Golden Rescue advises all adopters to enroll in formal obedience with their rescued Golden. Not only does this provide a great foundation for obedience, it aids in the bonding process and promotes trust. In this section, we will outline:
To most of us, our dogs are not just our pets ~ they are a part of our family. And just like our children, they need to learn good behaviours and basic manners so that they can become healthy and happy members of society.
So, you may be asking yourself, this is very good advice but what is basic training and how do I implement it with my Golden? One of the most important aspects of basic training involves instilling good manners into your pet. We all want our Goldens to have good manners. No one likes to have their dog jump up on their guests, bark at them or play bite when they come to visit. Manners also include such things as teaching a dog to drop an item on command as well as sitting on command.
Another aspect of basic training involves learning how to behave while on a walk. How many times have you been on a walk with your dog and instead they end up walking you? Pulling at the leash is a very common problem for dog owners and one of the top issues we deal with in basic training. The key here is focus – getting your Golden to focus on you so that you are leading the walk.
Finally, basic training also involves learning basic commands such as heel, sit, down, stay, come, and lie down.
Dogs need a defined alpha leader in their pack and if you’re not the leader then they will. This can lead to a whole host of anxiety and problems including barking, pacing, and refusing commands. It is critical that you establish yourself as the alpha leader. Your Golden will be more calm, obedient, and happier knowing all the house rules. And your walks will be a dream!
Leash handling is the ability to connect with and direct your dog to anywhere you want them to go using your leash. Operating your leash is as important to leading your dog as the reins on a horse.
The art of the technique is keeping the leash loose at all times. The only time it should ever be tight is for that split second when you’re correcting your dog and then immediately returning right back to a loose leash again. The more you hold back on a tight leash, the more your dog is going to pull against it. This is where human instinct fails. As humans, our instincts tell us to hold tight on that leash to keep the dog from pulling or getting away. Instead, you need to resist those instincts and practice keeping that leash loose and releasing that collar immediately after every correction in order to accurately mimic the mother’s ‘nip’ at the neck, in the wild.
The onus is on the owner to set up a regular routine and schedule, which the Golden can live and depend upon. Daily exercise, mental stimulation, and rest are all crucial to asserting yourself as the alpha leader. Remember, in the wild, it’s the alpha who controls the freedom of the entire pack. Once your Golden accepts you as alpha, you will notice a significant decline in negative behaviour and your Golden will be considerably more calm and happy overall. Your Golden will follow your commands because you are the leader and they have learned to respect your alpha status.
A dog without basic training does whatever they want to, whenever they want to, so they have no respect for their owner and therefore listen infrequently and obey only when it is convenient for them. Goldens are very intelligent and easily bored. Obedience allows you to work their brain and keep their minds and bodies active, which is what they really want in their relationship with you.
Remember: A tired dog is a happy dog, and a happy dog is a healthy dog!
There are a few effective approaches to the nuisance of counter surfing. The first option will require you to be in the room and the second will establish that under no circumstances is it permitted for your Golden to jump on the counter.
This first ‘setup’ is meant for any age of dog that is displaying interest in your food. Always keep your reaction both age and sensitivity-level appropriate. While you nibble on a snack, allow your pup to show interest. He mustn’t climb up or pester you – just allow him to watch. As their natural intelligence processes the options ahead, you will gradually make it more possible for him to consider taking it out of your hand or plate. Do not warn him about leaving the food. You don’t want to inadvertently teach him good behaviour is only necessary when you’re in the room. When the moment comes that he makes a move towards the food, you will startle him with a gasp or small yelp. Then praise him for backing up and go back to eating your food. If they persist, make sure you really surprise them…not by yelling at him but by causing things around you to move and shake. You can bump the table, skid something across the floor…anything to startle them.
You must feel fairly confident that your Golden would never attempt to grab food while you are in the room before you move on to the next step. Regardless of how much your Golden loves food, they shouldn’t think they can steal food. Now you can leave the food on the coffee table and step out of the room. Don’t point out the food and encourage them to go for it. If they follow you out of the room, try again later. Our goal is to suggest we are finished with it and no longer paying attention. If the Golden stays in the room, be aware and be sneaky. If they begin to sniff or put their nose over the table, you must immediately startle them until they stop and then gently praise them. If you have to wrestle them to the ground in order to confiscate the food, training is done for the day. You will go back to the first step for a little while longer.
