First, let me define what a resource guarder is in my opinion. A resource guarder is a canine, who has an overdeveloped concern that something they want is either going to be taken away OR they will not have access to it. This concern is usually expressed at first through growls, putting their paw over the object, lining objects up around them, or eyeing down an on comer. If this problem is ignored and not dealt with immediately, teeth will most likely be involved soon after. It does not take a canine who has this fear or concern long to realize an argument can be ended quickly with teeth. After the teeth are involved, bite inhibition decreases exponentially if the problem is ignored.
This concern in some cases may be very real or WAS very real at one time, for instance adult rescue dogs whose histories may be unknown. Very often, the concern isn’t the reality of the situation. Sometimes, there are times where we must restrict our canine companions access to things, or need to take something away from them. For instance, I needed to remove skeletal remains of an unknown (squirrel, bat, frog, or who knows) species from my dog’s mouth the other week. Okay, truth time, my client removed the remains in her bare hands from my dogs mouth (Yuck City). So there are times, for the well being and health of our canine friends that we may need to act in away other than they would like. Some dogs, like both my dogs, could care less about human hands going into their mouths.
What are some things that dogs might consider resources?
- The owner, themselves. A dog might guard that owner from their own spouse or children. Sounds funny, but if you are dealing with this problem…it’s really not.
- Strange people they like in general. Actually, my dog, Jack, is the only dog I know to have done this. If he decides he likes another dog’s owner, then he used to attempt to guard that owner from their own dog.
- Something (anything like a piece of paper) that another dog or human has OR is about to bend down to get. The dog in question does not need to have the item themselves, they may just be guarding it from you or another canine.
- Dead Things
- Favorite animal friend
- Things like seaweed that are not really food, but dogs know they can ingest.
- Vehicle Interior
- Tissues (what is it with Springers and tissues?) or paper products like towels in general
- Dog beds or mats
- And everything else that I have forgotten
This condition can come about due to many variables in a dog’s life. They are not only the sole property of adult rescue dogs whose history may be unknown, believe it or not. Unfortunately, this can happen when responsible owners adopt a puppy. Here are some things that I have found make up the perfect storm for a resource guarder:
- Serious medical issues early on that make certain resources far to important to a young puppy. One of my client’s dogs, Cerber a handsome GSD, had elbow problems and surgery starting before he was six months old. He was regulated to a pen area, and had just a few 15 minute potty breaks a day due to the healing process. He had both his elbows done, so it was closer to a year before he was able to do anything resembling what other dogs can do. He seriously did not want people taking either his food or peanut butter kong. You know this sort of thing is a judgement call. I believe the right judgement is for the sanity of your young puppy that he has something to do if he has this issue. However, be aware of the behavioral problems that may develop so that you are prepared.
- A first time owners’ attempts to be sure their dog is not a resource guarder, but are done a bit too vigorously!!! Then what happens, is the dog gets a very real concern that things are going to be taken away willy nilly. Dogs need relaxation and breaks, and overdoing something can be a serious mistake that may in fact bring on the behavior that you didn’t want in the first place.
- If a dog has a “ingesting” problem, and certain things needed to be kept from him/her; this can later manifest itself into resource guarding. My dog, Jack, had this very problem. Some dogs just get fixated on eating things they shouldn’t.
- Prior abuse or neglect can cause this problem. If the dog ever had to fight for their food or could not count on food being given at all. In some dogs, this can cause a problem later on, if the dog gets out of this unfortunate place and into a good home. Of course in the original home, it will most likely be a problem, but neglectful and irresponsible owners won’t notice or care!!
- A puppy that was separated from their litter a bit too early OR the mother did not nurse them, could have quite a few issues including resource guarding. So just be aware, if you decide to take a dog from a breeder and this has been disclosed, that you are going to need to be prepared and start a plan quite early to combat issues like this. Likewise a puppy from a shelter that has the same issues. It’s great to rescue these puppies, just be aware that they often have special needs.
