Flagstaff Sedona Dog Magazine: Timber Talks
My mom discovered that I have a behavior called “resource guarding”. Who knew? I’ve always been such an easygoing dog. I mean . . . I let my humans bring dog after dog into our home without so much as a woof. And they all stayed! There are five of us rescued dogs in our household and I never guarded anything—until now.
Resource guarding is a behavior when your dog growls or snaps at his dogmates or his humans when they get too close to food or a toy that the guarder believes belongs to him. The guarder doesn’t want that food or toy taken away by anyone!
If you read your dog’s body language, he will give signals that he is guarding something: a freeze, a hard stare, stiffening of the body, a growl, snap, or even a bite. Ideally, you want to diffuse the situation before he gets to the bite.
Mom isn’t sure about why I got so agitated that I escalated from freezing, to stiffening, to very loud growling and jumping. She thought my reasons might be that I really needed to “kill” that squeaker in the toy, I didn’t want one of the other dogs to take that toy from me, or that I felt I was at a disadvantage because I’m getting older (perhaps slower). Whichever reason, she thought I might actually bite her. Now, I would never intentionally bite, but when really agitated, my brain might not stop me in time. After all, I am still a dog, and natural instincts sometimes take over.
So, what is a human supposed to do?
First, you stop. Stop walking toward the dog, stop reaching for the thing he’s guarding. You have just been notified that this item is very valuable to your dog.
Second, if you think your dog is going to bite, step back. If you have taken hold of the item, let go. At this moment if you walk away, you reinforce his guarding behavior and he will likely do it again. Now, if you believe he won’t escalate to a bite, just stand still and let your dog calm down. If you walk away after he has calmed himself, you are reinforcing that calmer behavior, which hopefully decreases his guarding behavior in the future.
With me, if I have grabbed something that I shouldn’t have, my mom will usually offer a “trade” for it. She’ll offer something yummy and I have to drop what’s in my mouth to get the treat. It’s a good method of training your dog to give up something for a better reward.
Since we live in a multiple dog household, my mom separates us before we’re given something good to gnaw on or play with. There are different locations in the house for each of us to go so we don’t feel stressed about one of the other dogs taking away our valuable toy or treat. In the above instance, it was Teddy’s toy that I was trying to destroy. Teddy was barking. Mom was trying to save it. I was resource guarding. In the future, she knows that I need to be in a crate or behind the baby gate so I won’t take someone else’s valuable toy, along with my own. Like I tell my mom, never underestimate a Husky.
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