Aggressive thief

Posted by wilson
Aug 5, 2008
Hi - we have a six month old yellow labrador who has started stealing items (ranging from a piece of paper, to his portable water bowl to his bag of treats). When we approach him to take the item from him, his heckles are raised, he cowers, growls and then snaps.

Oddly, his behaviour in general has at the same time become much better. He is all of a sudden much more responsive to commands, has started returning toys when we play fetch and will now happily sit and chew a bone rather than running around the house and garden like a possessed puppy.

He has never behaved like this before. From an early stage we followed the usual tips to make sure he didn't guard his toys or food - in fact he is still fine with us removing toys / bones that he is allowed to have.

I know we need to be more careful to make sure that we don't leave things lying around for him to steal, but I'm worried that his aggression might start to extend further.

The only thing I can think of that has chaged in his routine is that we have moved him from 3 to 2 meals a day now he has reached six months.

Can anyone help please?

Many thanks
Posted by KOPsRobyn
Jan 9, 2010
Hi there

It sounds like your dog is challenging your status as the Alpha dog in the pack. Although he is happy for you to have his toys, it is clear that he will guard the things he values the most, which is in this case the things he steals. It is important that this is sorted out as soon as possible, before the aggression problems escalate. Changing the number of meals shouldn't have any effect on him, and it is more likely that he is entering the adolescent stage and is therefore pushing for a higher place in the hierarchy.

There are a few things that you can incorporate into your daily routine to re-establish yourself as the alpha dog in the pack. These include insisting that you walk ahead of him through doorways and when walking on the leash, and feeding him after you have finished your own meal. You must ignore him if he comes up to you for attention, as he has to learn that attention from you is earned and not just given out whenever he wants it. Before you pat him or play with him, give him a command, such as 'sit-stay' so that he will see that your attention is a reward for good behavior. This will act as an incentive for the future. If you are playing a game with him, make sure it is you that chooses the toy and when you decide that you have had enough, take the toy away with you so that he realizes that it is you that controls playtime. When you first come home, you should greet the rest of the household first before saying hello to him, which will help him realize his place in the hierarchy. All these things can be incorporated relatively easily into your normal daily routine, although it will require some patience and perseverance from you. When he takes things, you must get them back as soon as possible, to show him that you as the alpha dog has full control of all of 'his' possessions. You will have to be careful that he doesn't snap at you, as this is the way he would act in a pack situation if a subordinate was challenging him for authority. It may be advisable to put a short leash on him so you can grab him and the object that he is guarding without putting yourself in danger. Take him away to 'time-out' zone and leave him there for a short period of time. Before releasing him from this place, make him obey a command, such as 'sit-stay'. By doing this, you are showing him that also control his movement. He may struggle initially as he sees himself as the alpha dog and therefore being in the submissive position to you, who he sees as a subordinate, is distressing. If you persist, he will soon settle into his new place in the hierarchy and should become a more relaxed dog too, as he has been relieved of the stressful role of protector.

It is also a good idea to set aside some time each day for a bit of obedience training, which will not only improve his obedience levels but also the relationship between you.

If neutering is an option, it should be considered, as he will become calmer and less aggressive without all the hormone changes that are occurring during this adolescent period.

I hope this helps and all the best with the training!