Resource guarding and still only a little puppy.
A week ago a very distressed young lady phone me in the early morning. The previous evening her Miniature Pinscher puppy, Rupert, only fifteen weeks old, had a total meltdown. He was an attacking, snarling, biting little resource guarding bundle of anger.
The vet said he had not seen anything like it, but from what examination he achieved could find nothing wrong with him. The puppy stayed with the vet overnight. The only thing anyone could think of that could have pushed Rupert over the edge was he had eaten a cigarette end (he guards or eats anything he can find).
Could nicotine have tipped him over? Could there have been something else in the cigarette?
He’s just a little puppy, not yet four months old, but in the three and a half hours I was there he never rested, let alone slept. He’d not slept for a while before I came either.
He growls or flies at anyone who comes near to him when he has something of value (to him). Taking his lead on and off is a challenge. In addition to resource guarding he’s already started barking when hearing people walking past outside.
Was his total meltdown due to a build-up of events?
It is very unusual to find a puppy of Rupert’s age to resource guard items with such determination. On close questioning I feel that his scary meltdown on that day was the result of a build-up of events – trigger stacking. Three weeks ago he began to grumble when carried down the stairs to toilet outside (he lives in a flat) so now he walks. About ten days ago he was given a squeaky pig. He was dismembering it, as puppies do. When the lady went to pick up the stuffing, he went for her. He now might growl if he was approached when lying in his bed.
I do wonder whether the start of this had anything to do with a ‘fear period’.
Things went from bad to worse. More ‘triggers’ happened including, with the hot weather, the balcony doors being left open. He could see and hear people and dogs below. This triggered furious and constant barking.
Slowly, over a short period, his stress levels will have been building up. Finally, maintenance men did their regular weekly work in the building. Where before Rupert took little notice, this time he went ballistic.
Then he ate the cigarette end. They couldn’t take it off him.
This was the day that he turned into an ‘aggressive monster’. He had a meltdown. Tiny though he is, they were afraid of him.
Despite the checks the vet did, I’m not convinced that there isn’t more to this – a medical issue of some sort. If we make little progress, I would hope the vet is willing to take blood tests, including full range of thyroid tests and values. I would also hope the vet could help us with medication to help Rupert’s mental state, something easier to achieve in the US than here in the UK it seems.
This must be a distressing state for a puppy who should still be carefree at under 16 weeks. Being on high alert results in sleep deprivation, something else affecting his stress levels.
Aggressive resource guarding behaviour gets the desired result.
Rupert has learnt that his aggressive resource guarding behaviour has the desired effect, that of driving people away and leaving him with the item. This is a dilemma. If the item is then forcibly removed or he is cornered, he then will become even more of a guarder. If it’s left, he learns that his behaviour works.
Furthermore, he will now no longer do an exchange for anything – nothing is more valuable to him than the item he has in his mouth.
I look at the basic emotion driving the behaviour and what’s in it for Rupert. Resource guarding has to involve fear of losing something or insecurity, or else why would he feel the need to guard things or his own space?
The first step has to be for Rupert to know, whenever he is approached, that the person is a ‘giver’ and never a ‘taker’. That is fundamental.
He is fed on what I consider excellent food – raw Nutriment, but I feel it’s worth trying some high quality kibble for a while. Sometimes a complete change in diet can change a dog.
The advantage of kibble over raw is that you can carry it in your pocket! Instead of being put down in a bowl, food can be used to emphasise the lady’s role as ‘giver’. Every time she has to walk towards or past Rupert she can just drop or throw food. Every time he has anything in his mouth such as a toy, she can drop him food whilst showing no interest in what he’s holding. Instead of guarding the item, afraid he’s going to be tricked into dropping it, he will soon learn he can put it down, eat the food and then pick it up again.
Two good games for dogs reluctant to let go or give.
I have two favourite games for a puppy with guarding issues:
Fetch, using two identical balls – they must be the same so the dog can’t prefer one over the other. Throw one but don’t throw the second ball until he drops the first. Throwing the second ball before the first is dropped is bribery. Throwing it afterwards is reinforcement. If he decides to run off with the ball they will ignore it and ignore Rupert. Game over and fun finished. Battersea balls are unbreakable, a funny shape for random bounce, and light.
The Tuggy game played correctly is invaluable too for teaching ‘let go’ or ‘give’. Here are two very good videos from Victoria Stilwell: Teach a Dog to ‘Take It’ and ‘Drop It’ and then Teach Your Dog Proper Tug of War.
Amongst things Rupert picks up and guards are his lead, anything dropped on the floor or left within reach, stones and rubbish when out, sticks, a leaf….his own toys. Strangely, he doesn’t guard his food bowl.
Another problem is that when aroused, Rupert may fly at the lady. She has bites up her arms. We have looked at ways to redirect his need to attack something onto wrecking a carton of recyclable rubbish with kibble dropped in it! It’s only happening because of his extremely high stress levels, of course.
The young lady is very switched on. She has already really helped Rupert with her research and patience. Had he gone to live with someone else, things could well be even worse. It is nothing to do with her. I suspect it’s primarily genetic, with maybe an element of early competing with his siblings for food and very possibly some sort of chemical imbalance in his own body.
Rupert is a project without a guaranteed outcome, but we will do our very best.
Five days have gone by. Things going in the right direction: My friend just came round who hasn’t seen Rupert in about a week and he said Rupert was the best behaved he’s ever been. No bite marks or anything. He even had a little nap whilst he was here and we were talking.
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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Rupert. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog 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 aggression of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).