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My 2yr old border collie/sheltie/lab mix has recently become aggressive when we try to pet him. He was also showing signs of high anxiety, dog licking, yawning etc, and he had a rash on his belly. He’s always had minor allergies but was always the most lovable lap dog I’ve ever seen. He wanted to be petted and loved constantly. We took him to the vet last week and they treated him with an allergy shot, an antibiotic to help heal the belly rash, and ear drops for a very mild sign of ear infection. He’s almost finished with the antibiotic. The rash is better, he stopped licking his paws so much, but he still growls if we go to touch him. The weird part is, he’s totally fine outside. We play outside multiple times a day with him and our other dog and he has no problem with us hugging him, petting him, and even lets hubby pick him up. But as soon as we are back inside he gets aggressive again. He hasn’t been eating his food right away so it sits there and he becomes very territorial over it. If he sees the other dog or my teenage kids walking toward it he runs to it and barks. Unfortunately, he still won’t let us pet him even when there’s no food in the dish. I would understand if he was in pain but I don’t think that’s the case because he runs and plays like crazy outside. It’s tearing me up because it’s always been me and him home during the day and I really miss my cuddle dog that he was.

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  • Welcome to pets.SE! Did you have any changes in living, as a new appartment, new family members or similar? Oct 14, 2022 at 4:21

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The first and (hopefully) easiest thing to fix is the food guarding: don't even give him the opportunity to guard his food. You prepare his meal and give him access to the food and 20 minutes later take the dog out of the room* and remove the food bowl. Don't just remove the leftover food, but put the entire bowl away until the next meal time. Rinse and repeat for each meal (I would feed him 2 - 3 times a day) and after 3 days he should have learned and be more motivated to eat.

*You can also just take the food bowl away while the dog is in the room, but only if he doesn't get aggressive. Sending the dog out of the room is a way to avoid aggression.

You don't have to be afraid if he doesn't eat anything at all for a full day. Wolves and wild dogs evolved to eat lots of food at once and then no food at all for a while, so even our domesticated dogs don't take any damage if they don't eat for a day.

In addition to that, there is also a training against food guarding behavior. You give your dog something to chew on (start with a boring toy or branch, not some special treat). After a while you go to your dog and take the object in your hand, look at it for a second or two and give it back to your dog. That is supposed to build trust between you and teach your dog that you taking things from him is nothing bad.


Now the matter of him becoming aggressive when you try to pet him. Usually this is a symptom of an underlying painful condition. It can happen when dogs get arthritis or a herniated disk and petting hurts them, or in your case it was probably the allergic reaction that started this change in behavior. The dog now associates touch with unpleasant and painful consequences.

In the best case this current behavior is just like a habit. The painful condition is treated, but it takes longer to overcome the habit of avoiding touch.

You should also consider that even with antibiotics, skin needs more time to heal. It's very well possible that petting him still feels itchy or painful to your dog, he just doesn't show it as much while playing outside.

My advice is to not force yourself on your dog and give him reason to trust you. If he doesn't come to you to be pet, don't insist on petting him. If he does come to you, be very restrained and only pet him in safe places that were not affected by the allergic reaction. Usually safe places are the sides of the neck, from the cheeks to the shoulders and the front of the chest you can easily reach while the dog is standing. Avoid all areas that were affected by the rash.

I know it hurts, but by giving your dog the time and space to recover from his skin condition, you will probably be rewarded more than if you pet him against his will.

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  • Thank you! This is very helpful and I appreciate you taking time to answer. We actually had already started pulling his bowl, but we were waiting an hour. Will now try 20 minutes. We also realized he had chewed up all his “chews” so going to pet store today for more. Thanks again!
    – Mandy
    Oct 14, 2022 at 12:50

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