Counter surfing in an adult dog is a more difficult proposition. As simple as it sounds, if they’re given the opportunity to make mistakes, you’ll be at this for a long time. Keep all counter tops free of desirables unless you’re in the room. Once you put out the bait, you must remain alert. It is preferable to startle your Golden just as they attempt to jump, so your timing in all of this is critical. The general rule for aversion therapy is that the consequence must match their desire. So, whether you are giving a confrontational correction or using simultaneous conditioning, your Golden must be convinced. Using a confrontational approach might help you feel better but can create a lasting negative impact on your relationship. Simultaneous conditioning allows you to remain the good guy while changing the undesirable behaviour of your Golden.
Anxiety in a Car
There are three points to consider when breaking down the cause of your Golden’s anxiety when in a vehicle:
- Physical ailment
- Emotional connection
- Visually or audibly stimulated
It is necessary to note that in any behaviour modification program, you must be aware of routines and the effect of anticipation. Even a very gentle and obedient Golden will balk and refuse to get into the car on their own. For many, a car ride can be a physically distressing experience. They might ‘shut down’, tremble, be overcome by nausea or try to flee. If you are able to determine that the cause for this behaviour is a negative emotional association, then you can begin a program to help them. Unfortunately, some Goldens may never be perfect. If your Golden needs a little reassurance in the car, no harm done as long as it is done safely.
If you don’t believe your Golden has a physical or emotional cause for their anxiety, then you may be dealing with a much more serious behavioural issue. Goldens who become over-stimulated by visual or auditory triggers can often become loud, violent, and stressed out. They can be in danger of harming themselves or anyone who tries to stop them. They might appear calm and happy when first entering the car but with the turn of the key they quickly become agitated. For some, it is the rev of the engine or the movement that elicits a response. For others, it could be the sound of a passing vehicle that causes them to lunge, twirl or become agitated. This is difficult to work through due to the quick escalation of behaviour. Even once you have established the earliest trigger, it isn’t possible to recreate it without losing control. Some Goldens will improve once their senses are taken away. A covered crate in your vehicle might help. Some will need an intense obedience program to keep their mind active and distracted, while others will require a long, drawn-out desensitization program that truly works at curing the issue.
In conclusion, it is necessary to note that in any behaviour modification program, you must be aware of routines and the effect anticipation has on your Golden’s anxiety. As all Goldens are skilled at recognizing patterns of events, it is even more important to note their dependency on it. This means picking up the car keys, whether or not you are taking them, may be an early trigger of their anxiety. If you are working towards correcting this, you have to start at the beginning and change the meaning of the trigger. So now, picking up the car keys means you are going to ask them to do some of their best tricks (with reward). Then move onto some general obedience, while you and your Golden go out the door towards the car. Your next change of routine might be introducing a prolonged ‘wait’ command while you start the car with the doors open. These changes help to bring their brain back into the picture.
Strong Prey Drive
A domesticated dog with a strong prey drive can wreak havoc on your neighbourhood. The fixation on movement and noise is what we classify as a deep-routed inherent trait…not a learned behaviour. This is typically seen in, but not limited to, guarding breeds.
Whether your Golden chases a squirrel or catches a bird mid-flight, they are likely prone to ignore basic obedience. This dangerous habit can lead to serious injury or even death. Getting hit by a car or getting lost in the woods are all too common for dogs with an uncontrolled prey drive.
It must feel like danger lurks around every corner when your Golden has a compulsion to chase prey. The power of a retriever is often too overwhelming for women, children, and the elderly, so for better control and safe handling, a head halter is recommended.
You have a few options to control this undesirable trait:
Desensitization would be time consuming and it’s difficult to recreate every possible scenario. So, this would be best suited for Goldens who are only focused on single items such as vacuums, bikes or the family cat.
Counter-conditioning usually requires an equal positive or negative stimulus, which means you need to find something your Golden likes as much as what they’re chasing. This technique can also be used with clicker-training.
