I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to share with students and potential students my thoughts on resource guarding and aggression.
First of all, when we say ‘resource guarding’ we are talking about dogs who guard their food dishes with the lip curl and the snarl. Dogs will sometimes become guarders of their person, their toys, the car, their bed, and anything else in their environment that they see as their own and something worth guarding.
The reasons behind this could be that the dog sees itself as the leader and having the right to do this. It can also be an anxiety/fear based issue….maybe this was a rescue who truly was starved to a point of extreme fear that this would happen again? What goes on in their minds is often a puzzle.
One thing, as a trainer, that I DO know is that if you don’t address this issue appropriately, you can actually make it worse and people can be harmed. Children in your household are very much at risk of bites. The ‘resource guarder’ will step a little further and a little further until they seem completely out of control. These dogs are often responsible for biting people. Unfortunately, children tend to get the worst of it because they simply don’t know any better. It is very difficult to teach a toddler to leave the dog alone when it has a toy or is eating. This generally means keeping them separated or never letting the dog have a toy. The household management and logistics can turn into a nightmare for the parents.
Any dog training that is done with these dogs CANNOT be done by making yourself the alpha and just taking things away because you can. Please, don’t fall into this behavior because you saw it on some television show! I don’t even like the word “alpha” because it applies to wolves. Dogs are not wolves and anyone who has done their research on science know that ALL animal behaviorists with clinical degrees agree on this point.
If you push one of these dogs beyond their threshold – that imaginary line that they see as a boundary – they will react.We cannot work with a mind that is in full blown reaction mode. It’s the same concept as trying to work through an issue with your spouse when they are angry. During the heat of the moment is really not the time to explain the reasoning behind behavior or to really have their fully engaged brain. We get better results during those calm moments, when we can get through to that part of them that is reasonable. Right? Your dog is the same way.
Taking them beyond their threshold is dangerous because you push them into a very reactive state in which the mind will disengage and they will completely react on their current frame of mind – which tells them there is an immediate danger that they should respond to as a threat. This has become instinctive, or in other words, habituated. It is now their habit. You don’t think about your habits. You just do them, which is why we call them a habit. You can have bad habits and you can have good habits. Neither makes you a good or a bad person. The same is true for dogs. Time and time again, we make the mistake of pushing the dog that is not ready, beyond this imaginary threshold and I see both trainers and owners punishing for this.
Listen to me, and I STRESS – pushing your dog into this reactive state of mind by surpassing their comfort zone and crossing the threshold WILL cause this issue to get worse. Do not listen to anyone who tells you that bullying the dog away from the food dish is the answer. Answering a threat with a threat will result in escalation a large amount of the time. The only place to go from growling, if you push the dog, is biting. If you teach bullying, what you get is a bully. He/she may not come at you now…out of fear, but they have learned from you to go after the next person even harder. That will often be a child or another dog. This is also why I don’t train with pain; no choke chains and no pinch collars.
I often stress to my students the importance of ‘setting your dog up for success’ and this means training for the simple things, but also in how to turn the tables on them in a way that they begin to learn things without even realizing they are being taught. We have to change the way they view the world sometimes and it is possible to control the learning environment. Getting through resource guarding is a long process. It takes commitment from the owners and working with a trainer who can calmly reassure both you and your dog and help guide you through the process with compassion and patience.
If you have a resource guarding dog, take it seriously and work with a trainer who is well versed in many different methods to help desensitize your dog and help you reprogram the brain in how to react. I do not just teach the dog new habits, but it starts with teaching the owner of the dog new habits as well. You’ll find that reconditioning of two brains are taking place, yours and your dog’s.
~ Dawn, The Canine Coach of Houston