has only ever growled when I'm expressing his anal glands. I consider that appropriate. I would probably growl too. He doesn't try to bite. But he does let me know it's an invasion of his privacy!

Recently Misha's leave it game has gotten so good that when he steals my underwear, I can tell him "Leave it!" and he will drop it. I give him lots of treats when he does this. In the past I've traded for the underwear but I think this new system shows a greater amount of self control. So, just a thought, but you might try teaching Peggy this version (also works with Drop if they're good with that) which may help to reduce her anxiety about relinquishing stuff. When you trade for a treat, I think they have more of an automatic response that they're not actually thinking through. Misha will drop things for a treat that he certainly prefers over a treat! He probably thinks I'm tricking him. But I know that when he lets go of it simply because I ask, that he has truly made the decision to relinquish it to me.
 

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Robin, I do think this is just Peggy's temperament. I was just reading your post about her air snapping behavior. I was quite shocked everyone there said that was "normal" puppy behavior. To me, it is not. Also, anyone saying she is just a puppy and will outgrow this--imho, she will only get more of these traits as she gets older. And finally, even if you or your husband are giving off "anxious" vibes as has been suggested, I live with clinical anxiety and my dogs can handle my full range of expression of that anxiety just fine.
 

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Robin, I do think this is just Peggy's temperament. I was just reading your post about her air snapping behavior. I was quite shocked everyone there said that was "normal" puppy behavior. To me, it is not. Also, anyone saying she is just a puppy and will outgrow this--imho, she will only get more of these traits as she gets older. And finally, even if you or your husband are giving off "anxious" vibes as has been suggested, I live with clinical anxiety and my dogs can handle my full range of expression of that anxiety just fine.
I do agree with you that I would be concerned. I also believed the air snapping was not normal puppy behavior. I fostered a dog that had issues with fear aggression, and that experience taught me I never want to deal with that again. The anxiety it gave me was terrible. And when she hit adulthood the symptoms got more extreme. I believed we could work through her puppy insecurities. And we did to a point. She got much better in general, but there was always a chance that something would set her off and she would lose it and lunge and snap at somebody just for running by her too quickly or for wearing a hat she didn't like. You can't guard against such things. It was the instability in her temperament that I couldn't handle. She was a paranoid dog. She ended up going to a rural home where she wouldn't have to deal with such stimulation on a daily basis. Which was great because she was also a wonderful extremely loving and loyal dog that would make somebody a great partner. But it made me a wreck while she was with me. I think if you decide to keep a dog that shows signs of an unstable temperament, you shouldn't do so on the expectation that the dog will become normal. You should do so with the expectation that you will work on things and hopefully they will improve, but you may have to manage the behaviors for the full life of the dog. I hate to say it because it's not what people want to hear.
 
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