Regardless of which technique you choose, the safety of your Golden and those at risk must be properly supervised. Accidents can happen at any time, so it is necessary to always evaluate the risks and be prepared for the worst.
Nobody said parenting was easy and the same goes for parenting your Golden. Out of all the bad behaviours, neediness is one of the most annoying, particularly when you have guests. Not unlike a spoiled child, a needy Golden wants all the attention and doesn’t realize that your guests are there to see you and not them. It’s a harsh awakening for a Golden and one they often respond to with ‘needy’ behaviour ~ whining, barking, pawing, nosing, nudging ~ a multitude of rude behaviours designed to get your attention and not leave you alone.
Generally speaking, Goldens have their needs and this is normal, but needy behaviour goes beyond their basic needs into pushy, demanding behaviour. We humans tend to want to coddle our Goldens. While this may fill our own emotional needs, once our Golden feels as if they’re the centre of the universe, that is precisely how they will act. It is best to praise your Golden for being good and not just for being cute. Avoid picking your dog up and carrying it around a lot or allowing them on furniture like the couch or bed. This just elevates them and their status in your ‘pack’ and helps fuel their needy behaviour. Introduce an exercise and training routine and reward their success with lots of love and positive attention. Your Golden will appreciate it, the needy behaviour will cease, your dog will be more calm and relaxed, and your relationship will greatly improve.
Demanding barking has become one of the most common complaints, so if you are troubled by the repeated calls of the wild from your companion, this section is for you.
The Golden Retriever is a beautiful breed. They are social, happy, playful, and affectionate. Their passion for touch outranks any other breed. A spilled cup of coffee from a persistent nose nudge is a worthwhile risk to owning a Golden. The animated enthusiastic jumping, hugging, and kissing at the front door is often what first attracted us to this particular breed. It is because of our love for this trademark affection that we find ourselves in a pickle. We smile as we clean up the spill, we laugh as our faces are licked clean, and we make no apologies for the excessive amounts of long blonde hair on our clothing. In fact, we will defend their honour if someone opposes it.
At some point the frustration begins to build. The forceful, repetitive demands for your attention can begin to wear on one’s nerves. It may only happen once a day, week or month but when it does, we find ourselves out of control and out of patience. In essence, we’re not out to suppress their zest for life…we just want to be able to control it. It’s our inconsistency that causes so much trouble. In the canine world, life is simple. It’s black or white, yes or no, now or never. Yet we have domesticated the dog into our world where we’ve encouraged them to push past the rules despite their passive temperament. We have created these behaviours unintentionally by simply acknowledging them. Although many dogs love physical contact, most dogs believe your eye contact is the seal of approval, like a child who repeatedly disrupts his mother, just to get her attention. If you want it to stop, you’ve got to figure out the motivation behind the behaviour.
What is the reason for excessive barking? For some dogs, typically German Shepherds, a hard glare from their owner can stop any undesirable trait. For most other breeds your eye contact is just another way to say “I love you”! So, if you’re dealing with demanding barking, it’s likely the glare isn’t going to work. Just remember, if it’s your attention they are seeking and you keep looking, mission accomplished…regardless of how angry, disappointed or frustrated you become.
Barking has a few purposes. It relieves stress, conveys a message, and can make a request. Obviously, a neighbour’s barking dog can also create stress particularly when it doesn’t stop. But for the lonely dog sitting in the middle of the yard barking at what appears to be nothing, he is relieving the stress that comes with boredom and frustration. Regardless of the owner’s efforts to hush the dog, the problem is an under-worked animal. By adding extra mental stimulation to their day, you can improve this situation dramatically. Remember, our canine friends were designed to work for a living and Goldens inherently are intelligent, persistent, and trainable.
Any problem-solving exercises, where the dog learns to ignore physical/environmental cues to listen to a verbal command, will drain his brain. These include waiting at an open doorway, leaving food that is tossed to the ground or learning automatic behaviours such as sitting pretty during greetings. Do not use lure training for bored dogs as it promotes reactiveness rather than responsiveness. The difference between the two is a hyper-active dog compared to a guide dog. When a working dog has time off, they spend it resting. If you need to cut corners and choose aversive methods, such as citronella collars or e-collars, your success might be short lived. A new set of undesirable behaviours are often reported by the owner of a bored dog.
