Resource Guarding or Possession Aggression

Does your dog growl at you when you approach his food bowl? Is your puppy possessive about toys and rawhides? Does he snap at you when you even step near him when he’s got a bone? Does your dog bare her teeth when you approach the couch? If not, you’re lucky! Read through this information and start working with your puppy or dog now, to keep him in the blissful state of loving your approach to his food bowl or other prized possessions. If you are seeing aggression, definitely read on to find ways to help your dog. The technical term for this behavior is Resource Guarding, and it’s an absolutely normal dog behavior. However, it’s not something we humans appreciate. Fortunately, resource guarding is also a behavior that we can change.

It’s a huge mistake to label a dog with a resource guarding problem as ‘dominant’. This is largely because it is just too simplistic to think that everything a dog might do which his owners disapprove of is some kind of a bid for power, especially if it involves threat behavior. This label can also encourage owners to look for opportunities to score points back on their dog when their time would be much better spent looking for opportunities to teach the dog not to guard his possessions and to reward him for doing other things.

Here are a few of the myths about resource guarding, according to Jean Donaldson’s book “Mine! A Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs.”
-Myth #1: Resource guarding is abnormal behavior.
-Myth #2: Because resource guarding is driven largely by genetics, it can’t be changed.
-Myth #3: Resource guarding can be cured by making a dog realize that resources are abundant.
-Myth #4: Resource guarding is a symptom of “dominance” or “pushiness.”
-Myth #5: Resource guarding is the result of “spoiling” a dog.

So if the answer is not to “dominate” your dog or shower it with freely available food, then what is it? Simple. Make your puppy or dog understand that the approach of a human to his food, toys, space, etc. is a Good Thing. The process is called classical conditioning. Just as the clicker is associated with treats in your dog’s mind, the approach of a human hand, face, or other body part to his food dish should mean better food is on it’s way.

The following process should be done with ALL dogs, for their entire lives. Definitely do it with young puppies. The only part that changes is how often you do these exercises, what sorts of things your dog has when you approach, and how close you can get to the dog before presenting it with the treat. Every capable member of the family should take part in these exercises, keeping safety firmly in mind.

Initiate the Say Please Protocol with your dog. There are two reasons to do this. One is to inform your dog that you and your family are the source of All Good Things, and only by being polite does your dog get them from you. The second reason is for all family members to practice training with your dog, so that he listens to everyone in the family. This may or may not help with resource guarding, but it’s not a bad perk! If certain members of your family are being guarded against (growled or lunged at), then those people are the ones who should be asking the dog to Say Please more often.

Teach your dog the cue GIVE. Start with objects that he does not value as much and treats that are highly valued. Then gradually work your way up to objects that he cares very much about. Ask for him to give the object, then either wait for him to do so (if he knows the cue) or cause him to do so by presenting food near his mouth. Reward and praise him for dropping the object, then give it back to him as soon as he’s done chewing. Practicing this cue, giving the resource back each time, helps the dog understand that giving away his resources to a human is a good thing, so there’s no reason to guard them. Children should only work on this step under adult supervision. Start with the family member that the dog trusts most (growls at least).

Teach your dog the OFF cue. If he is guarding the furniture, teach him to jump off of it on cue. Get him up on the couch by patting on it or luring him with a treat. Don’t give the treat yet (we want to reward for “off”, not jumping on the couch). Then say “off” and lure him back onto the floor. If you use a clicker, click as soon as he heads off the couch. Give him the treat. Don’t start to teach off when your dog is all settled down on the couch. Work up to that level.

Condition your dog to expect good things when you approach him, especially if he has some sort of highly prized resource, like a bone. As with “give”, start with something your dog does not guard. Walk over, present the treat while he’s enjoying his low value toy or food, and leave. Do this with several low value toys throughout the day. Repeat this for several days until he begins to look up at you, with a “Hey, she’s here to give me a treat” expression on his face. With the low value objects, move up to touching the dog in some way, grabbing the object (often saying “give” first), then popping a high value treat in his mouth and returning the object. Over a period of weeks or more, gradually move up to repeating the above with higher and higher value toys or food. With high value toys/food/bones, start by just walking by the puppy, out of the range that makes him growl, and dropping a treat. Move closer as the days go by, if the dog is ready; never progress faster than your dog is happily willing to go. If the dog is not relaxed and happy at any stage, you have moved too fast. Retreat to the previous level. Repeat this entire process with several high value objects. After that, progress to doing this process with more people around, more stress in the environment. Children should only work on the conditioning step under adult supervision.

