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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello All,
I am new to this forum and I am looking for some advice or tips. I’ve had a read but can’t see anything that covers my question.

I have a Cocker Spaniel who is almost two. He is a lovely little dog generally. He’s always been pleasant natured and over friendly with anyone and everything. But over recent months we have an issue with him and snails. In short if he comes across a snail he grabs it, and when he is asked to drop it he growls and barks aggressively, drops it and immediately starts to jump at you attempting to bite your hands. He’ll follow you around the garden doing this. Telling him no or naughty doesn’t make a difference and he continues being aggressive. He has done it with me (female) my husband and my mother. He’s never caused injuries to my husband or me but lucky my mother had a garden glove on when he’s gone for her and she had a graze to the skin. Without the glove (leather) he’d have caused injury.

Tonight I was playing ball in the garden with the dogs (3) and daughter when he’s found one in a plant pot. I tried to redirect his attention with a ball but he isn’t interested in anything but the snail. He became aggressive, growling, jumping and grabbing around my legs whilst trying to bite my hands. This continued until I removed my young daughter and went inside leaving him outside with the snail.

He’s occasionally handfed bits of food from us so should associate us with giving rather than taking away.

I've thought about it and we don’t really ever try to take food off him, could he be guarding what he considers food? He’s ok with us moving his food bowl and we can take bones or chews out of his mouth with no issue. We (including daughter) can take toys out of his mouth. We also always have our hands in his mouth when as a typical spaniel he’s pinched a sock or clothes peg etc and again no issue or concern for our well-being.

Being a spaniel he does like the chase so he often grabs things he knows he shouldn’t have so we chase him to get it off him but this is different and he is aggressive.

Friends have said that by moving away from him we have taught him he is in charge and reinforced this behaviour but I genuinely think we will be hurt if we don’t remove our hands from his reach. He knows when he’s done wrong. I haven’t punished him as I don’t want him to be fearful (which I’ve read can cause aggressive behaviour) but when I’ve allowed him indoors and he jumped on the sofa for cuddles he’s been placed on the floor (no aggression approaching him to do this). He’s had no more treats for the rest of the evening (other dogs have). I would usually put him in his crate to reinforce he’s done wrong ( I had to put the crate up as it isn’t used anymore) but he’s sleeping on the floor so have left him.

I’ve tried to eradicate the problem but can’t for the life of me get the snails to move on. If I see one I remove them. Interestingly we regularly see slugs in the fields when we walk and he doesn’t show any interest in these.

Anyone have any idea why he’s like this with snails and any suggestions on how to deal with his behaviour?

22 Posts
I'm sorry I don't know much about your specific behavior situation, but one word of warning for starters, slugs and snails can pose a serious health risk because they act as an intermediate host for one of the most serious types of internal worms (e.g., lungworm and heartworm). I hope that helps to some degree

Super Moderator
7,447 Posts
I wrote this out and the website crashed, so I lost well over half of it - it may therefore be a bit disjointed.

There's a lot in here that is a bit worrying. Let me try to pick it apart. This may turn out to be quite long, apologies in advance.

could he be guarding what he considers food?
Resource guarding isn't always about food. It can be a soft bed or piece of furniture, a person, even a sunny spot on the floor. For whatever reason, he has decided snails are a valuable resource and all he sees is you trying to take it. And being a spaniel, he may be more predisposed to guarding. We have a sticky thread on resource guarding here, please do read it.

He’s ok with us moving his food bowl and we can take bones or chews out of his mouth with no issue
This really doesn't help, in fact it makes things worse. He may be ok with you taking food but it has taught him he can't trust you not to take his stuff. The snail may not be food, but it holds value to him.