A very common complaint by pet owners is about the dog who barks incessantly at the doorbell, during car rides or at an approaching dog. Your Golden is trying to convey the message that he feels under threat. You need to recognize that their wild response is anxiety and not defiance. Their panic begins as a conditioned response to the doorbell, movement of the vehicle or simply the sight of another dog. In order to control this behaviour, you must have a relationship with your Golden that is built on trust and respect. He must be confident to look to you when things get scary. A correction at this time will increase their anxiety, aggravate the problem, and further cement the idea that this scenario is dangerous. Instead you should begin a desensitization program where you introduce the stimuli (doorbell, dog, etc.) at low levels until your Golden can comfortably handle it. It is also recommended to introduce an automatic response such as sitting on the landing of the stairs when the doorbell rings. These two options will help minimize stress, clearly establish what is expected, and therefore diminish their need to vocalize. At first, don’t focus on their barking but rather the expected response.
For the car situation, expect them to stay to one side rather than bounce back and forth. You should also gradually desensitize them to the vehicle by short jaunts that don’t rile them. These examples will help but it is always recommended to work with a professional.
A dog who has learned to request treats or go outside by barking, may become a little confused/frustrated when they are reprimanded (or even worse, ignored) when barking for your attention. We know frustration prompts more barking. More barking creates more frustration. If your Golden has learned that barking is an acceptable means of communication, get with the program. They can’t figure out why you’re not responding and their persistence starts to show. If you want your Golden to use a different method to request your attention (or not to do it at all) then it is time to teach them. You will definitely come across a few obstacles. First of all, dogs are simple. If it worked once, it’ll work every time. Accept that your Golden will continue to try the methods that have worked in the past. If you want to use the ignore technique, then you have to commit. Otherwise, it’s time to try a different technique. Your other option is to teach an alternative behaviour. But you must ensure that you’ve met their needs of feeding, playing, and walking before you expect resting. So, if barking while you watch TV is the problem, try asking for a command they understand, such as sit. Follow up with some praise (not food), then ask for another command, praise, and after a few repetitions, they might just choose to leave you alone. After all, they were after your attention not a job. There are no guarantees here if you’re dealing with a really hyper dog. You might have to incorporate all of the suggestions for a couple of weeks before you see some progress.
Although attention seeking behaviours have some very simple solutions, you will likely come across a few problems. Whenever you introduce change to a Golden, they will require some time to believe it. They are definitely creatures of habit and are typically very dependent on routine. This is no time to become frustrated with their actions. You are changing the rules midway through the game so give them a break. Until you have clearly laid out your expectations, established the new rules, and done so convincingly, don’t take their inappropriate conduct as defiance. It is safe to say that most of your Golden’s actions are unintentional. Their only true intent is that they expect the same results from you that they have received numerous times before. Enjoy the process and you will see results!
Separation anxiety is a behavioural problem with various degrees of intensity, yet may sometimes be resolved without the assistance from a professional. The two most significant components for success will be the environment in which the Golden lives and the commitment of the family. Consequently, their separation anxiety is allowed to prevail and the family isn’t able to alter their schedule, there’s little one can do.
Destructiveness of both home and animal are the most common concerns when dealing with separation anxiety. Any dog with this type of history will need a family willing and capable of providing a nurturing, stable environment. It will take time, patience, and consistency.
Our first goal is to break down the cause and trigger for their reaction. The cause will usually fall under a ‘confinement’ or an ‘alone’ issue and, in some cases, the Golden is devastated by both. Test to see if your Golden reacts from being locked up while you are home. Then watch (through a window) their behaviour when you leave the house. For those who suffer from both, it is usually best to begin with the ‘confinement’ issue with a gradual desensitization program.
Some Goldens are capable of escaping the most elaborate concoctions, regardless of injury. It has surprised more than one pet owner that the dog being left alone wasn’t the real cause for concern. Many have been left speechless when it is suggested to leave their Golden free roaming in the house, only to discover a happy relaxed pet when they arrive home.