Keep your dog from exhibiting resource guarding behavior by not moving past his acceptance level. If he growls when you get within three feet of his toy, then don’t make him growl — stay more than three feet away from his toy next time. Better yet, remove the toys that he guards from the living area, so that he can’t accidentally be triggered. If your dog guards his dinner, make sure no one approaches or give him his dinner in a separate room, for now. If your puppy guards the couch, try to keep him off of it by not inviting him up and/or by making it uncomfortable to lay on (an upside-down carpet protector works well for that). Any approaches that you make to your dog at this time while he has a resource should be on purpose and accompanied by a treat. Do NOT punish him for growling by scruff shaking or any other show of violence. All you will be doing is proving to your dog that he was right — humans are crazy and you’ve got to protect yourself from them!

Maintenance. After your dog or puppy is happily accepting any human approach to his food or toys (a state that humans call ‘normal’ and dogs call ’strange’), you are at the maintenance stage. Twice a week, at first, then once or twice per month, approach him while he’s eating, pick up the bowl, and plop in a handful of treats before setting it back down. Do the same with toys or bones as well. Occasionally practice the “give” cue, replacing the surrendered object with something else if you really must take it away. Finally, continue the Say Please Protocol for the rest of the dog’s life, incorporating new tricks as your dog learns them.

Oh no, he’s doing it again! If your dog ever starts up again with resource guarding, it’s not because he is trying to take over the world. It’s probably because you haven’t kept up on his training and he has started to notice that it’s not such a good thing to give up his resources, after all. Remind him that humans are the source of all good things by going through the above process again.

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Building a Great Relationship with your Dog

Dog training is about building a relationship with your dog and about your dog’s relationship to everything else. This involves clear communication, in other words, teaching your dog English as a second language.
We don’t know what our dogs are thinking, or even how they think. Chances are though, it’s not in the sentences and paragraphs that we tend to use. But we can communicate with them. Communication is the key to training. We can’t blame our dog if they are confused as to what the desired behavior is. We should constantly challenge ourselves to be clearer, more patient, and creative about letting our dog know what we want.

Training should be quick, clear and fun, using as few words as possible. Two minute training sessions interspersed throughout the day are most effective. And/or, every interaction with your dog is a training opportunity. If your relationship with your dog is based on communication, you don’t want your dog to find you confusing.

The most basic form of communication in training is the positive reward marker. It is a signal (usually audible) indicating that the behavior being performed at that very moment is correct or desirable. Some trainers use a clicker (a small device that makes a clicking noise) while others use a word such as “Yes”. With marine animals some trainers use a whistle. The only real requirement is a signal that is distinct.
The marker is “loaded” or “charged” by creating an association between the marker and a reinforcer, usually food. This is done by giving the signal and following it with the food reward. Some trainers will do this in conjunction with a basic behavior such as making eye contact; other will just pair the two stimuli until the relationship is apparent to the dog. This is same principal as Pavlov’s dogs salivating at the sound of the bell.

A clear and unambiguous means of communication has now been established: when this signal is sent a reward will follow. The implication being, “I like it when you do that.” Moreover, we can give this signal at the moment of the desired behavior and then reward our dogs a few seconds later: we not only don’t have to carry the food in hand, we can hide it, paving the way for removing constant rewards and also replacing food with other reinforcers such as play.

Being able to send this clear signal whenever we see what we like (and are prepared to reward it) is very powerful. We can communicate behaviors we want to see more of, even when we didn’t ask for them. For example, every time a jumpy puppy’s rear end touches the floor we can mark that moment. Over time, jumping will decrease. Every time a distracted dog looks at his human, the moment can be marked. Where will the distracted dog’s attention tend to wander to more often?

Training behaviors also becomes much easier. We can now communicate exactly what we are looking for, as opposed to communicating what we do not want, which may mean repeated punishments and maybe even training by process of elimination.

Hand feeding your new puppy is great way to establish your relationship quickly. All the good things in life (the most important being food) come from you. You can use this time to teach your dog his name and train attention or eye contact. Whenever you don’t have time to hand feed, feed your dog in his crate. This will reinforce a great association with his crate.

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Welcoming Visitors to Your Home

Many dog get excited, aroused or anxious when guests come over.  Here are some ways to best handle these situations.

To help your shy/fearful/reactive dog to relax and accept visitors, begin your training routine with only one person. After your dog will relax with that person, you can invite another and then two more and so on until your dog can be comfortable with a group.

Make sure that your dog is somewhat hungry and invite your helper over to train at a time when you can do this without other distractions going on. Have two bags of treats ready (one for you and one for your helper) which should be something special that your dog really loves such as bits of cooked chicken, thinly sliced hot dogs, etc. A variety of treats is even better. If you think your dog will try to jump up and grab the treat bag or bowl, keep the treats in a handy pouch/fanny pack.

