Dog Aggression: Food guarding can sneak up on you

Resource guarding is a type of aggression that can literally sneak up on your blind side if you are not looking for it.

I recently received a call from a distressed client who was bitten on the hand by his miniature Schnauzer. Both he and his wife were absolutely perplexed to witness – first hand (no pun intended) – this horrible and distressing event.

Apparently the husband was in the kitchen when his dog was eating out of the bowl. He noticed some dry kibble on the floor next to her food bowl and bent over to pick it up and put it back into the bowl. This last thing the owner expected was to get nailed by his 3 year old female Schnauzer in the process. (Her food bowl area is always a messy place as she free-feeds and food is constantly being picked up and put back in the bowl)

He said, “It was totally unprovoked. I didn’t do anything.” Fortunately for him his Schnauzer inhibited its bite somewhat so no puncture wounds – just some bad bruising.

I began to evaluate the client’s relationship with their pup. Sometimes I feel as if I am Sherlock Holmes, digging for clues as I need to probe and question so that I can get the information I need to properly evaluate their dilemma and provide a plan to fix this problem.

They were shocked, to say the least, as my questions gradually unraveled the root of the problem. There was no structure in the home at all – as a matter of fact not for the entire two and a half years of her life with them.

That’s when the light bulb began to go off for my clients.

He did notice that recently as he crawled into bed for the night (he was the last to retire each evening) the pup would let out a faint growl as he nudged her getting into position just before turning out the light.

Little did he know that the dog aggression problem had started way before those faint growls in the bed.

Other clues began to develop as we continued to talk and I also found out that no obedience had been done since their puppy class. Like most new dog owners, that’s what you do. Take a class and now your dog is trained, right?

Their dog shares lap time every evening evenly distributed between his lap and hers.

Did I mention that on further questioning, she won’t come when called in from the back yard unless the food treat far out weighs the distraction?

For the last two and a half years he and his wife had been going down the wrong path in their relationship with their dog that would eventually lead to the phone call to me bout their dog’s aggression. They just didn’t know.

She has also begun to guard the front door and removing a bone from her space had generated some concern as well but they decided to let her chew her bone – after all it was her bone.

They just never thought she would actually bite anyone. It’s understandable, people love their dogs and would never think anything bad could happen.

The Program

Structure: Putting her on a learn-to-earn program – sitting and downing for everything:

  • Food has to be earned (twice daily now – no free feeding)
  • The right to get up on any furniture (the sofa or bed) has to be earned now as well
  • Toys and game of play with the owners must be earned – as well as potty breaks outside and coming back inside.
  • Love and affection had to throttled way back to just limited petting – also earned.

Behavior Modification for food and article guarding:

  • A gradual exercise to get her used to family members and people around her food bowl, chew bones and space.

Behavior Modification at door:

  • Taught her to go to her place. Then taught her to go to her place when she hears the doorbell ring.
  • The key to their success?
  • The owner’s commitment (110%) to working their dog on the program. Once again I have clients who recognize that only a serious commitment to working the plan will turn their dog around – and it has.

Consistency and repetition will begin to breed habit in all dogs so keep structure in your dog’s life as you build your dog’s trust and respect. Don’t forget to enjoy your dog.

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are with the teacher of your children. And remember,” Opportunity Barks!”

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