Resource Guarding Puppy. Meltdown

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.

resource guarding puppyThe 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.

Yawning

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).

Their Dog Suddenly Bites Them

Three-year-old Jack Russell Monty has bitten three family members. Each time it was so sudden and quick they were left stunned. This is a rare case where it really did seem to be without warning. It is possible that gradual build-up of stress to the point where he exploded was a warning of sorts if they had known what to look for.

Having a dog that may suddenly bite means you can no longer relax. They are living on a knife-edge.

The first bite was about two months ago when he was about to go out for a walk. The lady went to the back door with Monty who sat as usual. She bent down to attach his lead to his collar.

Monty went for her.

He was hanging from her hand as the lady screamed for help. The injury was so severe that the hospital feared she may need plastic surgery.

A month ago it was the gentleman’s turn to get bitten. As with the lady, he bent to pop his lead on to go for a walk – a slip lead now. The man hadn’t yet put his shoes on unfortunately. Monty snarled and attacked first one foot and then the other. There was a lot of blood.

Since then he has had to wear the slip lead constantly because nobody dares go near enough to take it off him. Unfortunately where the tag is stops it from hanging loose.

Monty has gone for the man’s feet since, but sensibly he now always wears his shoes in the house. The family adore the little dog they have had since a puppy and the poor man is deeply upset. Since that time Monty attacked his feet, he growls each time he moves.

Beyond the expected screaming out and turmoil after the bites, Monty hasn’t been punished. They aren’t angry, they are hurt and terrified that he may end up having to be put to sleep. Understandably they don’t know what to do.

The first more minor incident was about six months ago. Before that he was fine. Monty had nipped or bitten two or three other people on the hand – people who tried to pet him thinking, wrongly, that his jumping up at them was friendly.

Because of the sudden escalation a couple of months ago we need to look at what may have changed in his life at that time. Had anything happened? it’s important to rule out a medical cause. They did take Monty to the vet and he had to be sedated before they could touch him, but no thorough examination was done unfortunately. The vet believes it is behavioural while I feel that extensive bloods and X-rays should always be taken to rule out a medical cause for such a sudden and major decline in behaviour.

As Monty paced around the room, trying to get people to throw balls (unsuccessfully for a change), to watch him it was hard to believe the damage this little dog had done – though I did stay sitting and kept my hands to myself!

Jack Russell on kitchen tableFrom the behaviour angle, I feel there are two things they need to concentrate on. One is to lower Monty’s stress levels as much as possible in every way they can. He is constantly so hyped up that he’s like a volcano ready to erupt and they feed this with constant ball play. There are four adults in the family and someone is at home most of the time – throwing his balls for him.

When they are out, he may be on the kitchen table where he gets a good view out of the window, waiting for things to bark at. They will make this impossible now.

He only settles later in the evening.

The second is that he, in effect, has four human slaves. He isn’t fed dog food but pandered to. There is nothing of any value they could use for rewarding him as he gets it anyway — in abundance. In fact he turns his nose up at much of it, knowing they will fall over backwards to add more or create more variety.

So, my second assignment is for them to toughen up around food. For ‘meals’ they can feed him the best quality dog food (no additives or e-numbers or cheap fillers, all of which can effect behaviour). The ‘good stuff’ like chicken and liver can be cut up very small and fed constantly to him during the day – but only for doing things they ask him to do or for rewarding him when he chooses to do something they like – like lying down instead of pacing or hunting for hidden balls still not removed.

If he wants to be let out, instead of just opening the door they can ask him to sit, then reward him and then let him out. They can regularly call him to them and reward him for coming. They can do some of the training tricks he learnt when younger, and reward him. They can call him away when he’s barking at something, and reward him.

All balls should be lifted. They can then initiate short sessions with the ball, when they feel like it, and then they put the ball away again – giving Monty food when they do so.

If he has to start to work for the special food, he will start to value it – and more importantly, he should start to value his humans and their wishes too.

I feel that only then should they try to get that lead off him (he’s perfectly happy to trail it about by the look of it). They need to have formed a rather different relationship with him. They then will need to take it in very small stages – using the special food of course. If they take him for a walk, they can attach a second lead to the handle of the slip lead, keeping well away from his head – using food. They can keep well away from the door and scene of bites when they do so – sitting in the kitchen maybe. They can call him, once, and if he doesn’t come he misses the walk or they can try again later.

If he wants things of them, he will need to put in a little bit of effort himself! I feel it is very important for this little dog that they get the upper hand. He isn’t enjoying life now and nor are his very upset humans. Doing things for them and achieving success, earning praise and food, will make little Monty a lot happier.

I am worried that there is a medical issue behind it all, particularly as the change in behaviour came on so suddenly, and I shall be writing a report for the vet. My own belief is that some of it has a behaviour aspect – many dogs, however unwell or in pain, would not be a dog that suddenly bites. Monty just possibly could be pushed over the edge due to pain or even suffer from something like hypothyroidism. Not being a vet, I don’t know enough about this.

"This is our lovely dog relaxing by the fire, thanks to you"

“This is our lovely dog relaxing by the fire, no lead on, thanks to you”

A month later, to quote from a couple of emails: “TODAY I have taken the slip rope off! Yahoo I thought he was going to wear it for the rest off his life….when I got home after his walk I just get hold of the lead and pulled gently over his head and he was fine. Then he rolled around everywhere in excitement and rubbing his neck. Whenever we go out and come back we’ve never had any nasty feelings from him he’s always happy and upbeat. He was even excited to see (my husband) yesterday who had been away all week”.
It could also be something to do with the painkillers the vet (who can’t get near him) prescribed at my request in order to see whether pain could be involved. I suspect there may be something around his neck area that has been making him ultra sensitive and reactive.
At the end of a month: “I wanted to let you know that everything is still going well with our little Monty, he even sat on my husband’s lap yesterday! We can’t thank you enough for the advise on those small but very relevant changes that have made such a big difference.
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 Ralph. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).