- I will commit the wost blasphemy here, and say it might just be part of their personal makeup. Humans all have unique personalities. There are some things that annoy us individually that do not annoy others (the sound of scratching annoys the heck out of me). Dogs are just as individual as we are:) I am not convinced that my dog’s, Jack’s, low tolerance for dogs being around “his” stuff isn’t just what makes Jack, well Jack. Even in Jack’s case, he is much more tolerant now, but we keep an eye out for the patience level waning. He’s not thrilled about humans necessarily taking his stuff either, but he has a more infinite patience level for that.
- Insert here the infinite number of other things that I have not thought of yet.
A training and behavior modification plan is, of course, the best action in these cases. Some cases will be much simpler than others. It really seems to depend on how long the initial behavior was either allowed to continue OR the correct solutions were not found right away. Sometimes an owner is working diligently on a problem, even with the help of professionals, but the wrong answers and direction were given. This is not to say that every dog can be saved, and there is always the perfect answer. However, the vast majority of dogs that have ended up in the general dog owning public are able to be greatly improved upon in their ability to adapt to living with the human population as a pet. Children can be the great variable in this situation, in that you would hope a parent would never endanger their children no matter how much they may love the dog. If I don’t take on a resource guarding case, it is normally because I don’t think the children in the family should be exposed to the dog. Again, some problems are bigger than others, and some resource guarding dogs have a fairly simple issue that does not cause immediate endangerment.
So what sort of things would I expect to hear as options in a training and behavior modification plan for a dog whose primary problem is resource guarding:
- The trainer should be interested in a detailed history of the dog with a strong emphasis on any medical history.
- An obedience training plan is a must. The dog must be able to be communicated with. Yes, additional things that do not need to be done for just obedience training will need to be implemented, but it will be all for nothing without a strong partnership and communication developed to support the progress. (Can’t emphasize enough the importance of a really, really well trained place, stay, and come command. These are stationary and movement commands that really really help with a dog that has aggressive responses to situations, and helps them learn the alternate things that can be done.)
- The balance of discipline, trust, and respect should be talked about. With a dog like this, you need to have trust for the dog to relax around you should they have a treasured thing, which they have been allowed to have. Discipline is the form of communication that says there are some behaviors that absolutely will not be tolerated. Respect comes from the understanding of the working relationship between you and your dog. I didn’t mention love. Why? Because I have yet to meet the dog that did not love and adore their owner no matter what. The actions of resource guarding have nothing to do with a dog not loving you.
- Options options options. How will the trainer make this work? How will they measure their progress? What will tip them off to the fact that it’s time to try something new or change up something? The number of tools, methods, experience, and knowledge of very many different things stacked the odds in favor of your individual dog finding the right mix.
- So many new trainers or trainers that do not work with resource guarding or aggressive dogs THINK they have seen every personality in dog training. You are going to want to know that your trainer has seen a wide variety of personalities, and that they are continually surprised and awed by what they can see. I have had my easiest and hardest dogs this year alone. This isn’t to say I haven’t had many a hard dog in the past, because I most definitely have. In six short years, I have lost track of the hundreds of dogs that I have seen. I know that owners are sometimes not exaggerating in any form or fashion what they are actually seeing. Experience will give you a trainer that knows the behavioral bends that a dog can take, and will let them know that they are not going to know that dog (necessarily) in the first few weeks.
- Management vs training. What do I mean by that? Well first of all, I firmly believe that any good training is bound to involve behavior modification on some level. Training is a method to communicate and set up a partnership with your dog. Behavior modification is the change in a behavior that is not wanted in the human household (and is a reasonable expectation) to one that is more acceptable. Management is the means by which to keep people and other living beings safe. Crates, muzzles, when to allow the dog near people, and managing the environment are all ways to manage or stack the odds for safety. Management normally includes things that you eventually do not want to need to count on OR you want to eliminate them all together OR you want to have to use them in very limited and short term ways. In any aggression or such case that I can think of, there is going to be a degree of management discussed.
- And everything else that I have forgotten to mention.
So know that this is a serious problem. Every dog does not have to love to share, BUT do not let serious behavioral issues manifest and fester. You may be faced with a much larger problem down the road if you do not find the appropriate and working answers quickly.
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