House of Dog Training
Written by LDU Trainers/Apprentices © 2012
Is Your Dog Possessive, Jealous, Protective, Dominant?
Resource Guarding means a dog responds aggressively to another animal or a person when they
think that something they perceive as being 'valuable' is going to be taken away from them. It could result in a fight, for example 2 dogs over a tennis ball, or it could just be a freeze, snarl, a soft growl, a turn away, or pick up and move. With a person, it could be the same, a freeze, a snarl or growl
escalating to a bite in some cases.**
Resource guarding is a natural behavior for all dogs but there are varying degrees. The wide range reaches from mild (will hoard items) to severe (will snap or bite). Typically when you hear that a dog is a resource guarder it means that the dog has progressed to growling, baring teeth, snapping or attacking when his valuables are threatened. A dog might choose to guard his resources only from other dogs and animals or from people as well. Valuables can be food, toys, bones, beds, space and even companions (owners).
2- What words do people use to describe RG behaviors??
Many people do not understand what is actually causing their dog to guard resources. Therefore, they may use words to describe the behavior that are not truly correct. Words that you may hear are: aggressive, possessive, jealous, dominant, alpha, and spoiled, among others. With dogs that guard their owners, you may hear "He's just protecting me" or "he's just very loyal." Those descriptions are especially common with owners of small dogs that guard them as a resource. Ultimately it has nothing to do with how much the dog "loves" its owner. The dog is protecting itself from losing possession of the owner, not showing how much the owner means to him.
3- Why is RG termed “resource guarding” and not jealousy, possessiveness, not sharing, dominance?
There are several different camps of behaviorist and dog training. The difference is between trainers who don't use any aversive and those who insist that "old school" techniques are the only way to get results. The latter insist on calling resource guarding a “dominance issue.” The less discussed difference between the applied behavior analysis and other approaches is that the applied behavior analysis is based on verifiable and practical measures of behavior. Rather than wasting time trying to figure out why or what the animal is thinking we concentrate on fixing it. When humans presume they know what the dog is feeling - which is impossible - we tend to assign human thoughts and emotions to their behavior. This is called anthropomorphism and can cause serious misconceptions and miscommunication between humans and pets. Therefore, it makes sense to call it what it is - "Resource Guarding" - and not something it's not.
Again, when people apply human characteristics to non-human animals, it causes a huge misunderstanding of the dog's behavior and motivations. Dogs do not have the complex feelings and emotions that humans experience. Assuming that canine behavior is driven by human emotions means that we do not understand the true motivations of the dog. Without that understanding, no training protocol will be successful.
It is a natural and instinctive behavior for dogs or other predators to guard the resources they need to survive. RG is a term derived from innate canine behavior. Other terms like "jealousy" are based on human emotions that dogs do not feel and are, therefore, not a correct description of the behavior. Other terms like "dominance" or "alpha" are based on out-dated training methods that focus on getting the dog to comply through force, and not on understanding why the dog is behaving the way he does. Also, it is too simplistic to say a dog is being "dominant" when he is guarding a bone from his owner. The dog is not punishing the owner or playing out a power struggle. He is simply guarding a resource he does not want to lose. Hence "Resource Guarding".**
**References 1.) APDT Newsletter, Nov/Dec 2002, Jean Donaldson, Assessment and Treatment of Resource Guarding. 2.) O'Heare J. Companion Animal Science Institute, Principles of Behavior, pg.4. 3.) Donaldson J. The Culture Clash (Second Edition), 2005, James & Kenneth Publishers. (p.77-85)
4- How does Resource Guarding develop??
RG is a naturally occurring behavior. Dogs, as predators, are programmed to guard the resources that are crucial to their survival. Every dog has some degree of resource guarding. However, more severe cases of resource guarding can develop because of temperament tendencies genetically predisposed to guarding, or it is a learned behavior. Resource Guarding is an expression to a perceived threat. In other words, the threat is that the dog could lose control of that resource and must protect it. This can develop at a young age in a litter of puppies where a resource, food for example, was not evenly distributed throughout all the puppies. Smaller puppies may have a harder time competing for food with larger puppies if the food is in one large bowl. Therefore they learn they must fight harder to get what they need to survive. When this behavior is not regulated by a mother or an owner, it can develop into resource guarding. The same could be said for stray dogs that have learned they must protect food and resources from other dogs in order to keep them.
Resource guarding can also be a learned behavior. This happens when a dog has a resource that is taken away improperly. For example, when a dog has a bone, growls at the owner and the owner then takes the bone away as a punishment for growling, the dog has learned that the owner is going to take the bone. Next time the growl may turn into a snap to better guard the resource. Or when the dog drops the bone and then the owner takes the bone away without rewarding the drop, the dog learns that letting the bone go will only result in losing it. Next time the dog may not drop the bone. For dogs that may already have a stronger tendency to guard their resources, these actions can develop into resource guarding.
5- Behavior Modification Protocols- Help for RG
The wrong thing to do when your dog is resource guarding is to repeatedly take the item away. The only thing this teaches your dog is that you will take the item he is guarding so next time he has to guard it better. This will increase the behavior and escalate. Never punish a dog for resource guarding. Instead listen to his warning signals and work on counter conditioning instead of punishing or driving him over threshold. The more he practices RGbehavior the worse it will get.
