Running Off With Things and Guarding Them

Guarding behaviour is unecessaryThey had been told her guarding behaviour couldn’t be fixed which is pretty unbelievable really. They were told nothing would stop her picking up and guarding anything that was lying around.

The two main problems with beautiful and mostly loving Cockerpoo Nell are that she will steal things, run off with them and become aggressive when they try to take them from her. Also, she has bitten when she didn’t want to be touched.

The two things are related. Nell can feel uncomfortable or threatened when approached directly.

Things like this aren’t usually in isolation so there are one or two other things to be resolved also. I find when eventually each smaller thing is addressed the whole picture becomes clear and everything starts to fall into place.

‘Consequence drives behaviour’.

Nell does things because they work for her in some way.

On each occasion when she has snapped when touched, her space has been invaded. Biting makes the person back away. Bingo.

The guarding is much the same thing. To retrieve the item, her space is invaded. It scares her. It’s weird how dogs set themselves up to be scared like this, knowing what the consequence will be.

On my way home from their house yesterday I was listening to the radio. A young man who had been in prison several times being interviewed. He was talking about the adrenaline rush of the chase if police or householder were after him like it gave him a fix.

Perhaps this is how it is for the dog. She is creating her own excitement and danger.

It’s likely that the working breed in her isn’t getting sufficient fulfillment and she is giving herself an adrenalin rush.

The humans totally have it in their power to stop the behaviour from happening by how they react. They can also give her other activities that will provide her with the kind of stimulation she needs. This isn’t hours of exercise or manic ball play either. She needs to use her clever brain and her hunting and sniffing instincts. She’s a mix of Cocker Spaniel and Poodle after all!

What makes this relatively easy for Nell’s humans is that when she takes something she rarely damages it. It’s hard to know why they bother to go after it, setting her up to growl and guard, thus feeding her fix for excitement and fear.

What they have done for the three years of her life in reaction to her nicking things and guarding them clearly isn’t working or she wouldn’t be doing it anymore.

From now on I advise they totally ignore all guarding.

They will look away or walk out of the room. they will only retrieve the item when Nell isn’t about. What can she get out of it then?

The person who advised them before said it could never be fixed! Nonsense.

With the brain games they can teach her exchange and ‘give’. They will use more food as payment and reward so she is motivated and engaged.

An reaction when being suddenly touched can be solved similarly. She clearly doesn’t like her space invaded, not only if it’s to take something off her but also to take a thorn out of her fur or if she is patted in passing when she is resting.

Again, the humans need to do things differently. Nell’s reaction, growling and snapping, makes the person go away. It works! I suggest for a few weeks none of the family goes into her personal space at all. She lives in a bubble that mustn’t be burst.

If they want to touch her, they sit down a couple of feet away and call her. If she doesn’t want it, so be it. I guarantee she will start putting herself out a bit more for her humans and in time will be a lot more easygoing about it.

‘Trigger stacking’ again.

It’s another case of trigger stacking – where stressors build up and it erupts elsewhere. In Nell’s case with occasional reactivity to other dogs on walks for instance.

They may have been told that nothing can be done about the guarding behaviour but that is ridiculous. It’s not extreme and the solution is simple really. It’s to do the very opposite to what they have done in the past that hasn’t worked but only made things worse.

It also means giving her the stimulation and excitement she needs with appropriate alternative activites.


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 Nell. 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 fear or any form of aggression is concerned. 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).

Resource Guarding Puppy

Red Cocker SpanielSome 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.Seven month old Cocker Spaniel

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).

Adolescent Flat Coated Retriever

Flatcoat Barney is simply creating his own fun and ways of getting attentionBarney is a wonderful 7-month-old Flat Coated Retriever. His family are first-time dog owners and like many inexperienced people getting a puppy they make assumptions regarding their puppy’s needs based on their own human perceptions of what a person might need.

Comparing the dog to a young child would be better. One wouldn’t give a little child too much freedom indoors or outside; one wouldn’t leave food available to a small child like a running buffet; we would keep a young child out of trouble by removing everything that might be dangerous or damaged; If the child was bored, we would be giving him things to do.