Imagine your daughter had a favourite toy, and a bigger kid took it from her. Maybe you replace it, the bigger kid comes and takes it again. And again. You'd call that kid a bully and one way or another, at some stage you or your daughter will retaliate. That's where your dog is.

by moving away from him we have taught him he is in charge
This is nonsense I'm afraid. The 'dog as alpha' myth is the flat earth theory of dog training. It has been thoroughly disproven and widely discredited. It was based on flawed conclusions drawn from poorly observed evidence. The wolf pack used in the original study was not a real pack, it was a group of individuals thrown together and the situation (captivity rather than wild) skewed the data as their behaviour was not natural. And dogs are not wolves anyway, any more than we are chimpanzees - in both cases there was a shared ancestor but the species evolved in different directions. That's why we have humans AND apes, wolves AND dogs.

Please have a look at the APDT statement on Dominance here, it explains it well.

He’s had no more treats for the rest of the evening (other dogs have).
That's really not going to have any impact - five minutes after the snail, he won't associate the lack of treats with what he did earlier, and again it is just possible that he will think 'other dogs get treats when I don't so if I do get a treat I'm going to have to make sure I don't lose it'.
I would usually put him in his crate to reinforce he’s done wrong
Again, not helpful as he won't make the association. Moreover, a crate should never be used as punishment. There may be a time when he needs to be crated because of injury or illness, and you want him to see the crate as a safe and happy place.

Telling him no or naughty doesn’t make a difference
No and Naughty are just sounds, they are meaningless. I'd like you to imagine you are learning to drive.

Every now and then, your instructor sternly says bangoh!. You would be puzzled. Even if you stopped or interrupted what you were doing, you wouldn't know what you were doing wrong - driving too fast, not using your mirrors, turning left instead of right, going the wrong way down a one way street, in the wrong gear, too close to the car in front etc etc.

And "bangoh" is Japanese for no by the way, but essentially English is just as foreign a language to your dog as Japanese is to you.

Can you see how it is exactly like that for your puppy? Frustrating for him as well as for you. A firm no is at best an interruptor but importantly it doesn't tell your dog what he has done wrong, and what you want him to do instead.
We (including daughter) can take toys out of his mouth
I'm not sure how old your daughter is but this is extremely high risk, he could transfer his guarding to toys very easily. Please, please watch these videos on dogs and children.

So, on to what you can do going forward. First, please read the sticky thread on resource guarding carefully, there's a lot of helpful advice in there.

If you do need to get your dog to give up something, whether that's a snail or anything else, always have something far, far better to exchange. Smelly cheese or roast chicken maybe, but something very high value.

I'm also going to link three videos, one on 'leave' - don't pick it up; one on 'drop' - let it go if you already have it, and a third on muzzle training which might help while you work on this. If you do use a muzzle, introduced properly it becomes just like another piece of kit, but please use a basket type so as not to restrict panting.


360 Posts
I agree this snail infatuation sounds like it's drifting into resource guarding. The worst way to deal with resource guarding is to escalate a battle over the resource. It's a good way to make the dog double down on the guarding and get yourself bitten.

When my dogs don't want to give up a high value item I offer them something that is even higher value. They love smoked jerky. Therefore, I keep a bag of smoked jerky and dole out pieces only on special occasions. Once or twice a week, no more, I call them inside and give them a big piece of jerky as a reward. Their eyes light up when they see the bag. They each accept their piece and carry it off to a secret location for private enjoyment. While they are busy with their snack I dispose of any problem items. If it seems like the dog is so focused on a problem item that he will return to the spot after eating his jerky treat, I may sprinkle a few mid-value treats in the area where the dog dropped the problem item. That way he's not completely disappointed to return to the area and find his treasure gone.

187 Posts
I'm sorry to jump on board here,but could I just ask what kind of Cocker you have. Is he an American Cocker, an English show type or the working type, also his colour.
This may have no connection with your problem at all.
A very l o n g time ago we rescued a golden show type Cocker,I think she was 3 years of age, she bit me 5 times in 6 weeks, the last time she almost took my toe off when I went to slip my foot into one of my slippers. I must have missed the warning signs that she considered the slipper as hers!
We did not have the experience those days that we have now.
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