Guards his food bowl. Resource guarding items.

Hunter guards his food and he guards his food bowl.

(Too often when someone calls me about a problem with their Cocker Spaniel, it’s to do with resource guarding).

guards his food bowlThe thirteen-month-old Working Cocker’s resource guarding problems are almost certainly genetic, possibly made worse by all the sibling puppies competing over the same bowl of food (I’m only guessing).

At nine weeks old he was growling at anyone who came too close while he ate. The lady worked at this and all was okay for a while.

Over the past few weeks Hunter’s resource guarding problems have been getting worse.

She reached down to retrieve something from him…

Continue reading…

Alarm Barking. They Worry he May Bite

Barney barks with alarm at any sound he hears that could mean someone is approaching the house. It can be a car or footsteps on the gravel.

If outside in the garden, he barks with alarm as someone he doesn’t know approaches the gate. As deliveries or the postman let themselves into the garden, he may sound more fierce.

They are worried he may one day bite.

Continue reading…

Romanian Rescue Puppy. Guards Resources. Occupies Areas

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.

Romanian street puppyThe 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. Continue reading…

‘No Touching’. Breaking the Behaviour Pattern of Biting.

‘No touching’ for a period of time is the way to go now.

no touching the dog is the way to goIn all respects apart from the biting, Cocker Spaniel Lupo is wonderful. The young couple have worked really hard and most of the time he’s soft and affectionate. They have had help before and have conscientiously done their best. This hasn’t stopped both of them being bitten many times. Continue reading…

Grumpy When Stressed. Big Changes. Adjustment.

Trigger has become increasingly grumpy over the past three months. He growls more readily than he used to and has now bitten a couple of times.Grumpy when stressed

They took him to the vet for a thorough check to make sure his change in behaviour wasn’t due to anything physical, and he has a clear bill of health.

Trigger and Biscuit are beautiful Dachshunds, lovely friendly little dogs, Biscuit age three and Trigger six months older. The young couple, conscientious owners, give them the best they can in terms of food, love and care.

Life has changed dramatically

The problems they are having now where Trigger and the resource guarding in particular is concerned will have their seeds in his genetics. Although previously lurking, the behaviour surfaces when he’s under stress. Continue reading…

Attacks the Man. Resource Guarding. Bites.

Pomeranian attacks the manSadie attacks the man. It sometimes looks like she attacks out of the blue. At other times I swear the little dog, a 10-month-old Pomeranian, sets him up!

She mainly targets him, though sometimes the lady too.

The little dog shares their bed and attacks them when they try to get in. She will do the same if one of them has to get up during the night.

She attacks them when they get ready to go out. Sadie will go for the man’s feet and hands even if he’s putting his shoes on to take her out for a walk.

Worst of all is her behaviour around resources.

They leave her food down all the time. She will take a piece of her dry food and jump with it onto the sofa, next to the man. Then, there is only one way of describing it, she taunts him with it! If he moves, she attacks him.

She also treats the lady as a resource and attacks him if he so much as leans towards her.

The poor man has bite marks over his hands and arms. It’s fortunate she not a bigger dog. They’ve had several dogs before, but never one like this. Continue reading…

Growling Warning Ignored. Springer Spaniel Bit Man’s Face

Jonny is a gorgeous, friendly dog – looking and behaving a lot younger than his supposed ten years. The elderly couple who had him previously could no longer keep him.

He has a lovely home now with activity and enrichment.

His two problems are around guarding, growling warning and chasing shadows – or just charging about chasing nothing.

Continue reading…

Dog Bite. No Warning. Re-homed Dachshund

dog bite with no warning

Millie

I wonder who would ever say that a dog bite could have been a good thing! This time it may have been so.

The elderly couple have had two-year-old Millie for just a couple of weeks. They wanted company for Wirehaired Pip, age four; the two dogs get on famously.

Very rarely would a dog bite with no warning at all. Usually there will be a subtle signal at least – if you know what you are looking for. Not so with Dachshund Millie.

This is what happened.

They had her in another room with Pip until I had settled at the kitchen table.

The dogs were let out

Pip

Millie made no noise. She rushed into the kitchen. Without even stopping to look or sniff who I was, she flew up at my arm and bit me.  Because the elderly couple couldn’t catch her quickly enough, she attempted another couple of quick bites to my legs.

