Random aggression? Please help, I need opinions on this!

Sorry, kind of long.

A little background information...

Dax is a little over two years old now.  From the first day, I've always enforced commands like "drop it," "leave it," etc., and also taken preventative measures against food aggression.  None of these have ever been a problem, he's always been a very sweet and well mannered dog. 

Now.  Here's what just happened...

I got home, said my hellos to him, put him on a leash, took him downstairs.  He gets to the grass and finds this small plant or something and picks it up, I tell him to drop it, he doesn't.  I tell him again, he still doesn't do it.  This is normal so far for when he finds something outside that he wants, then I'll usually just reach down and take it, to which he has always responded by just either trying to eat it faster, or by running away.  This time, I reached down, he growled at me.  I stopped and told him again to drop it and he still didn't.  I tried to take it away from him and he growled and snapped at my hand first, then my face, then bit me.  Yes, bit me.  Like really.  Actually.  Bit me.

I've always heard that you can tell the difference in an aggressive growl and a playful or alert type of growl.  Dax growls when he hears noises outside.  Growls when he wants to play, etc.  I've never heard this sound come out of him before.  Growling, teeth bared, perfectly still, just like he was daring me to move any closer.  Finally I just let him eat whatever he had because I didn't want him to bite me again, and really I was just in shock.

When he was finished eating whatever it was, he just looked up at me with his happy little face and went about his business.  We got back inside and I sat down on the floor with him and he just crawled in my lap and laid there for a while, licking my hands like he always does.

The only thing I can make of this is that maybe whatever he found had another dog's scent on it, but I find it hard to believe that this situation has never happened before and that I've never seen this reaction to it.  Any opinions on this would be helpful.  Sorry about the length, I just can't stress enough how confused I am because he has never EVER acted this way before.

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The "drop it" command is something that needs to be re-enforced on a consistent basis, practise makes perfect, it is always better to use positive reinforcement, like trading up, always have yummy treats with you when you walk your dog, offer an irresistible treat in your fist, if it is smelly enough, he will willingly drop his find and go for your treat instead.

As far as biting goes, that was a warning bite, I call it "pushing back the envelope", it was not an aggressive go for the kill type of bite, most of the time, the sound is worst than the bite itself, also if he was really going for the kill, he would have locked his jaw and yank. Remember corgis are bred to herd cattle 66 times its own weight, they are fearless and will periodically push the envelope, you can always take a refresher obedience course, you'll discover fun ways to strengthen your partnership via activities such as fly ball, agility, therapy...etc.
If you didn't end up with a chunk of your face gone, he was trying to punish you the way he would another dog who was trying to take his stuff. It wasn't "aggression"; it was normal dog behavior when you've been teaching him that playing keep-away with stuff is normal.

His prior behavior, like bolting whatever it was or running away, was coming from exactly the same place as this punishment bite; it was only half a step below biting. He didn't suddenly become a problem - he just escalated a former problem a tiny fraction.

From his point of view, what happened was no different than what ALWAYS happens, so of course he was normal afterward and wanting affection and so on.

The key for you is to NEVER fight with him over something. The only way to physically fight with a dog is if you're another dog. You need to teach him trade, like yesterday, and work with him on trading a hundred times a day until he's spitting something out as fast as he can as soon as he hears you start with the "t" sound. Before long he'll be bringing you stuff he HOPES is forbidden just so you'll trade with him.

There's no such thing as an aggressive growl or a playful growl. A growl is a simple and peace-seeking noise that means "Please stop doing what you are doing so I do not have to bite you." Growls are always a conflict AVOIDANCE technique, not a stepping stone toward biting. Growls are so important, and it's so crucial that the dog retains them intact and doesn't ever think he should go straight from being uncomfortable to biting, that I have on occasion even praised dogs for doing it right. And I ALWAYS listen to what the dog is saying by growling, because it's always a request to solve the problem. In that case he was saying "Please move back from my food, because I really don't want to have to bite you." It's the same message he sends when he hears somebody at the door - "Please move back from the door so I don't have to bite you." You should ALWAYS take that sound seriously, even if he's done it a thousand times before, because he's telling you that he feels like trouble is brewing and asking you to undo whatever it is that's making him uncomfortable.