If your dog behaves aggressively at the door: When the door bell rings, confine your dog in another room until your visitor is settled. Then, if your dog is able to attend to your direction, bring him out on leash. (Otherwise, allow your dog time to calm down, then run him through a few Sits and Downs behind the closed door before bringing him out on leash). Choose a seat several feet away from your guest. Place your dog in a Down-stay by your side. Your guest should ignore the dog and both of you should maintain a low key manner. If your dog begins to bark or growl or show other signs of distress or tension, calmly but quickly take him back to his crate or safe room. If your dog behaves well and remains calm and quiet on his Down-stay, praise him and feed him some treats. When he seems relaxed, allow him to approach (while you loosely hold the leash) to within 3 feet of the visitor, who should avoid staring and NOT try to pet him. Ask your visitor to tell your dog to Sit, and if your dog complies, you and your visitor can praise him and toss him a treat. Then return him to his resting spot.

Now drop the leash and allow your dog to freely wander around the room. Meanwhile you and helper should talk to one another and pay little attention to the dog as you drop treats on the floor. If the dog only takes your treats and not your helper’s, slow down your treat delivery and ignore his attempts to solicit your attention.

If your dog begins to eat your helper’s treats, she/he should continue to ignore the dog. If the dog seems to be getting more comfortable with your helper, then the helper may try offering a treat from her hand without making any attempt to touch or pet the dog.

If your dog seems relaxed, call your dog back to your side and have your visitor stand up. Allow your dog to approach your standing visitor for tossed treats. If this goes well, your standing visitor may offer treats from her hand. Before your visitor turns to walk away and leave, call your dog back to your side and pick up his leash. If your dog shows any signs of arousal, put him away before escorting your visitor to the door.

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Tips for Your New Puppy

Don’t Expect Your Pup To Understand Sentences
It’s okay to babble along to your pup as you care for it, just don’t expect it to understand anything you’re saying. It will only understand the tone of your address. Dogs can learn a number of word cues (“commands”) – even hundreds of them – but they are just that, word cues. A pup can and should be taught at least a few words of human language. In English, “Sit!” and “Dinner!” are a couple that might be useful on occasion. But if you tell the dog, “Sit in your Dinner”, the meaning is lost. Dogs do not have a language center in their brains like humans do, and they cannot fathom syntax. Use one-word commands when communicating. Say the word clearly. Say it only once. And say it with importance. Reward the desired response immediately. Do not use the pup’s name when addressing it (unless the pup is at a distance). Do not repeat commands. Dogs hear even better than we do. Their “deafness” is usually not attributable to poor hearing. It is selective – they choose not to obey. Remember that if a dog does not respond to a verbal cue it should not be punished. The opposite of reward is not punishment – it is no reward.

Don’t Allow Young Children (Under 6 Years Old) To Interact With Your Pup Unsupervised
It comes as a surprise to many people to learn that children and puppies, though both cute, cannot be trusted alone together. Bad things can happen. Children are naturally curious. Often a child will do “something bad” to the pup by way of experimentation. In one case, a dog bit a child and the dog had to be euthanatized. On post-mortem it was found that the child had jammed a pencil into the dog’s ear, snapping the end off after penetrating the dog’s ear drum. If accidents like this are to be avoided, complete supervision is necessary. It’s not usually the dog that starts the trouble, it’s the child. If you can child-proof your dog, there should be no cause for concern.

Do Not Expect Love And Attention To Substitute For Good Puppy Parenting 

Young pups are so adorable that it is very tempting to always give them all of the love and attention you possible can. But it is also important to set limits of acceptable behavior. This is especially important as they go through the canine equivalent of “the terrible twos” at about 4-5 months of age. Bad behavior, like excessive or hard nipping, should be punished by immediate withdrawal of attention (following sharp exclamation of a word like “Ouch” or “No-bite”). This is how puppies communicate their likes and dislikes to each other. Spare the “Ouch” and spoil the dog!

One simple rule is to make the pup work for food and treats. “What’s work?” you ask. It’s having the pup “Sit” or “Down” in order to receive food and treats (like Grace). This will make sure that the pup always views you as its true (resource rich) provider and, therefore, leader. Problems of owner-directed aggression downstream can be all but completely addressed by this simple measure. Don’t give everything away. Insist on good puppy manners: Manners maketh the pup.

Work hard to remind yourself, whatever happens, that this is a baby you are dealing with. If you lose your cool, you will act incorrectly, your puppy will think you have gone crazy, and you will lose its respect and trust. Be a good puppy parent. Think cool.

Following these simple rules of what NOT to do can help create the dog of your dreams as opposed to a canine nightmare. The basics are the same as in child raising. Be fun, be fair, but be firm (the 3 F’s) and set limits. Children are happier when their parents are obviously at the helm, and so are dogs. Dogs need strong leaders if they are to be model canine citizens.

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