I always wear tough clothes just in case, so my legs were protected. It’s too hot however to wear a thick top. Just a bruise and a nick on my upper arm. Entirely my own fault because I was there on account of Millie having bitten the daughter who had walked in the door. The lady had been standing, looking down at the new rescue dog.

That won’t have been a dog bite without any warning – there would have been signs if you knew what to look for.

Usually if a person is sitting and already in the room and ignoring the dog, it’s a lot easier on the dog. I took what I thought was a calculated but very low risk.

A dog bite a good thing?

In a way it’s a good thing it happened! Someone else would undoubtedly very soon have been bitten who probably wouldn’t know how to react. It could have been the grandson. Now at least we know exactly what were are dealing with.

She now sat on the lady’s lap, lead on and her harness held tightly. She reacted aggressively when I moved and would certainly have bitten me again if she could. Meanwhile the lady was trying to pacify her which I feel could be perceived by Millie as anxious rather than calming. She would be transmitting her own feelings to the dog.

I’m pretty sure Millie is being increasingly protective and territorial. Possibly this is partly genetic – maybe her mother or father had been the same. Apparently she had previously lived in the middle of a confrontational relationship that had broken down and there may have been some violence.

I took refuge on the kitchen table

That was a first! They had shut Millie out of the room for a while with something to chew and wanted to let her back in. They had removed the lead.

Not quite sure that she wouldn’t wriggle through the gap in the door before they could catch her and fly at me again, I took refuge on the table!

Insecurity

Becoming increasingly protective suggests fear of losing something. Unsurprising, as in her short life she’s had four living situations already. She has lived with the original couple before they split, then with the lady alone, then in rescue and now with my clients.

She’s a lot more protective of the lady than the man as a little experiment demonstrated. He took the dog and I moved about and she didn’t react at all.

It looks very likely that with each day she’s with them this guarding and protecting will intensify, unwittingly encouraged by the lady. Instead of encouraging dependence, they should consciously break some of the ties that are growing. She won’t let the lady out of her sight, for instance. Everything possible needs to be done now, before any more time goes by, to stop her increasingly feeling she must guard her new humans. The same applies for her new territory.

A muzzle and a gate

There is little they can do about the actual biting itself, apart from management. They will physically prevent anyone receiving a dog bite by muzzling her. This they will introduce gradually. They will also put a gate in the kitchen doorway. This way anyone coming into their house will be safe.

Any biting, particularly a dog bite without time to see any warning, needs to be dealt with at source. We need to deal with the state of mind that causes her to do it. She was certainly not scared of me. She had very confident body language.

The outcome

They still don’t really know what they have got with Millie. Things tend to surface over a period of weeks as the new dog settles in.

The very worst scenario is that she will continue to be affectionate with the couple in her lovely new home and a great playmate for Pip. When people including family and grandchild are about she is either muzzled or behind a gate. She would be muzzled when out also.

The best scenario is that, with work on their part, she can let people into their house. That they could walk past people when out – though they may not be able to invade her space.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. it’s obvious professional help is needed in a case like this of a dog bite with no warning. Click here for help.

Guarding Food. Guarding Resources.

“We must show the dog who’s boss”.

Rex guards his food.

Guarding food and resources can be a contentious issue where human response is concerned.

Many conscientious dog owners, doing what they believe is best, follow dangerous, outdated notions.

These techniques can involve, right from the start as routine training, interfering with a puppy’s food while he’s eating and forcing objects out of his mouth. An easy-going puppy may simply tolerate it. Another may not. Instead of making the puppy back away from something he values, it can teach him to run off with the item and then, cornered, defend both the item and himself. I’ve seen this many times.

How might we ourselves react if someone tried to take bits of food off our plate or mugged us for something we had picked up?

There is that infamous clip of Cesar Millan ‘dominating’ a Labrador guarding food and his bowl. Guess what happened? Yes, the poor dog ultimately had no choice other than to bite after all his warning signals had been ignored. As a result of the uproar about this, he was interviewed by Alan Titchmarsh which is interesting to watch.

Guarding food when someone is closeSomehow this ‘being the Alpha’ with our dog thing had became popular culture, but it’s been totally debunked over recent years. Not only was it based on false assumptions regarding wolf packs (and domestic dogs aren’t wild wolves), but that using force is the only way to create an obedient dog.