Sometimes dogs will make a moaning sound when they're playing and will make a sound that is growl-ish when they're playing, in the same way that we might say "I'm really mad! I'm gonna get you!" in a laughing tone of voice when we play with other humans. But the facial expression and body language are completely different.
Any time you are playing with him reinforce the "drop it" and "leave it" command. Ella and I do this everyday when we play fetch. Another thing you need to keep in mind is every time you play tug of war and he wins it reinforces the idea that he is the boss. Ella and I play but I always make sure to use drop it and leave it and stop when I am ready to stop not when she is. Doing this will also help reinforce your position. Additionally, Ella and I use one specific toy for these times and when I am through it gets put up where she can't get it.

Ella had a food aggression problem when I rescued her. The lady that had her also had 4 big dogs and they were fed from the same bowl. I didn't find out about it until I went to take a rawhide away from her and got bitten. Aggression like this is hard to break. If you don't constantly reinforce those commands the small issue could develop into something like this.

I don;t think you have a big problem now but just make sure you you keep working on it. Remember, when you tell him to drop it and leave it make sure you are forceful enough that he knows you are serious also. EVERY TIME. Corgis will push the line as far as you will let them.
I know that line about tug-o-war has been passed around for a long time - I used to say it myself - but years of agility and flyball trainers using tug (which the dog wins) to reinforce dogs has taught us that dogs don't actually see tug as a dominance game. It's just a really fun thing that they love; when they "win" it's over and they will often try to get you to play again. I now encourage my baby puppies to tug as soon as they will hold a toy, and they win every time (because I have no desire to rip their teeny teeth out!).

"Leave it" only works if both of you understand what it means. It actually works a lot like the way a dog will tell another dog to back off something that the first dog owns. If the second dog - or in this case your dog - already has his mouth on something, it's over. Leave it is useless. You have to use the command to short-circuit the INTENTION the dog has to grab the thing; you say "Leeeeeaavve IT" in a growly way as the dog begins to look at the thing. And when something is a leave it, that thing is ALWAYS a leave it. If you intend to let the dog have it later, you need to train a "wait" or similar.

If "Leave it" means "Take your mouth off this thing you've had for five minutes or I'm going to take it away from you," the dog IS going to object (and with good reason; no dog-savvy dog would ever let another dog pick something up and play with it and then randomly come over and slam them for it - if it's theirs, it's always theirs and there's no ambiguity), and it IS going to lead at some point to a showdown that you are going to lose because you don't have teeth. And that showdown will have absolutely nothing to do with whether the dog thinks you're higher status; lower-status dogs WILL punish higher-status dogs and they WILL warn higher-status dogs off their stuff.

Giving up anything the dog has touched MUST be happy. It MUST be constantly rewarding to the dog. It MUST be more fun, more reinforcing, more pleasurable to spit out the thing (or, in a more structured sense, to fetch you the thing or bring you your slippers or drop the ball at your feet) than it is to make any other choice. It's not a war; it's a game that the dog feels like she has won every time.

There are times and places where your job is to send a message of control. If I am coming through a door, I expect every dog to back up and let me through. But resource transactions are not that place. Every dog expects to be able to own his or her stuff, like food and toys and sleeping places, no matter how low in status they are, and if you are going to go after that stuff there needs to be a tradeoff that comes out in the dog's favor.

Fortunately, dogs are cheap dates. A quarter-inch of cheese will gladly be accepted in lieu of your reading glasses. A happy romp ditto; even a toy thrown against the wall. What doesn't work is walking over and grabbing things out of their mouths; they know that's unacceptable in any civil society and they will take issue with it.
I wanted to back up what Joanna said about status and possession. If anyone tells you that this is a dominance issue, smile politely and ignore what comes after. In dog society every dog, even a low-status dog, even a puppy, has the right to guard what it already has possession of. Status might determine who gets to go after resources that are scarce, but not who keeps what they've already found. If I toss a treat on the floor and Jack and Maddie both go for it, submissive Maddie will generally drop back and ignore if if Jack spots it too, even if she is closer. But once she has her mouth on it, Jack would not dream of trying to take it from her. In a dog's world, possession is ownership and the weird thing (to them) is you trying to take it.

Trade should be practiced all the time, a few times a week. I've gotten lax with it and Jack is slipping again into trying to keep what he's got. When we work on it, the only thing he won't leave is buried cat poo, which he knows darn well is better than any reward I can offer (smart dogs come with a downside, and that is that they make decisions).