For those of you not so lucky, fixing the ‘confinement’ issue can be a long and tedious affair. Some dogs need to be in padlocked crates, while others need only a gated hallway. Regardless of the type of enclosure, it is critical that the Golden be left in a neutral part of the home so as not to add to his anxiety. The long trip to the basement (if you never spend time there) is a problem ‘trigger’ you must avoid. The next step is that the Golden must be confined daily (more than once is better) while you are at home. Once you commit to this program, the Golden cannot be left alone in his enclosure and you will have to make alternate arrangements for when you leave the house. Depending on their history, this could take several days or even weeks.
Your goal to fixing his confinement issue is that they are quiet, relaxed or sleeping (night-time doesn’t count) whenever you put them in their enclosure. In short, you must make this feel like a normal comfortable routine.
Initially, stay in the same area just outside of the enclosure and act very busy (such as cleaning the house). Gradually you should be able to leave the room or even go outdoors (such as getting the mail) without triggering a reaction. Since your goal is to improve their anxiety of being confined, do not rush leaving the house. When we begin working on their ‘alone’ issue, your reaction when you return should be relaxed. Your Golden considers your voice, eyes, and touch the ultimate in praise. If you’re trying to teach them that leaving is normal then returning should also be normal. It is so easy to unintentionally reward the wrong behaviour. You might also use a tie-down technique. Certain times of the day, such as dinner or TV time, you can attach a five-foot lead to a heavy object and place your Golden with a toy and a treat. They can be left just out of your reach so as to get used to being at a distance from you.
For dogs who have come out of a traumatic experience, you might need to alter parts of the program. The type of confinement might need to be more or less spacious. The history you’ve been provided or the information you have learned through trial and error will help you determine what changes need to be made. Some can never go back into a crate, while others might need an enclosed crate compared to a wire one.
One type of anxiety that always proves to be frustrating for owners is when a Golden is not reliably destructive. When a Golden is only destructive once or twice a month, most owners try to live with it by dog-proofing the home and keeping their valuables out of reach. When episodes become a little more frequent (i.e. once a week), it is recommended that owners keep a daily journal noting any and all activities. Often, we can see the correlation between events (long hikes, swimming, etc.) and the destruction. Not all cases will be simple, but thorough note-keeping will help to pick up unique triggers that cause anxiety.
In all cases of separation anxiety, the Golden’s mental and physical health are considered a priority. If a dog is so destructive that they are in harm’s way when you leave, consider hiring a professional. If you feel your Golden is just a little too dependent on routine, start to make gradual adjustments to their day. Where you exercise, train or socialize might need to be increased so your Golden develops a well-rounded social life. Monitor how your Golden handles these changes and alter them according to their reaction. At no time is a panic or shut down reaction acceptable. Immediately stop what you’ve been doing and redirect them to something they are comfortable with.
Bolting is FREEDOM! Bolting is generally caused from boredom and a lack of exercise and mental stimulation. As a result, many Goldens, when they spot an opening, will immediately take it. This behaviour is especially dangerous when coupled with roads and traffic.
Bolting can be completely eliminated with a steady routine of play, work, and rest. Your Golden must be part of your day-to-day routine. You can take them with you when you drop the kids off at school, when you collect your mail, and during that morning jog. Using proper walking techniques, you can exercise your Golden’s brain and body in unison and give them the freedom they crave.
These Goldens are going to require a specific training exercise to eliminate the bolting behaviour. Simply follow these easy steps:
Secure your Golden to a leash and collar that they cannot slip out of.
- Bring the Golden to the front door.
- Drop the leash on the floor and step on it firmly with both feet.
- Open the front door and watch as they try to bolt.
- They will not get far as it is prevented by your weight on the leash.
- Close the door.
Repeat this exercise until they do not bolt. Instead they should look directly up at you as if to ask, “May I go out now, please?”
Only when you are actually leaving the house will you release them. This is done using a specific key word like, ‘okay’ spoken in a loud, happy voice. Make sure that you proceed through the door first and then release your Golden to follow. Use this same procedure when entering the house. This shows your Golden that they must wait for permission and follow your lead and will eliminate that potentially dangerous bolting behaviour.
