Dog aggression towards members of the family is very common.  Unlike stranger aggression, however, it originates from completely different causes and therefore requires different kinds of treatment.  There are two main reasons why a dog will display aggressive behavior towards members of the family that has raised him his whole life: 1. He wants to defend one of his possessions (ex. his food bowl) from a perceived threat (you). This is referred to as resource guarding behavior. Although it sounds harmless, there is more that lies beneath this behavior; your dog isn’t just simply attempting to keep you from stealing his kibble and bits. :) 2. He is uncomfortable with the way he is being handled/treated by you or other members of the family.

So, what is resource guarding, and why does it occur?

Resource guarding is prevalent among canines. When a dog displays overly-possessive behavior, he is engaging in resource guarding. For example, your dog may growl or snarl at you if you come near him while he is eating, or even try to bit you if you attempt to take one of his toys from him. All dogs act possessively on occasion. At times they become possessive over things with no intrinsic value: a soda can, a piece of paper, inedible trash. However, for the most part, resource guarding behavior becomes problematic when objects with very real and conceivable value come into play, such as food and toys. How come this occurs?

Dominance is the root of the problem. Training dominant dogs can be quite challenging if you don’t know where to begin.  First off, let me explain the issue of dominance.  Before dogs became domesticated creatures, they lived and became accustomed to packs.  Having evolved as pack animals, dogs are used to an environment that is highly structured.  Dog obedience exists when there is a leader of the pack. Why?  A dog-pack is a hierarchy. Each individual dog is ranked according to his position and power (or dominance) relative to every other dog in the group. Every dog in the pack knows how his other group members are ranked and, in turn, knows how to behave (is obedient) in any situation that occurs (whether to surrender, whether to be insistent, whether to intrude or not on another dog’s territory etc). Your dog perceives the family environment the same as he would his dog-pack environment. Through interacting with each member of the family, your dog has ranked them and also has his own idea of where he ranks in the family environment. Now, here is where the interesting part begins: if your pooch sees himself as being higher up on the social ladder than other members of the family, then he will display dominant dog behavior. If he really has an exaggerated sense of how important he is, he will begin to act in an aggressive manner.  How come? An animal that is ranked as being superior to others is given the exclusive right to show dominance and aggression. An underdog would never display aggressive or dominant behavior to an animal with a higher rank (the consequences of his actions would be detrimental, and he is aware of that!).  A perfect example of dominant dog behavior is resource guarding: only a dog that has a higher rank (a “dominant” dog) would act in an aggressive way to protect its resources. In other words, if you get your dog to understand that he is not the head of the family, he won’t even consider trying to stop you from taking away his food or toys, because a dog that has a low rank (him) will always follow the dogs that have a higher rank (you and your family members).  So, dog obedience is contingent upon the leader of the pack; training an aggressive dog requires you to be the leader, not him.

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