Even this word ‘obedience’ suggests dominance and forced compliance.

Just one problem with this approach to resource guarding is that a strong-minded and confident dog is likely to stand up for himself – eventually. Some dogs genetically are more wired to guard.

If a ‘dominated’ dog backs off due to being overpowered by a particular human, what happens when someone else tries it?

“Why should I want your food anyway”?

How much better and simpler in every way it is to teach the dog that you’re no threat to his food; if nobody wants his food, what’s the point of guarding food after all?

Giant Schnauzer Rex is a very intelligent and energetic adolescent dog. He’s on the go most of the time when people are about, back and forth looking for trouble. This includes nicking anything he can that may be of value to his humans. It triggers a chain of reactions.

He’s probably under-stimulated where appropriate enrichment is concerned, so he orchestrates his own action.

It’s only natural for us to try to control over-excited and aroused behaviour by trying to stop it. Unfortunately scolding and warnings, Uh-Uh and NO, introduce conflict and confrontation. Even conflict can be rewarding and reinforcing in a way (else why do humans enjoy certain sports so much?).

Rex’ owners will now be on the lookout for every little good or desired behaviour to reinforce instead.

It’s proven beyond doubt that removing reinforcement from unwanted behaviours and adding reinforcement to behaviours we DO want leads to success.

Interfering with Rex’ food while he’s eating.

Using the ‘interfering with his food’ technique seemed to work when Rex was a young puppy. Unfortunately, guarding and growling re-appeared big time when he started to be fed something that was, to him, of much higher value.

Instead of leaving him to eat in peace, various suggestions had been given including hand-feeding him, touching him while he was eating and taking his bowl away. Instead of feeding him somewhere out of the way, the bowl is deliberately put where people regularly have to pass by him.

He freezes. He growls. They reprimand him. This can only go in one direction.

He simply needs to know that nobody is interested in his food anymore. He will be fed somewhere out of the way.

After some weeks of this they may from time to time walk past him at a distance, not looking at him, and just chuck in the direction of his bowl something particularly tasty – maybe a leftover from their own meat dinner. The food must be something of higher value to him than his own food. They shouldn’t hover or speak to him.

‘I happen to be passing anyway so here’s something nice’.

Over time they can get a little closer. If he growls, they have got too close or maybe stood still, and will need to leave it for a few days and do it from further away the next time. Any approaching person will deliver something better than what he has.

This really is in case of emergency should later someone, without thinking, get too close to him. They should only do this from time to time – a random and casual thing.

Back in the day people would have said, ‘Leave the dog alone while he’s eating’. We expect a lot from our dogs today.

We may need to do some serious, systematic work on general resource guarding.

‘Operation Calm’ is the first priority.

Rex’ high arousal levels and restlessness make work on his guarding food and other items more difficult.

This is a huge challenge because it’s hard for us humans, like old dogs, to learn new tricks. It also means that Rex will initially become very frustrated when his usual attention-seeking tactics no longer work. He will try harder. They will hold their nerve and add as much appropriate enrichment to his life as possible, activities that don’t depend upon their ‘fielding’ the behaviour he throws at them but instead are initiated by themselves.

I suggest very regular short bursts of activity including mental enrichment, hunting, foraging and sniffing, particularly in the evenings when they sit down and he’s the most trouble. He then won’t need to be pestering for attention.

Guarding food becomes unnecessary.

If he feels it’s not under threat, Rex won’t need to be guarding food. If he has plenty of attention offered, he won’t need so desperately to indulge in the attention-seeking ploys that he knows get the most reaction.

Getting Rex calmer involves most aspects of his life and will be a gradual thing.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rex because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where any aggression is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Repetitive Behaviour. Working Dog. No Job.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood from the trees. Oscar is a dog, like many of our dogs, living in a world that he’s not been bred for. The couple do all they know to give him a good life, particularly by way of long daily walks, but it’s not enough unfortunately.

Oscar resorts to a ritual of repetitive behaviour.

The way to improve his life involves lots of changes. They want a family pet that is affectionate, reliable, companionable and to be trusted around children. Oscar’s primary needs are different.