Jumping on People
Is your dog a jumper? Are they greeting every unfortunate guest to the house with two front paws to the chest? If so, you’re like many others whose pugnacious pups have not yet learned to curb their jumping ways.
Most dogs jump because they are taught environmentally that jumping is a good thing. The owner carries the dog around in their arms or has them up on the couch and chairs/beds, which in turn elevates their status. The Golden then assumes more of an alpha role in the home while the owner is perceived as subservient and therefore is less respected.
So, when a dog is jumping up on people, what they are really saying is, “Pick me up! Pick me up!” in a rude and demanding manner ~ one they have come to expect will be met with an immediate response by their owner.
Goldens are easily used to routine and schedules and if you’re routinely picking them up or having them up on furniture, they get used to that and in turn begin to DEMAND it in the form of inappropriate behaviour like jumping or barking. They have learned from you that this is a sign of affection. And as soon as they see you, they start jumping up to get your attention. Essentially, they are saying, “Look at me, look at me, pet me, pet me!” because this is how they have learned to best get your attention.
Preventative options include avoiding creating the behaviour in the first place. You can do this by beginning your relationship with your new Golden by NOT allowing them up on beds and couches or picking them up constantly. The most important thing you have to do is often the hardest for many owners…and that is to IGNORE the behaviour when it is happening. When your Golden is demonstrating this kind of rude behaviour, you have to immediately stop petting and talking to them or interacting with them in any way until they stop jumping.
You ONLY give them love and attention when they are ON THE GROUND. The first thing you have to do is recognize what is rude behaviour in order to correct it and then start positively reinforcing good behaviour such as when they are NOT jumping up or climbing on furniture and have your Golden comfortably lie down at your feet on a mat instead of constantly harassing and jumping on you.
There are many who will argue that it is genetically impossible for a Golden to be aggressive. Unfortunately, this is not true. We have seen a dramatic increase in all types of aggression. If you were to Google dominance and aggression, you will find a variety of sites. Unfortunately, many of them totally contradict one another. This is the contributing factor to why pet owners cannot correctly identify the type of aggression they’re dealing with…never mind trying to resolve it. There is no magic formula to fix a deep-rooted emotional response like aggression. A proper evaluation, which includes looking at their inherent traits and temperament, is the first order of business.
A Golden who is naturally dominant will appear confident and stable. They will respond to new situations with curiosity and intellect. They will not be fearful or panicky, regardless of age. They will often be relaxed amongst a group of dogs and will not pick fights, alarm bark or even mount those around them as that is an unnecessary waste of energy. If your Golden does not fit this description of a naturally dominant dog, be thankful because you are not dealing with true dominance aggression. It is more likely them struggling to climb their way up the perpetual ladder rather than defending it.
Aggression is not who the Golden is but the way they react. There are many reasons for aggression (i.e. fear, possessiveness, territorial, defensive, gender specific). These various types are best described as the motivation behind the aggressive act and the act comes in many forms. It can vary from a subtle warning to a full blown violent bloody attack. It is important to note that although aggression manifests itself in many ways, it varies from a posture to a snarl, bark, lunge, snap or bite. The primary motive needs to be identified and eliminated in order to actually eliminate the aggression. It is a common error to correct the aggression rather than the cause.
A Golden with dominance aggression is a rare but serious concern. They may not attack often but when they do, it is very dangerous. All types of aggression must be properly understood before they are to be treated. It is a shame that so often defensive aggression is misdiagnosed as dominance. There are some tell-tale signs that your Golden is probably not dominant. They include but are not limited to avoidance, destructive chewing, incessant grooming, hair loss, lethargy, hypersensitivity, and attention seeking approval. Although it is possible for one or more of these traits to be present in a dominant dog, it is unlikely. If you should experience aggression, please seek the help of a qualified professional.
Food Bowl Aggression
Every species in the canine world has some degree of innate possessiveness towards food or toys. It begins the very day they are born and are fighting with their littermates over who gets the best milk-producing nipple from mother. As pets in our homes, this behaviour is most frequently exhibited at mealtime and can include growling, showing teeth, and even barking and lunging at others who come near their food bowl while eating.
