Q: I have a 4-year-old Boxer mix I adopted from a shelter when he was 8 weeks old. He knows basic training commands, sit, stay, go to bed, and he’s a good walker. He’s a good dog and does what he’s told, for the most part. He’s very nervous: most sounds will startle him and he’s very aggressive with his food or when he sees someone on the floor. He’s OK with me. I can do whatever I want to his food, lie on the ground, whatever, but he doesn’t like it when anyone else does it.
Is it possible to train him not to be so nervous, not to be food aggressive and to leave people alone when they’re on the floor? I’m not asking “how” to do it; I just want to know if it can be done. I’ve contacted a few trainers, but I’m afraid to get someone who will either be mean to him or not fix the problem, as both of these have already happened to us.
A: Yes, it’s certainly possible to teach an adult dog to not guard his food or bother people when they’re on the floor, though these skills would have been easier to teach when your dog was a puppy. Many people do not realize how critically important early puppy social training is – until the dog grows up and exhibits social problems (such as food guarding). To teach your dog good manners now, you’ll need to work harder at it, because he’s had a lot of practice doing those unwanted behaviors.
Extreme sound-sensitive and jumpiness might suggest there’s possibly an underlying physical cause for his aggressive behaviors. It would be wise to take him to your veterinarian for a full physical examination, including any laboratory tests the doctor might advise. While you’re there, ask your veterinarian if she or he can recommend some experienced dog trainers in your area who specialize in resolving the type of resource guarding behaviors your dog exhibits. When you get some referrals to trainers, call and ask if you may observe a training session (without your dog) to see how they work.
Don’t give up on your dog! There is definitely help out there for the type of behavior problems he has. You just need to find an experienced trainer whose methods you feel comfortable using.