My girl Maddie is one of those dogs who would rather lay down her little life and die than argue with a person, and we don't really have to work on trade as she'll spit out what she's got without protest. But dogs like that are very rare indeed. Jack will push the envelope if he's not worked with regularly, which is the more typical Corgi personality.

Was there another dog within sight? Jack has growled at me twice over resources, and both times another dog was nearby. And remember too that what a dog sees as the most specialist thing he has ever laid a mouth on might not be very special to you; there might have been a bit of something tasty on that thing he found and he thought it was wonderful and was horrified you were taking it. His reaction was normal in a dog's view which is why he reacted as if nothing was wrong immediately after; he didn't perceive his behavior as wrong. Once we were walking the dogs and a dog we sometimes see was behind a tree. Jack trotted over to say "Hi" and the dog gave a huge warning bark-growl. Jack backed off and we noticed the other dog had found something and was eating it. Once the owner called her dog off the found food and they came over, the dogs immediately went into happy greeting mode. The growl-bark was of no consequence because every socialized dog automatically understands the "back off, this is mine!" signal.

So I wouldn't worry too much unless it escalates to other areas, but I would continue practicing trade with very yummy treats in a happy voice, and do realize that sometimes if the item the dog is eating is not dangerous, it's best to just let them go. Jack had part of a paper plate coated with hamburger fat that he found in the park and I took one look and thought "Not worth an argument" and let him swallow it. Nothing I can offer is better than sun-baked beef grease and he knows it.
I didn't feel that it was a dominance issue because he's always been very submissive to me. He's a little too perceptive for his own good really. If I'm angry at something (completely unrelated to him), and I so much as look at him, he rolls over, ears back, paws in the air.

I try to keep training simple. Everything that everyone has mentioned here, I've already done. I do need to enforce the drop it command more outside, because that's where his issue is, but this is not something that has just escalated into him trying to bite me. He always listens when we're inside, and almost always when we're outside -- just more distractions and better stuff to eat I guess. :)

In this instance I didn't have anything to "trade" with him with, and I wish I would have so I could tell you it didn't work, because I honestly don't think it would have.

All of his commands are enforced on a daily basis. We use the drop it command constantly when we play (his favorite game is fetch. I throw it, he gets it, he drops it, repeat).

I fed him shortly after we got back inside and tested his guarding -- nothing. Couldn't care less that I was even there.

I suppose he just really wanted whatever he found and was determined by any means necessary to keep it. I'm just going to watch him and make sure it's not something that's going to turn into a problem, and with any luck, it won't ever happen again anyway.

Thanks guys!
Food and toys are a little different, dropping fetch toys means he'll get it again, no biggie, he's already trained to know the predictable outcome, food is a different story. Ever trade lunches back in grade school? If you're a PB and J girl, you would never trade for anything inferior, in order for you to sacrifice your fav sandwich, your trade has to be something superior and extraordinary. Also practice your "leave it" command, it is very helpful when your dog had to choose between you VS cocoa mulch, sweet anti freeze, snail bait, poison ivy or a mud bath :) Good luck!
And to add to that, found items outside are a whole different matter than even food items inside!

Jack is under the firm understanding that everything in the house is mine. Inside, not only will he spit out anything, he'll use his tongue to make sure he forces out all the little bits. Outside he's not so sure once his teeth are on something (he'll "leave it" before he gets it, but once he's got it he's not so quick to give it up).

I think in Dog Rules, found items follow a whole different chain of command than Human Items inside Human's House.
Your questions have brought a lot of interesting information. Thanks for bringing it up. I also have a corgi that "pushes the envelope" and a corgi and doberman that will drop anything they think I want. I have found with Sparty (my tough guy) that I can use a "cesar type method" to get things by walking up to him close and saying "leave it" in my very dominant bitch voice while moving slowly in closer and waiting for him to back off before I reach for it. I think this will only work if he already recognizes that you are in charge and that comes from training games etc. This will not work if it is something small (like dried frogs etc) but you are right, it is difficult to always have a great treat to trade with in everyday life. I also think he was just warning you because if he really wanted to hurt you, you would be getting stitches! Just remember he thinks with a different brain than you do and an episode like this has different meaning to him.


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