Owner Guarding by Dogs
I have two rescued dogs. Sashie is six years old and has always been protective of me by standing between me and any dog that approaches. If the dog gets too close she growls – she has very aggressive dog behavior. Yesterday for the first time she lunged at a spaniel at the beach, quickly rolling him onto his back and biting the inside of his ear before I could respond. I have noticed an increase in her aggressive dog behavior for the last three months which is when I rescued my second dog. Poo is a 6 year old small breed that is blind and deaf due to two separate accidents. Sashie ignores Poo for the most part, but her behavior toward other dogs is getting worse. I would like to nip this in the bud quickly as we go to the beach often, and I don’t want to have to worry about her attacking another dog. She has never growled at a human. Please advise.
Dear Rescue Mom:
I want to begin this by saying that any time there is aggressive dog behavior, it cannot be answered in a short, simple reply; a thorough history needs to be taken, and you should consult a certified dog trainer. However, what you describe sounds like resource guarding (RG) — the dog perceives you as a valuable resource, and doesn’t want any other dogs around you. The best way to work RG is to desensitize Sashie to other dogs. First, you must make sure that Sashie is never in a position to practice her RG during the desensitization program – if she is allowed to RG during the program, it will take much, much longer. This may mean no beach until the problem is resolved! Secondly, you never want to punish Sashie for this behavior, as it will only reinforce in her mind that strange dogs are trouble, and will potentially increase her aggressive dog behavior. Recruit some dog-owners to help you; they should have their dog on-leash at a distance that Sashie is totally comfortable with and Sashie should also be on-leash. You then begin feeding Sashie her daily ration of food mixed with delicious treats. Do this until Sashie is actually happy to see the helper dog because she knows it means good things are about to happen (it may take several sessions). Then you can move a little closer to the helper dog and repeat the same process. The biggest mistakes owners make are to move ahead too quickly (so the dog is NOT comfortable with the helper dog’s proximity) and not constantly feeding the dog – these two things are crucial to a successful program, and why we recommend working with someone who has become a certified dog trainer through the Certification Council for Profesional Dog Trainers (www.CCPDT.com). Another way to speed it up is to only have good things (food, petting, game playing, etc.) happen when strange dogs are present at a comfortable proximity for Sashie. I would recommend you find a good trainer to help you with this process – make sure they understand the desensitizing process, as many trainers do not. Good luck!
Raising Canine has a school for dog trainers which focuses on operant training for dogs, dog behavior, working with clients and addressing client compliance, and the science behind behavior modification.