She growled at me.

I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just backed off and furiously scoured the Web.

At that moment, something between me and Phoebe changed. The dog who adopted me, follows me around like a shadow and has shown nothing but love actually growled at me. Honestly, I was scared.

A few weeks have gone by, and things have gotten back to normal. However, that does not mean it has fallen off my radar. I have had time to reflect on why it happened, and have taken action to put everything back in place. It is just like the Phoebestails banner says, “rescuing a dog is definitely taking a step into the unknown. It is like a big mystery tour where the destination is determined by the route you take each time there is a fork in the road.” This was a fork in the road, and hopefully I am taking the correct route.

Here is how it went down.

For some reason Phoebe had been acting anxious all day (wandering around, whining, and just not a happy camper). Everything around the homestead was the same as any other day, but nonetheless she out of sorts. In the evening, she was chomping on one of her chew toys and I noticed that there was a small amount of blood on it. Obviously, it was harming her gums, so I took it away. Considering how content she was, I felt bad for taking it away and grabbed a real bone from the fridge to replace it.

 Courtesy Image Wikimedia Common
Courtesy Image Wikimedia Common

As soon as I gave the real bone to her, she went running outside with it. I walked out behind her, and she was just sitting there, hovering over the bone, ears pinned back, and growling at me.  It kind of freaked me out, so I just backed up and went inside. My brain was having a hard time accepting that fact. I walked outside again and she assumed the same position and growled some more. I backed up again, went inside and tried to find answers on the Web.

In the meantime, Phoebe finished her bone, came inside, walked right past me and went to lie down in my room, where she was all alone. When I went into my room, she got up, walked out and planted herself in the living room (alone again). It was pretty obvious that she was in the mood to be left the hell alone.

I got grief from both my doggie mentor and Phoebe’s trainer for letting Phoebe get away with growling at me. Both told me the exact same thing. In essence, by walking away all I did was show Phoebe that she could growl at me, and get what she wanted. Equally, they emphasized that this needed to be nipped in the bud. This was the first time it happened and that was one time too many.

The first order of business was to teach the command “drop it.” I started with some not-so-special toys, and it went well. When I started to give her some of her special toys, I had to increase the treat value (i.e., a Buffalo Bit instead of a cruncher). She caught on to that real fast. In fact, at random, she would come to me with a toy in her mouth, drop it, and then sit there waiting for a treat. Her gesture of goodwill paid off. If I did not have a treat at hand, she got lots of loving ear scrunches.

The next step was to drive home ‘what is mine is mine’, ‘what is hers is mine’, and ‘everything she gets is because I give it to her.’ It sounds rough, but it is all abut the pecking order. Besides, I could teach her this lesson without being mean about it.

I am sure we have all witnessed our dog slinking off to some far corner with a favorite toy or bone in an attempt to guard it. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that our pups should not be allowed to have some space and quiet time while they enjoy a chewy treat or bone. What I am saying is that we should not let it get to the point where they see us as intruders. That is what happened with Phoebe. I let her possessiveness grow to the point where she felt it acceptable to tell me to get lost (i.e., growl at me).

So what to do? Walking up and taking things away would simply be antagonistic and serves no purpose other than to create unnecessary frustration on the part of the dog. Phoebe’s obedience class trainer (not a behavioral specialist) recommended was to put Phoebe on a leash the next time I give her the highly prized bone. By doing so, Phoebe would not be allowed to slink off and become possessive. She could have her bone, and chew on it undisturbed; she just has to do it with me nearby.

When i tried this little trick the first time, Phoebe did not know what to do. She kept trying to slink off, but the leash ruined that option. That left her with two choices: gnaw on her bone in front of me or forget it. After a few minutes, she chose the former. I sat on the couch and watched TV, while she sat on the floor making a mess.

Once we got that out of the way, the next step was to teach her to drop that bone when command to do so. That called for some super high value treats. It was kind of funny. She wanted those treats so bad, but she did not want to give up the bone. She tried to holding the bone with her back teeth, while she moved in for the treats. I guess she thought I would magically drop the treat her mouth. Wrong! She had to choose.

Phoebe finally dropped the bone. I picked it up as I gave her the treats, and guess what I did with it? I gave it right back to her. A few more of the same “drop-it” exercises and she got the picture, dropping the bone upon command. With that, I let her go about her business and finish gnawing on her bone. I wasn’t letting her off that easy, she was still on the leash next to me.

That is where it stands now. I will carry on with the bone / leash combo a few more times and then see how she does in the yard. If she continues to drop it on command, then great. If she opts to slink off and act possessive, well…I guess I will address that if it happens. for now I will stay on the positive side and hope this is the beginning of the end of a short-lived bad behavior.