Dear Doggie Deeva,
One of my rescues is wonderful with other dogs except when food or toys are involved. I had him out yesterday, we walked into a doggie store that had a selection of bones/rawhides. He was sniffing, his canine friend came over and he quicking esculated due to the resource. He was adopted briefly but returned because he and the other dog got in a fight over a treat on the floor. So my question is other than reinforcing good interactions and avoiding and interactions around food and toys, is there any exercises you can do for resource guarding of dog on dog. He doesn’t have any guarding with people. It really sucks because in general he’s very good with other dogs but gets in those frenzies around anything of value. I’m really starting to search for a home with no other dogs, just to avoid any problems.
A Rescue Dog Mom
Dear Rescue Mom,
I’m sorry to hear that your doggie blew his first chance at finding a forever home. Resource guarding amongst dogs can be so scary, so I totally understand why this is so concerning to you. Firstly, understand that resource guarding (protecting food/bones) is a normal canine behavior. The dogs honestly think that it’s “life or death” and feel it’s necessary to defend that food item. They can’t reason like we can, which is what makes resource guarding dogs even more frustrating to deal with because we wish we could just explain to them “there’s enough for everyone! Relax!” Through early socialization we are able to teach young puppies that resources are plentiful, and that we are the provider of all resources and that aggressive behavior around food does not benefit them. Yet, try convincing an adult dog that after he has had the opportunity to practice aggressive behavior with food before you acquired him. Right now he knows that if he becomes aggressive he gets to keep his food (or so he thinks). So, just like in healing food aggression related to humans we have to be able to set up the dogs in a way that they remain safe but we can slowly start a CC&DS (counter conditioning & desensitization) protocol to fix the food aggression issue.
Unlike training dogs who are food aggressive towards humans, we have to take into consideration the stress level of the other dog who will participate in the training sessions. It’s really important that we never allow the other dog to become a target or victim of the other dog’s aggression. With that in mind, you need to familiarize yourself with canine body language so that should you notice your helper dog is becoming stressed you can immediately end the exercise and remove the helper dog. Below is a free download available on Dr. Sophia Yin’s website. It’s my favorite pictorial of fearful canine body language.
I also suggest your picking up a copy of Jean Donald’s “Mine,” a practical guide to resource guarding in dogs. It’s a fantastic resource for any dog owner who has a dog that resource guards, and it’s those protocols that me and my trainers typically follow when we’re working with resource guarding dogs.
Here’s what I would do to get your dog started on a CC&DS protocol:
1. Set up a training area where you can securely tether the guarding dog (GD). I recommend using a harness during the training so that if the guarding dog lunges forward at any point we aren’t creating any unnecessary stress or strain on his neck.
2. Recruit a volunteer to handle a helper dog (HD). The HD should be well trained and free of any aggression. It’s recommended that your HD be able to do a very reliable “watch me” behavior so that for the duration of the exercise you can ask that dog to stay focused on it’s handler. This is important because we are trying to get the GD to get comfortable around the HD, and if the HD is constantly looking at or paying attention to the GD this will again cause stress during the early part of our CC&DS protocol.
3. Prepare a treat pouch with high value treats such as cheese or meat. We have to find a food item that you GD will desire as much if not more than the rawhide bone or toy that he would typically guard.
4. Get your clicker ready!
5. With your GD securely tethered provide him a rawhide/toy/bone (whatever he will guard), then stand out of reach and off to the side a little bit with your treat pouch. Once the GD gets settled and is into chewing or playing with the item, instruct your HD and helper handler to begin approaching. You will need to determine at what point the GD becomes uncomfortable so that you can make sure your HD team always from that point forward stops short of that threshold. Our entire goal with any behavior modification plan is to keep our GD under threshold so that we never get a reaction. Any reaction we get is a failure on our part because a) we rushed the protocol b) we aren’t clearly reading canine body language c) we made the exercise too difficult and stressful for our GD to succeed.
6. Initially you want to click and treat every time your GD notices the HD coming towards him and his bone/food/toy. You will click anytime you see the GD glances up or “notices” the HD. Immediately when you click you need to throw a high value food item to your GD. We are teaching the dog that everytime another dog approaches good things happen. When another dog goes away, good things stop happening (no more tasty bits of high value food).
7. Overtime, you will be able to decrease the distance between the dogs –bringing the HD closer and closer to your GD. This is not a process you can rush, and again…. decreasing the distance is determined by how comfortable your GD has been so far in the exercise. I would advise that you work for several sessions at the same comfortable level before ever attempting to make the criteria harder for the GD.
Outlined above is a CC exercise. Now, for the DS part…..
Set up an additional tether at a comfortable distance from your GD where you can secure the HD (this can be the same dog or even better different dogs throughout the training). I would advise that both dogs spend time at a safe distance apart enjoying bones together. This can also be accomplished through the use of crates. We want to give each dog their own comfortable space where they can chew bones, without interruptions, yet in the presence of the other dog. Over time, you may be able to move the crates/dogs closer together.
Remember: resource guarding is a TRUST issue. Not a dominance issue. Guarding is a natural behavior, and it is only through slow and methodical science based animal training that we can change a dog’s emotional perception of how he should interact with us and other dogs regarding high value food items.
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