Sunday, December 26, 2010

MINE! Understanding, Diagnosing And Treating Resource Guarding

What is Resource Guarding?

Like humans, dogs understand the concept of possession and ownership of resources. Perhaps also like some humans, dogs can take excessive measures to guard these resources. The types of resources can be numerous, but the most common and problematic ones are usually food, objects (toys/chews etc) and particular locations such as their bed, your bed or their crate.

Where resource guarding manifests itself in dangerous aggression, you should seek the advice of a professional behaviorist who can make a comprehensive assessment of the causes and develop a detailed corrective program. This article is intended as guidance to help prevent or aid minor cases of this behavior.

Common Mistakes:

* Thinking it is OK for Fido to have a chair or a toy that is "his."
* Assuming he won't bite
* Avoiding the problem rather than dealing with it.
* Leaving toys that you know he is protective over out because "he likes them so much."
* Thinking this behavior will get better with time, especially with puppies
* Allowing denial of the problem to put other people at risk.

How can I stop FOOD guarding?

This is the most common type of resource guarding. It is usually easy to spot and occurs when a dog is aggressive (or threatens to be) when approached while eating from their food bowl. It can also occur when an owner attempts to retrieve food items snatched or found by the dog. Dogs are also known to guard their empty food bowls.

First things first, disciplining your dog for food guarding, is more likely to aggrivate the problem than cure it. Using harsh discipline often results in the dog deciding that it needs to be even more aggressive to retain this resource.

The reason a dog guards its food is the fear that the approaching person is going to take it away. So we need to remove that fear and create positive associations with people approaching its food. The best way to achieve this is to tempt your dog away from its bowl with an even tastier resource (i.e. its favorite treat). Do this in small steps and start by keeping a distance from the food bowl. Let your dog take the treat and return to its bowl. Over a number of sessions, gradually get closer to the bowl to the point were you can drop the treats into its bowl. Further develop this by offering the treats right next to the bowl while the dog is eating. Different people should carry out these exercises to avoid the positive associations only being related to one person and the dog continues to guard when others approach. Children should never work unsupervised with a resource guarding dog.

Another useful exercise, particularly to prevent food guarding, is to feed your dog in small installments. This is where you feed your dog a small amount of its food, when he’s finished touch his bowl and add more food. Repeating this 3-4 times until its meal is finished. Again, this exercise helps build positive associations as your dog soon learns that when you touch his bowl more food appears.

How can I stop TOY & OBJECT guarding?

Guarding of this nature usually relates to dog toy and dog chews, but can also relate to more obscure items such as laundry, tissues, food wrappers or objects found by the dog or have a particular smell.

As with food guarding, we need to look to building positive association around people approaching the guarded objects. We want the dog to understand that approaching people and the removal of objects means more fun, excitement or a special treat.

A good place to start is by approaching your dog while near an unguarded low value object. Pick up the object with one hand then produce a treat from behind your back with the other. Then give the object back and walk away. Repeat this, but change the angle of approach and intervals between approaches. Work on this over a number of sessions, then change the exercise so that as you offer the object back to the dog, as soon as they touch it, withdraw it then praise and treat, then give the object back.

Over time, start to carry out the exercise with higher value objects. Then move onto carrying out the exercise when the dog is more engrossed with the object. But always remember to keep it positive and that the removal of resources results in even more positive experience.

How can I stop LOCATION guarding?

A common behavioral concern of owners is aggressiveness by their dogs while in a particular location. The most common locations being their sleeping area, which could be their bed or crate, you're bed or the sofa. An interesting feature of location guarding is that the level of severity is not only tied to the value of the resource, but also to who is approaching. For example a dog may allow a child to approach but not an adult. Or perhaps a woman can approach, but not a man.

Some dogs show guarding behaviors while in their bed or crate. This is usually when a person attempts to handle, caress or move them. The reasons for this may be varied, it could be they are just tired and want to be left alone or it could be that they are feeling poorly. Obviously in the later case, you should seek advice from your vet. But in all other cases you need to accustom your dog to being handled while they are in these locations. Like other forms of guarding, the best solution is to make this a positive experience. Start by offering the dog high value treats while in these locations, and then start to lure them from the location with further tid bits. Keep practicing this over a number of sessions and like food guarding, change the angle of approach, the intervals and the person who does the exercise. Over time your dog will soon learn that positive things always happen when people approach previously guard locations.

Recommendations and prevention techniques:

First of all, remove anything he may protect. If you can't remove the item (such as a bed or couch), block access to it by closing a door or putting up a gate. Keep him on lead in the house so you can more easily control him.

Teach him to "Leave It" in a positive, fun way. Do NOT make this into a battle. Make him think this command is an opportunity for a reward, not a chance to lock horns with you. Always start teaching this command with boring objects so that praise and treats will be the obvious choice.

Reward spitting things out. Much of this sort of aggression is man made. People get angry when their dog takes things, then fail to give him a way to please them. They create a situation where, once something is in their dog's mouth, there is no way for the dog to win. This can force the dog to start defending himself.

Here's the rule: Once something is in your dog's mouth, it is TOO LATE to teach him not to take it. The only thing you can teach him now is to spit it out promptly. Therefore, reward spitting it out.

Take then Give. Early on, practice "Out" with your pup. Walk up when he is chewing a toy. Say "Out" and take the toy. Praise him for his brilliance. Give him a treat. Return the toy and leave him alone. A few weeks of this once or twice a day and your dog will want you to come and take him toys.

Redirect him. If he is pawing you then keep him on lead and work his demanding self. Every time he paws you have him "Sit, down, Sit, down -- come, stay, OK" -- with little praise. He may well decide that a nap is a better idea.

Teach him to move out of the way. This will help with his understanding that you lead and he follows. If it is safe to do, simply shuffle your feet into him (no kicking) until he moves then praise him. Or leave a lead on him and guide out of the way then praise.

He owns nothing! He has no "favorite" chair or toys that are "his" -- everything in the house is yours. If he is protective over anything, a bowl or a toy, remove it until you have taught him to relinquish it willingly.

Teach him to get off things on command. Always praise him cheerfully for obeying. If need be, close off rooms and/or leave a lead on him so you can manage him more easily. Always praise him cheerfully for obeying --- that is important!

Confine him daily. Daily crating is a generally good routine for this sort of dog and keeps him out of trouble in many ways. Even if you are home with him, crate him for short periods of time. throughout the day . [Note: many behaviorists advise that it can be counter-productive to crate a dog more than 5 hours a day over the long term.]

Increase his exercise. This is a great deal of change for him. Exercise will help relieve stress and release excess energy. Be sure to play games that promote cooperation and control -- skip tug-of-war, wrestling and chasing after him.

We do NOT recommend:

Going to battle over a squeaky toy. Your dog, no matter how small, can injure you. When a dog shows he is ready to battle a human, we already know that he is misinformed and confused. We need to straighten out that confusion prior to discussing that unwanted aggression. If you attack him for threatening to attack you, you may well escalate his aggression. And, even if you "win" he may decide to fight sooner and harder next time. What he needs is education, not attack.

Anytime -- ANYTIME -- your dog threatens you, hands-on help from a qualified professional is the best next step. Aggression is complicated and, if it isn't dealt with quickly, can get worse. In the end, it can lead to the death of your dog assuredly as any disease.

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