There are so many things to deal with from his diet through to feeding his clever brain. Each little change links to the next so it is impossible to simplify things and extract just two or three things for them to concentrate on. It’s complicated.

repetitive behaviour

Oscar getting no reaction during his ritual

Oscar is a beautiful Border Collie, age five. They have had him since he was a year old and they were already his third home.

He is extremely easily agitated and aroused. Things that wire him up include noises outside, animals and sounds on TV, bangs and young children.

He tries to bite when they brush his long hair. He paws persistently and painfully for attention – which he always eventually gets in some form. When the phone rings he goes mental. These are just a few of the daily challenges the retired couple face with Oscar.

Staring the dog down

Unfortunately, the man believed in advice that dominating him by staring him down would make him respect them and change his behaviour. This, to my mind, will have made things worse and actually caused him to bite those few times. He has only gone for people who have challenged him like this – the man, their son and another man they met when out.

The start of the sequence – staring and licking his lips

I saw how arousal affects Oscar and causes his repetitive behaviour during the three hours I was there. People talking or his simply being ignored triggers the start of a ritual.

He runs to the window and starts to stare like he’s seen a fly to chase – he’s an obsessive fly-chaser. He then starts barking and scratching at the door. This is the start of a repetitive behaviour sequence. It results in the man getting up and letting him out – every time.

However, it’s not as simple as just letting him out. He is told ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ before the door is opened otherwise he will jump at the man, barking.

Once out, Oscar’s ritual involves running exactly the same circuit of the small garden, across a little path and then back to the door again. The man then gets up again and lets him in. This earns a ‘Good Boy’.

By the third time of exactly the same sequence in a short time it was obvious Oscar couldn’t possibly need to toilet again. I could see this was a repetitive behaviour – a ritual that probably gives him some control over his own life and over those around him.

Breaking the cycle

I asked the man not to get up. Let’s see what happens.

This triggered lots of frustrated door scraping and loud barking and we braved it. Oscar stopped briefly. Immediately I quietly said ‘Good’ and dropped a tiny bit of food. He went back to scratching and barking and I repeated this process many times. Eventually he walked away from the window.

‘Good’, then food.

A short break to lie down. ‘Good’.

He then went and lay down. ‘Good’ and more food. Any more chatting to him would simply arouse him again.

A few peaceful minutes would go by then Oscar would be back to the start of the routine of repetitive behaviour again, scratching the window and barking. The man, on automatic, started to get up. I stopped him.

This happens repeatedly when they are sitting down in the evening, punctuated by barking at TV and pawing for attention.

His very failure to get the man to engage in his routine of repetitive behaviour was now frustrating in itself.

Understandably, when he is peaceful they breathe a sigh of relief. Let sleeping dogs lie!

Oscar is generating all his action by pestering and getting no reinforcement or action in return for being calm and non-demanding. This needs to be reversed.

Clever brain

I gave them a list of suggestions of things to exercise Oscar’s clever brain and enriching activities that include scenting, sniffing, hunting and so on. I shall go back and do clicker work. He will love the problem-solving.

Oscar has long walks but this isn’t enough – in fact, when he returns he is sometimes more aroused and demanding than when he left. This indicates that even the walks should be done a bit differently.

The first challenge is to bring his stress levels down as low as possible. Only then will they make significant headway. Robbed of his rituals of repetitive behaviour, he needs other things added to his life to bring him enrichment and action.

Unfortunate incident involving a child

With lower general stress levels, Oscar should be better able to cope with the things that scare or intimidate him like staring men and little children. Very unfortunately a child came from behind him and hit him with a stick when he was lying beside them in an outdoor cafe. Before this he had no problem with children. Unless and until they manage to change how he feels around them – yet more work for them to do – he should be muzzled when kids are about just in case. The law never takes the side of the dog even if he’s provoked.

There is a lot to deal with. Oscar, born on a farm in Wales and now living with a retired couple in a bungalow, is bred for a different kind of life. They are very committed to doing the best they can for him. It’s not by chance that Border Collies are the dog of choice for trainers who work hard with their dogs and get them to do amazing things.

Here’s a strange thing. After a couple of weeks in kennels when they go away he is a lot more relaxed. It does him good. Is it because the rituals of repetitive behaviour that he himself creates to make ‘things happen’ in themselves stress him? Is it because the usual triggers such as TV and telephones won’t be there? In the kennels he has an enforced break.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Oscar and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fearfulness or aggression is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)