Because Barney has free run of the downstairs, when he’s bored or not getting attention he steals spectacles, pens, garments and so on – or he wrecks his blanket. When someone comes in the front door he is there. He jumps all over them and sometimes runs out. His food is left down for him to eat when he feels like it. He hasn’t been shown from the start that grabbing and biting hands and clothes simply isn’t fun. He has been running off lead since he was little. Puppies stay close and come when called – adolescents don’t!  During the evening Barney continually asks to go outside and they will be up and down doing his bidding – something they would never do for a child!

When the children’s friends come to the house things are very difficult. Barney is extremely excited and jumps all over them if they sit on the settee. One child in particular is too scared to come any more. It would have been easiest if they had taught Barney right from the start that he gets up on sofas by invitation only but now they should teach him to stay on the floor.

It’s Christmas in three days’ time! Lots of people including children will be there. I have suggested dog gates in a couple of doorways so they can have him under some sort of physical control without banishing him altogether. After Christmas that they will have time to do some real work with him.

Barney is simply creating his own fun and ways of getting attention and his people are ‘fielding’ his attempts to get them to do what he wants, rather than being proactive. He is a working breed. He needs more to do – to stimulate his brain, but in shorter doses because he is very easily over-excited which triggers the very behaviour that they don’t want. A long over-stimulating run for a dog of this age while the man jogs would be much better replaced with two or three shorter walks. At home he can be kept busy with things to chew, hunting for food, being taught to bring things back and let them go and so on.

I found he learnt very quickly that jumping up at me was no fun at all but that listening carefully to me and watching me brought satisfaction (and food). It is much easier for me because I have so much experience and it comes naturally, but people can copy me when I show them.

Barney is a really cracking, beautiful dog. Gates, removing things and wearing ‘sensible’ clothes that don’t temptingly flap about won’t be necessary for ever. The more consistent they all are now the faster they will be able to ditch these things. He has the perfect home, and he will be the perfect family dog.

Harry Can Be a Handful

red labradorHarry is ten months old and a beautiful Red Labrador (his male owners says I should call him handsome, not beautiful!). He has a lovely nature, but the best way to describe him is that he can be a bit ……..too much.

He is very persistent in his jumping onto people both when they are standing and sitting down. The smallest bit of attention gets him very excited. He finds pinching things and running off with them great fun and he sometimes eats unspeakable stuff! Of course he pulls on lead too.

Harry is quite a good example of how, without meaning to, human owners who are trying to do things right actually teach their dogs to do the very behaviours they don’t want. This starts when they get their little puppy home. Boundaries and rules don’t exist. He is encouraged to leap all over people. In no time at all the little puppy gets a bit bigger, and now believes he is the most important member of the family – after all, his every wish is granted. Isn’t the most important member, whose every wish granted, the leader?.

This is what many of us are teaching our puppies.

Too soon he develops behaviours that aren’t so cute in an older bigger dog. We start to make the word NO the most used in our vocabulary. He jumps all over us. We think we are ‘training’ him by sternly telling him down and by pushing him off with our hands. In my opinion this is actually teaching him the very opposite. He may obey briefly, but he’s learnt it’s a sure-fire way of getting attention next time because he has been looked at, spoken to and touched all under his own terms. How would a respected dog get the message over to another dog that he doesn’t want to be jumped on? He certainly doesn’t use hands to push or say Down!

Stealing things is great fun when he’s then chased around the garden for the item. It teaches him to pinch things and run away! Following him on a tight lead or ‘correcting’ him which is uncomfortable, teaches him to pull because forward progress happens when the lead is tight. He may also wish to get as far away from the source of the discomfort as possible – you. Rolling around on the floor with a human who allows the dog to use his mouth and growl teaches disrespect and roughness. A dog like Harry doesn’t need assistance in getting excited! Rushing at him or chasing him when he’s about to pick up something revolting or dangerous, teaches him you want it, that it must be of value, and to swallow it quickly before you can get it.

Dealing with dogs like Harry requires outwitting them, and looking at how another respected, stable dog would deal with him. This is the key.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.