Some puppies do seem to be more prone to resource guarding than others. There could be a genetic component to the behavior. It could be something to do with the relationships between a puppy and his litter mates and whether they have to compete for food and other resources.
Riley is now seven months old and, friendly and affectionate, also a seasoned ‘stealer and guarder’. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and had it been dealt with in a different way the very first time he growled things would be very different. Instead, he was scolded and punished. We now know that this can only make things worse. By using the old-fashioned dominance techniques, one is effectively throwing down the gauntlet by saying ‘I won’t let him get one over on me because I’m the Boss’. The more confrontational the humans are, the more aggressive the puppy becomes.
It started with the usual puppy stealing of things – socks in particular. He was chased and cornered and the sock forced off him – something which a great many people would do. He would then nick things and hide under the table with them, making all sorts of threatening noises. This was deeply upsetting to his owners who love him dearly and who felt that controlling him physically was the right way to bring him up to be a well-disciplined dog. The behaviour then developed to his guarding things like bits of paper or something accidentally dropped on the floor. He also guards himself – his own personal space – and may growl if touched when he doesn’t want to be touched.
Fortunately he hasn’t actually bitten to the extent of drawing blood, but it’s only a matter of time if things aren’t done very differently.
The final straw was when, under their chairs in a pub, they gave him a pig’s ear to chew. He growled loudly at anyone who came near to their great embarrassment.
Riley is the typical product of old-fashioned training ideas. Believing they are doing the best, when his behaviour is upsetting them they use some sort of ‘corrector’ – spraying something called Pet Behave or holding up a rolled newspaper. This is to stop him doing whatever it is.
We had a very enjoyable meeting looking at ways of only showing Riley what it is we do want. He was so biddable when he understood what he should be doing. Mouthing is ignored and not mouthing reinforced. Jumping up is ignored and feet on the floor is reinforced. I taught him ‘down’ in less than a minute and he was walking around the house at my heel.
I gave Riley one of his toys and he gave it back to me. Reward. I then gave him the toy back. They will continually work with ‘swapsies’. He must no longer get any opportunities to practise his growling even if it means the people walk out of the room. Certain parts of the house where he raids bins and pinches socks should be out-of-bounds for now. They won’t try to touch him when he’s peacefully asleep and they will also make their touching more valuable by sometimes withholding it when he asks for a fuss or belly rub.
Riley is a beautiful and friendly dog and I believe his humans are mightily relieved to find there is a kind and logical way to deal with his resource guarding. In essence, they must show him that they are ‘givers’ and not ‘takers’. It may take him a while to trust them.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Riley, particularly where any form of aggression is involved, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).