One thing you can do for RG is trading the guarded object for a very high value treat, and then give the guarded object back. You might have to practice first with something that isn't highly valued, so the dog figures out the game. Trade the dog whatever he is resource guarding for a treat or another toy. You are rewarding him for giving up the object with something he also enjoys. Therefore, giving up the object is positive instead of negative. He will be more willing to give up his resources if he is rewarded for it. Another protocol is teaching a "Give" or "Out" cue. It is a cue to teach the dog to drop an item and be rewarded. Once the dog has an item in his possession, it is too late to teach him not to take it. But you can teach him it is a positive thing to drop or give up the item.
6- Food Bowl Guarding
For a dog that guards his food bowl, it is important to teach him that a human approaching his food is positive. When a dog that guards the bowl is eating, let him eat in peace. If you do approach, it is to toss a treat into or near the bowl.
On non-feeding times use an empty bowl and - starting at a close distance - go to the bowl and throw in some treats. Move away and do it again, and again, etc. You will need to do it a little farther away and from many different angles, so that the dog becomes accustomed to someone approaching the bowl from different angles and feeling non-threatened, since it results in a treat.
With food bowl guarding, this will teach him that a human approaching his food bowl is a positive experience, like getting a special treat added to his meal. This is an example of classical conditioning. It is also important to provide consistent meal times and to pick up the bowl when it is not mealtime. That way food is provided by you and there is no need to defend the bowl. When you do take the bowl away, be sure to send the dog away from the bowl with a treat (throw the treat in the opposite direction) so that the experience is positive.
7- For Dogs That RG Humans.
Dogs may guard their owners against other dogs or people. This is not "protective" behavior and should not be encouraged. Instead, treat this behavior with the same protocols you would if your dog was guarding a resource such as food. Use counter conditioning to change your dog's emotional response to another dog or person approaching you. Begin with your dog sub-threshold and aim to maintain that emotional level.
If there is only one handler this protocol can be practiced by tethering the dog at a distance, where the dog is sub threshold. Have the second person approach the person who is being resource guarded, and counter condition the dog using treats, in order to change the conditioned emotional response. Your dog should learn that when another person or dog approaches and he stays calm, good things will happen. Do not push your dog over threshold by going too fast. If your dog begins to growl when another person is 3 feet away, then that person should stay further away than 3 feet. All the while your dog should be receiving high motivating treats. Your dog will soon associate treats with a person in close proximity. As your dog gets good at accepting a certain distance, you can slowly decrease the distance.
The same technique can be used for other dogs in close proximity as well. If your dog does not allow you to give attention to other dogs, you can use counter conditioning. For example, when you are petting the other dog, you should feed high motivating treats or give attention in a special way, like rub his ears. When the other dog goes away, the treats or ear rubbing stops. Soon, your dog will associate that high motivating behavior with the other dog being close by. There is no reason to guard you if he enjoys having another dog nearby.
You can also apply operant conditioning, if the dog is guarding the human from another dog. You can cue the dog to do another behavior, such as down, in the presence of the other dog. With counter conditioning, the other person/dog makes great things happen for the dog that is Resource Guarding.
It is important that all these interactions are positive. If you punish your dog for growling while another person approaches, your dog will learn to associate that punishment with the approaching person. That does not make itmenjoyable to have that person nearby. Do not push your dog over threshold either. The more he gets to practice RG behavior, the more it will happen.
If you have a mild case of RG it would be a good thing, to treat/reward good behaviors before it becomes an issue. Management and prevention (preferably as puppies) - is to reward all appropriate behaviors while a 'possible competitor' (person or animal) is present. Meaning - good things happen when 'competition' is around. For RG items, place those items out of dogs reach to prevent the dog from practicing the behavior when you’re not prepared to apply BM protocols.
9- Time-Outs for Consequences-
For safety purposes, use a short leash/drag line attached to your dogs collar, that way you can calmly grab the short leash instead of grabbing the collar and possibly getting bit.
If you have applied the above protocols and your dog is still exhibiting RG behaviors, you can use “separation” as a consequence. You want to choose a place that your dog does not willingly go as a time out location. A common place is a dark bathroom with the lights off. Time outs are meant to be short and sweet, lasting three seconds, so that the dog remembers what the consequence is for. However, the three seconds your dog is in time out must be quiet. If you place your dog into time out and he begins to bark or whine, you must wait until he is quiet for three seconds before he can come back out. It is important to be calm when you are putting your dog into time out and taking him out. Do not make a big deal about him coming out of time out; he simply gets to come out and try again.
10- Implementing Time-Outs for persistent RG:
The time out has to be within seconds of the action(s) you do not want in order to be an accurate consequence. If not your dog will not know what he/she is getting timed out for. As soon as your dog displays RG behaviors, calmly tell him "wrong" and walk him to a time out spot. Once your dog is in time out wait three full seconds. If your dog barks or scratches while counting you have to start over. When the dog has waited three seconds bring him out and do not give him attention. You do not want to leave your dog in there for long amounts of time or he will not remember why he is in there and it will not be successful.
Keep repeating this for every action(s) not wanted and eventually your dog will catch on. Stay consistent and short.
Seek Professional Help-These recommendations are standard protocols and seeking help from a professional trainer is always the best policy.
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