Monday, May 4, 2009

Training Rant - Resource Guarding

I often hear about dogs that guard things like food, toys and people. This is what is called "Resource Guarding".
Many dog owners don't see Resource Guarding as a problem. They accept this behaviour because they love their dog and don't want to think that their dog has problems. Or they don't know how to deal with this problem.
It seems like an innocent behaviour but by allowing it to continue the behaviour is reinforced and rewarded. How? If he guards it, he gets to keep it. It's self-rewarding
I tend to suggest to people to use common sense (I know, that's a lot to ask!). I have some questions that I ask people to think about and answer honestly.

Question 1 -
What do you think your dogs think of you? How do they "see" you?

Question 2
- Would you let your children do this (guarding of toys) to their siblings or friends? (think about the "Sharing" lesson we all learn in kindergarten)

Quesion 3 - Do you believe there is a "top/alpha dog" or a "pecking order"? If so, where is your spot? (Hint - If your dog is resource guarding when you're around then your spot is not at the top.)

Question 4 -
The "top dog" takes control of the situation all the time when they are present, do we agree? If you don't take control of the situation and you let your dogs do it for you, then what does that tell the dog?

Question 5 -
Having answered questions 1 - 4, let's go back to question 1 and rethink it - What do you think your dogs think of you? How do they see you?
Personally, we don't allow resource guarding between dogs that share our home. Because we don't allow it, it doesn't become a problem. Multiple dogs or stranger-dogs can come over and share toys (we can play fetch with as many dogs as we want at the same time with one ball), multiple dogs can eat in the same room and we don't ever have dog fights, etc. None of these things become a problem because we don't allow it to be.
If you don't control the situation with your dogs in your day to day life, then you don't have control. What are you going to do when dynamics change and a power struggle ensues? Why not prevent it before it has a chance to occur?
A change in the dynamics may be:
- New dog / cat coming on the scene (new permanent pet? or visitor?). Example, we encourage our friends to bring their dogs when they come over so visits also become play dates for the dogs. Learning is a lifelong process not only for humans but also our canine companions.
- Other adults or kids enter the space. Example, A neighbour's kids or your family members come over for a visit. Maybe they try to take a toy and play with the dog. What does your dog do? Does he guard it and snap because he has never been trained not to? What if he bites the child or adult?
- Other dogs existing in the house get older and many times aggression will be shown towards the other dogs when they age. This one is hard because people just don't seem to understand why this happens and it is difficult to explain because they are often not thinking of their dogs as dogs.
- The resource guarding will develop into something more. It always does - it may take a few years, but it will grow. It will begin with guarding, then turn to showing a bit of a snarl, then may turn into a growl, then a snap, and finally a bite. It is usually a slow process, but it is a natural and self-rewarding one.
People don't "see it coming" because the dog "never gave any warnings". Warnings are present, whether you choose to see them or not.
If you choose to let your dog continue Resource Guarding, don't be surprised if one day he bites someone or somedog. I'm not going to judge if a person or owner allows Resource Guarding, but I'll expect a phone call in a few year's time when the problem has escalated to a point where the owners can't deal with it. I don't want to hear about how the dog bit someone "out of the blue so we had to put it to sleep."
Be forewarned ... If I get a call from you about this or hear you did it, I may smack you upside the head, call you an asshat and walk away.


Cyndi and Stumpy said...

I love hearing a client say, "Isn't that cute?" When a puppy growls over a toy of food.

Uh, NO!!! NOT cute!!!

great points made here, you have really brought the information to a level that's eaqsily understood.

Gus, Louie and Callie said...

Oh thanks for sharing.. Mom thinks us Heeler's may have a problem...

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus, Louie and Callie

Unknown said...

Great post...
I agree- guarding is not cute and there is always signs. Inside I'm pretty good. Outside.. it's another story. YOu may have seen my last post. Mud city.


DogsDeserveFreedom said...

GSC - yeah - I love that one ... SOoo cute ... just wait till some 4 year old kid tries to play fetch and loses some fingers.

Gus, Louie and Callie - It's easy to nip it in the bud before it becomes a big issue. Is it mainly dog-dog or dog-people?

Norwood - No, I haven't yet read any blogs this week - was crazy busy yesterday and barely had time to put out an entry myself. I'm hoping to get to everyone today or tomorrow.

pairofboxers said...

I have never found this kind of behavior cute or amusing but it is definitely an issue in our home in terms of other dogs but never people. I adopted a female Boxer from rescue and she is a definitely resource (mainly us!) and food guarder toward other dogs. My children and I can take anything away from her at any time and there is never an issue, however, its a whole other story when it comes to other dogs. She plays great at the dog park with other dogs unless a stick (or other kind of toy she likes) is introduced and then, if she is able to get it easily, she will then guard it. Any ideas on how to help her learn to share with other dogs??


DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Lorrie ... This one may get a bit complicated because if you find the other dogs won't cooperate in the way you want, you will have to switch dogs and start again (or risk having to train both dogs at the same time = more time, more work). You need a dog that won't be all over your dog socially as well as one who will respond to all verbal commands and sometimes that is hard to find.

This will depend on your dog and which technique will work best with your gal. The one I find works with more dogs than any other is the following:

Find someone you can have doggie play dates with. Get them together enough times that they feel comfortable with each other (may take one visit, may take a few). Before you can start dealing with any resource possession, you need to ensure your dog is well socialized and capable of dealing with other dogs. Do this with no toys around.

Also before you begin working with this, you need to ensure your dog will "Out" on command. This will mean you can control the situation if you need to. You should be able to say "Out" without touching the dog or toy and have the dog drop it. You will use this if there is any problems like guarding.

When your dog is prepped as outlined above, what I would do is introduce TWO toys (like a stick). One for each dog. Don't throw it or anything, just let them be. You may need to start off with short times they can have the toys together - depending on your dog, you may need to do this slowly. They are not allowed to steal the other dog's toy.

If there is any growling, you need to verbally say "Name, No". If this doesn't resolve the growling, you need to say "Name, Out" and take the toys away. You could use a time out at this point as well if need be.

Once you can do this with two toys, you start throwing one toy at a time. See how that goes. You may want to throw while holding on to the other dog, immediately show the other toy to the dog you are holding ("Name, see? this is yours!" and then when the first dog comes back, throw the toy for dog number two while holding on to dog number one. Eventually, you will have one toy and two dogs and they will play well together. Ultimately, you will find you can throw the one toy and both dogs will be able to run without a confrontation. It takes time and active management, but it's well worth the effort. That's when you find a different dog to repeat the process with.

If you have any major issues, then you backstep your training a bit - do a play date without toys or reintroduce multiple toys.

Give it a try. This method doesn't work for all dogs, but like I said, it works for many.