Rules, Structure and the Right Approach Stop a Dog From His Resource Guarding

By: David Codr

Published Date: November 24, 2016


Koda is a two-year-old Boxer / Shar Pei / German Shepherd mix who lives in Nebraska with Cooper, a five-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback / Labrador mix. Their guardians set up a dog behavior training session with me to address Koda’s occasional attacks on Cooper (although the rest of the time they hang out and play) as well as a few other issues the older dog has; dog aggression and some resource guarding.

The dogs also live with an elderly Toy Poodle named Zeus, but aside from coming to see who was at the door, Zeus parked himself up on the couch and left the rest of us to deal with Koda and Cooper without him.

Whenever I work with a client who has multiple dogs, I always like to start out by sitting down and discussing the dog’s day to day routine. This gives me a chance to see how the humans and dogs interact as well as learn what kind of rules and structure are in place.

Being pack animals, dogs try to determine the social and leadership structure by probing to determine boundaries and limits. When a dog doesn’t have many, its easy for them to get the impression that they have the same authority as their humans.

On the other hand, humans who consistently enforce rules with the proper timing and response generally have dogs that are well mannered, obedient and hold a respect for the humans as authority figures. Instead of trying to handle things on their own, they rely on the humans to keep the peace.

I suggested some rules and structure to help the humans start to take on the leadership position in the dog’s eyes. I also went over some non verbal communication cues they can use to disagree with the dogs any time they break the rules or do something not allowed.

One of the problems was the dog’s failure to respect personal space. Koca liked to camp out directly under his human’s feet in the confined space between the table and couch. Because this gave him the ability to somewhat block Cooper from getting closer to the humans when Koda was there and because Koda pushed and shoved his way in, I recommended the the family stop letting the dogs in that area without permission.

One of the reasons Koda liked to camp out there is the humans automatically started to pet either dog who entered that area. Because dogs interpret attention and affection as a result of whatever they happen to be doing at the time, the humans were training the dogs to invade their space.

To help the humans stop rewarding the dogs for engaging in unwanted behaviors, I shared my Petting with a Purpose method with them.

It will be a challenge for all the members of the family to start petting with a purpose. But if everyone can get on board, this small piece of structure will go a long ways towards helping Koda stop trying to run the show and teach Cooper he need to ask for attention, not demand it.

Next we turned our attention towards Koda’s resource guarding. This is a serious issue and is a common source of dog bites; especially when a human meets the dog’s aggression with force.

Koda had a few Resource Guarding triggers; food, his kennel, some toys and occasionally people. The family had made changes to accommodate Koda’s issues, but there were merely band aids, not a fix to the problem.

A few years ago I ran across the definitive book on the subject and instructions on how to stop resource guarding in dogs, Mine! by Jean Donaldson.

This book is easy to read and includes detailed step by step approach to reducing then eliminating resource guarding in dogs. The family’s daughter had read the ebook version a few years ago and found some success with some of Koda’s issues.

I recommended that the daughter re-read the book and share it with her parents. Once everyone has read it, I recommended that they print out the step by step roadmaps to treating Koda’s Resource Guarding and start putting it into practice.

Jean’s book details how to gradually reduce a dog’s perception that a human is trying to take something from it when they approach. A very simplified example of this is to approach a dog who is a food Resource Guarder when it is eating and add some higher value food to the bowl when they dog is half way through.

By improving, and not taking (at least at first), the item the dog is guarding, his family will be able to help Koda stop thinking he needs to protect his food, location, kennel, toy, people, etc.

Next I showed the family how they can teach their dogs to Focus on command. We started out with Koda who picked up on the exercise right away. Cooper was a little bit more challenging as he is s till a puppy with a short attention span.

After practicing it with him a few times myself, I had one of the family members take a turn with him to make sure she was getting the same result.

The Focus is a great exercise that the family members can use to help redirect the dog’s attention. If they see Koda starting to move slowly or give other indications he is feeling uncomfortable, calling him over to practice the Focus will be a great way to stop him from getting into trouble before he actually does.

Since the dogs responded so well to the Focus exercise, I recommended that they utilize Youtube to find some simple tricks and commands to teach their dogs like the stay.

Learning new tricks and commands will help the dogs in multiple ways; see the humans as being leaders as they are helping them learn and grow, build up the dog’s self esteem and confidence, give the family ways to redirect the dogs and develop more control and discipline.

By the end of the session, the dogs were pooped. But they were no longer trying o shove their way between the couch and table, were focusing on command and responding to the new communication methods.

When we fed the dogs and Koda didnt act aggressively or show any food resource guarding, the family was surprised. But this is a great example of how dogs respond to clear leadership. I didnt punish the dogs or attempt to challenge or dominate them. I simply communicated what I did and don’t want in a way they understood and respected.

By consistently enforcing the new rules, pet their dogs with a purpose, use the new escalating consequences and follow the steps to eliminating Resource Guarding outlined in Jean’s book, the dogs unwanted problems and behaviors should quickly be only a memory.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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