Is it too late to change his aggression?

by Nicole
(mobile Al)

I have a 3 year old female and have a one year old male rott. My female is very good with people and my two children and has no aggression issues. My male on the other hand is a handful. He always would making a growling sound when i would pet him on his back but i think he was just excited or play growling.

On the other hand, he has had a problem with growling when we would feed him even when he was 8 weeks old. We always would pet him when he was eating and he has always growled. Now when we feed him we have to separate him from everybody including the our female. He has recently snapped at my son when he was walking by while he was eating, he didn't show teeth or seem like he was going to hurt him, but it scared my son and myself.

My husband wants to get rid of him but i am very attached and he is part of the family. My question is what can i do to make him stop growling or is it to late?

Hi Nicole
At a year old your male is still a pup, an adolescent rather than a baby, but a puppy all the same. He won't be mature until he's at least 18 months - 2 years old, maybe longer and so you have plenty of time to help him learn the correct behavior and un-learn his bad habits.

From what you say it doesn't sound as though he's aggressive in general, as it's centered around food. He is obviously protective and territorial when it comes to eating (and perhaps to his toys or other possessions?), but not aggressive as such.

What you describe as him growling when you pet him, may in fact be what I call 'Rottie vocalizing', which is actually a very non-aggressive behavior. Most Rottweilers will make a 'rumbling, grumbling' sort of noise deep in their throat when they're being petted or interacting with their 'people'. It's a sound that indicates they're happy, sort of like a cat purring.

BUT it's very difficult to describe the difference between this sort of vocalizing and actual growling, and it's something experienced Rottie owners usually recognize. Not all Rottweilers do it, so your female may not which will make it more difficult for you to figure out whether this is what's going on or not. But you know your dog best, so use his other body language and your instincts to guide you. I'd also recommend that you read my Rottweiler Temperament and Rottweiler Behavior pages as they have lots of info. that I think will be interesting to you.

Obviously Rotties are big, strong dogs and you can't have him thinking it's okay to snap or growl at ANY member of your family. However, it's not fair to him to just 'get rid of him' because of this, instead it's up to you to help him understand it's not acceptable and reshape his behavior.

It's important that your pup realize he is bottom of the heap in terms of authority, and that your son is superior to him. Rotties are very intelligent and strong-willed and often see children as their equal, or even lower on the 'totem pole' than they are. To address this issue you should involve your son in the day to day care of your pup, have him feed him (but obviously be careful because of his food issues), help with training, exercising, grooming and so on.

Also, get your pup to start 'earning' everything from meals to toys, by asking him to 'sit' before you feed him, play with him, take him outside etc. etc. Make sure he does as you've asked before rewarding him. Some dogs are naturally food-aggressive, and feeding him separately is a good move. To help him overcome this issue with people, I'd recommend hand-feeding him at least one meal a day. This means feeding him directly from your palm, or giving him a piece of kibble at a time from your fingers. It's a slow process I know, but it helps him to get used to the fact that your hand and his food can co-exist peacefully!

After a month or so, you can begin to drop tasty tid-bits into his food bowl while he's eating, so that he starts to associate your hand near his bowl as a good thing. Eventually with time, consistency and patience he should learn to tolerate people around his food dish. But take this very slowly and carefully, don't rush him.

I'd also recommend enrolling him in a dog obedience class as it will help you both to learn to communicate better, improve the dog/owner bond and give you access to hands-on professional help with any problems you have. It's also a great socialization experience for your pup in a safe, controlled setting.

I hope this has helped some, and wish you the best of luck with your pup.

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