Imagine, how a Romanian puppy of about four months old must feel, being flown across Europe in a crate. Then, after a long drive in a car, the puppy enters an alien environment, a home.
The family, first-time dog owners, has done very well indeed with Cody who is now 18-months old. Most of the time he is affectionate, playful and friendly. He is great with people and dogs when out and off lead, so walks are enjoyable.
Near home he’s more insecure. At home he has a few problems.
They can’t give him anything of value to chew, just the kind of thing he really needs to keep him occupied and calm, because it triggers resource guarding behaviour. In the past, growling, guarding behaviour has elicited scolding.
Instead of stopping the aggression, this confrontational approach made Cody angry.
Fortunately, after a couple of times when this ended with Cody biting, they now back away.
The only way to deal with this is to change how he feels when someone approaches him while he is either eating or ‘owning’ something.
Occupying certain areas is the other problem. He lies in the narrow passage. A couple of weeks ago when the man walked past him, the dog suddenly bit his leg.
Romanian street dog – survival
It’s unsurprising that Cody, whose mother was a street dog, has guarding behaviours. I imagine that on the streets dogs quickly learn to be very possessive over any food they find. It’s a dangerous place, so it’s also not surprising that as he gets older a Romanian street puppy may instinctively protect himself and guard the space around him.
Cody likes to occupy doorways or lie in the middle of the passage. He also occupies the top of the narrow stairway from where he watches the front door. When someone comes to the house he barks intimidatingly from the top of the stairs. The teenage son can sometimes find it hard to get past him to get to his bedroom.
Change can be hard
To change Cody’s behaviour will require them to change their own behaviour as well as putting certain management in place. Change can be quite difficult for both humans and dogs. Everyone must pull together.
Cody isn’t consistent. He doesn’t exhibit these behaviours all the time. His aggressive reactions are dependent upon his mood at the time and many people are unaware of the build up of stress levels over days.
It stands to reason that something is only worth guarding if the dog believes that someone approaching is a threat. For this reason there are two main courses of action.
The first is with regard to his resource guarding, almost exclusively food of some kind. They will now constantly demonstrate to Cody that they are ‘givers’ and never takers. When he is ‘owning’ anything at all, even if it’s when he’s eating his meals, if they have to go anywhere near him they will drop something even better and keep moving. No hovering.
Sprinkling some of his meals all over the grass will give him great mental enrichment without any guarding.
The other course of action is with regard to his ‘occupying’ the top of the stairs, blocking a doorway or the passage. The best way around this is to ask him to move. This shouldn’t be at all in the manner of a ‘command’. It’s not about being boss.
They will teach him ‘Cody Come’ in a bright and kind voice and always reward him. They will place little pots of food around the house.
They should feed him well away from the thoroughfare where people might walk past. At the moment his bowl is by the back door.
I also strongly advise that they gate the stairs. If they want him upstairs, it should be on invitation only.
The more aroused and excitable or scared Cody has been over the previous day or two, the more likely the incidents are to occur. He can go days with no aggressive reactions at all. He will be a lot more tolerant if his stress/arousal levels are kept as low as possible and a lot more willing if they use reward and positive reinforcement.
Dog-to-dog play is good as two dogs understand one another and it should be equal – they take turns. Hands-on play rough with a human is inadvisable, particularly a game they play called ‘bitey-bitey’ that encourages mouthing and teeth. Done with the best of intentions, the human is unlikely to get it right and unless a dog is very easy-going it upsets the balance in their relationship.
The person who plays this game is mostly the same person Cody bites in anger.
Healthy and enriching activities will now help to calm their Romanian rescue without winding him up.
Later I will go back and show them how to teach Cody to come to an outstretched hand. This will be a great way to remove him from a doorway or blocking a passage.