For Goldens with a strong degree of food possessiveness, we typically see this behaviour as a result of one of two extremes ~ either the Golden has been tied up for long periods of time with no freedom at all or they are given all the freedom in the world with no restrictions. Regardless of why, the key is to find the right balance through proper mental stimulation and adequate physical exercise. Get their minds and bodies working!
In the alpha-canine world, who eats first is very important. It shows the pack members who the leader is and who is running the pack. For many years, humans have attempted to breed dogs like the Golden Retriever with less possessive and aggressive tendencies over food and toys. What has been found is that while the instinct can be inhibited to a large degree with breeding and training, it can still be triggered in extreme situations.
The challenge for us as humans is to make it clear to them that we are the leaders of the pack and we control the food, not the other way around.
There are two important distinctions to be made when talking about food possessive behaviour in dogs. The question to ask is whether the Golden is being possessive towards another dog or towards a human. This is important because some dogs will always be more dominant than others and will take on that alpha role in the pack just as part of the natural order of things. This is normal and as it should be in nature…everyone falls into their place.
If food possessiveness has been triggered, you can deal with it in a number of ways, depending on the severity of the situation. If the Golden is already at the point where they are attacking humans over their food bowl, it is highly recommended you seek a professional so your Golden can be properly desensitized towards this behaviour in a safe and controlled manner.
In less severe cases, there are a number of exercises you can practice at home to desensitize your Golden and teach them to be more comfortable around the food bowl. If you are doing this at home, then you are going to need two people ~ one to operate the dog with the leash and the other to handle the food. Of course, a good rule of thumb when doing this exercise is to ALWAYS BE SAFE! If you know your Golden is going to be lashing out or snapping and biting, make sure you take proper precautions.
For this first technique, we are going to set up the dog-feeding situation ahead of time. Begin by commanding your Golden to SIT beside you and keep them in a sit position while the second person puts the food bowl down in front of them. For safety reasons, when working with a more possessive dog, keep your distance when placing the food on the floor.
If your Golden makes an aggressive move, sound or posture, tell him NO in a deep voice accompanied by a quick pull and release on the leash. REMEMBER, once you have given that quick pull with the leash you must release it immediately afterwards. It should not take more than that for them to get the message. When you are ready, and ONLY when you are ready, give them a big happy ‘OKAY’ using a high-pitched voice, thereby signaling to them that it is now okay to eat the food.
For best results, you should build this into your daily routine. You can do this easily by introducing a few simple behaviours at home. For example, at mealtime try eating first before feeding your Golden. This may sound strange at first because we would never consider eating in front of someone else while making them wait to eat themselves. However, in the canine world it’s different and who eats first is based on the hierarchy that has been established in the pack. So, if you eat something first at their mealtime, and it doesn’t have to be a full course meal…just something small, this sends them the message that you are the pack leader are in control of distributing the food.
If you have more than one dog and one is acting possessive towards another over food, we recommend that you feed each dog in their crate or a different room. This not only makes eating a more positive experience for them but it also gives them space to feel safe while eating.
If your Golden has not yet developed a strong possessive drive, there are a number of things you can do to ensure they avoid developing this drive to begin with. One we have already mentioned is always eating before your dog. The second is to actually put your hands in your dog’s food or handle their food bowl while they are eating (take it away while they are eating and then give it back). Also, when feeding them, try putting only a little bit of food in the bowl at first and then keep adding more as they eat. This not only helps prevent them from learning food bowl possession but they are also learning that there is more food to come. What we are trying to do here is eliminate their natural instinct to fight over food. In the wild, there is usually a limited amount of food to go around the pack so their natural instinct is to fight over food or go hungry.
Introducing these practices at their mealtimes will show them that humans are the alpha leaders. Once they accept you as their leader, they will no longer respond aggressively around their food and will be more calm and comfortable at mealtime.
As always, if you are experiencing challenges with your Golden, the Golden Rescue team provides ongoing support to all adopters, so please do not hesitate to reach out.