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Ask Jane Lefler Your Own Question
Jane Lefler
Jane Lefler, Animal Behaviorist
Category: Dog Training
Satisfied Customers: 20179
Experience:  Dog breeder/Trainer and Behaviorist 18+ years
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I have a border collie, 3 yrs old in December. He is very intelligent,

Customer Question

I have a border collie, 3 yrs old in December. He is very intelligent, recognising toys by name, knowing when he is going out with us or us without him,etc. He loves playing, especially 'fetch' with a ball, If the ball disappears in play he will not rest until he has found it, which usually does. He is constantly asking for a fuss, sidling up to you, raising his paw or nudging your hand with his head. However, he can at times become aggressive-sounding with his growling, especially at feeding time. As soon as you put his bowl down with food in it he will start some very vocal and 'threatening' growling. As soon as he has eaten he changes back to his normal playful self. Recently, after he had been out, he came back and, still with his lead on, he went into his crate(we were in our motorhome at this time, which he is very used to. I told him that I would take his lead off, put my hand in to remove the lead and he bit me, quite hard, drawing blood.WHY?
Submitted: 4 years ago.
Category: Dog Training
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 4 years ago.
Hi JaCustomer,

My name is Jane. I have been working professionally with animals especially dogs in both health and behavioral issues for over 18 years. I have over 14,000 satisfied customers. It will be my pleasure to work with you today.

The first thing I would do is check for a medical condition that can lead to sudden aggression such as thyroid issues or pain. You can read about these here:

If there is no medical cause, then it is strictly behavioral. To me it sounds like a resource guarding behavior where it relates to the food and could be in the crate incident. I do think there is some dominance issues as well which would be more consistent with the crate.

Many dominant dogs are described as well behaved until you try to get them to do something they do not want to do, and then they reprimand you either with a growl or bite if you don't heed the growl. Things like taking away something they want, making them move when they don't want to, waking them up, etc can cause them to reprimand (bite) you. It sounds like he didn't want you in his space which the crate would be considered his.

Dogs that are allowed on furniture tend to feel that since they are elevated to your level, they mentally feel elevated as well in the pack order and thus are the boss. Keeping them on the floor can help lower them mentally back to a submissive position in the pack. Attach a leash and use it to remove him from the furniture. Give a correction in the form of a quick tug and firm "NO" when he attempts to get on and a treat when he starts not trying to get on the furniture. Thus you are providing negative reinforcement for the getting on the furniture and positive reinforcement for the desired behavior (not attempting to get on the furniture).

There are other ways to regain the dominant position in the house as well. The best way is to start obedience training. While a formal training class is great, you can start obedience training without a formal class. Before you can get into classes, I am including a site that is helpful for teaching an owner to train in obedience. Be sure and click on the link to the page on obedience at the bottom. and links on subsequent pages leading to detailed instructions.

Training works best if you train at least 30 minutes a day (two 15 minute sessions). If your dog has had formal training, starting daily practice sessions can reestablish you as the boss again. I would start making your dog work via the Nothing in life is free program (NILF) as well. It is outlined below.

Unfortunately, the site does not allow me to make clickable links, so to view the supporting websites, you will need to copy and paste the link into a new browser window or tab.

Having him neutered should help as well, but you will need the training as well. You will also want to keep a leash on him at all times initially to grab if he should disobey. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how well your dog does with training. Dogs like knowing what is expected of them and they love the little paper thin slices of hotdogs that I use for treats while training. Give this a try and see how it works for you.

Now for the food issue, that is resource guarding. Resource guarding can be dangerous if not addressed correctly. I have to tell you that it is best addressed in person with a professional behaviorist. However many owners are able to help their dogs overcome this unwanted behavior with lots of patience and hard work. The following sites go over this in great detail. The last site give many different ideas and techniques to help resolve resource guarding.

If you have taken the time to read the above sites you will notice that the owners gained their dog's trust by not taking things from them unless they gave them something even better. In the case of food, I've found that hand feeding gets the dog used to you being around the food. Hand feeding can help in these cases, so I recommend you talk softly to him when hand feeding and you might want to pet his back as well, so he gets used to you touching him when he is eating from your hand. I usually progress to putting the food in the bowl and just hold the bowl continuing to talk and pet them. Once the dog is used to this, I will put the empty bowl on the floor and put a piece of food in the bowl, so the dog knows that I control the food, not him. Additionally, you might have some really tasty treats in hand and as you get close to the dog start dropping these so the dog is associating your with giving more tasty treats rather than just approaching his food. Once he sees that you are adding food to the bowl and not taking it away, he shouldn't feel the need to growl at you to warn you away from his food. At this point, you want to have an extra tasty treat like hot dog slices and have them in one hand to distract him from his bowl. As he takes the treats, lift a handful of food from his bowl and then put it right back. Be sure he sees you put it back. This teaches him that just because you take the food doesn't mean it isn't coming back.

Additionally, I would suggest you get a basket muzzle and make him wear it anytime children are around or visitors are there. Be sure to use the leash to make him obey you. If he growls give a short tug to get his attention and a firm "NO" to let him know, you are not going to allow his aggression. If he is sleeping, give a little tug to let him know that someone is there so he isn't startled when being woken up.

In addition, if the situation is not improving using the techniques I describe, you may have to consult a professional behaviorist. You can usually find a behaviorist by asking your Vet for a recommendation or you may be able to find one using the following site.
I hope this information is helpful to you and you are satisfied with my response. If you would like any additional information or have more questions please don’t hesitate to press the reply to expert or continue conversation button so I can address any issues you still have .