Sunday, October 30, 2011

Really? Really??

As Hurley has and continues to grow, so do we.  While he is an incredibly smart and mostly well-behaved puppy, he has had issues we've had to work on.  First it was puppy temper tantrums, hating to be handled and bitey monster; then it was (and still is) impulse control issues related to counter surfing and garbage diving.  And then came frustration & attention barking at home & at the shop.  All of those things we identified, came up with a strategy & solution and moved forward.  While we are not 100% on most of those issues, he has made huge improvements in all areas.

But the latest & greatest issue we're facing is the hardest challenge for us so far.  At this point, I'm not entirely sure what the best path forward is.  To be honest, I've had a few "why me" moments in the past week since this issue came to a head and have had to go through my own process of acceptance, guilt, etc before I could even think about blogging about our issue and moving forward on a new training plan.

It's become clear to us that Hurley has some food-related aggressive behaviors forming.  These behaviors seem, at this point, to be related to my store. 

There were warning signs.  Part of the guilt I've been beating myself up over the last couple days is because I feel I should've seen the signs.  Getting over that guilt and moving forward has involved me being realistic about the situation.  Neither the Hubster nor I have any experience with resource guarding or food-based aggression.  This is new to us.

When we first got Hurley, he was OK with all dogs.  The most we ever saw was a little raised hair every now and then which would go away when he was able to get a little butt-sniffing in.  He was a perfect gentleman to dogs in the store and the street fairs we attended.  At about 5 months of age, the hair raising when meeting new dogs started happening more and more.

Then it progressed to barking at dogs.  First, it was barking at them if they ignored him in the shop.  Then it progressed to barking when some dogs came in the door of the store.  And then it was all dogs.  Because this was happening at the same time as his attention/frustration barking at me, I chalked it up as being for the same reasons.  We moved forward with having him work for his kibble throughout the day and employed the Kong Wobbler when customers came in the store.  While I've seen definite improvement in his behavior when a person comes in the store, his behavior towards the dogs that visit has been deteriorating.  And it culminated in the worst behavior yet earlier this week.

One of my regular customers came in with his puppy, who is about the same age as Hurley.  Though the two haven't seen each other in months, they did meet and play when they were both younger pups.  Hurley was in his kennel behind the counter enjoying a rawhide and I let him out to say hello.  He of course barked as usual but as he got closer to the other puppy, he bared his teeth, growled and snapped.  Shocked, I placed him back in his kennel (sans rawhide) and apologized.

In retrospect, I should never have interrupted Hurley's snack time.  But the same behavior occurred later in the day, when another regular customer of mine came in with her labradoodle.  This customer and I have discussed all of Hurley's training challenges over the past few months.  She always has great suggestions and tips.  So when I started explaining his barking behavior and that I was stumped as to what was causing it, she offered to bring Beulah into the store so we could test him out and see if she could help me identify the root cause (I seriously have the best customers ever!).

She stopped by later that same day and since I saw her coming, I brought Hurley towards the back of the store so that both dogs would have ample space.  When they first entered, Hurley was fine.  No barking even.  I made him look at me, treated and slowly moved towards the other dog.  He was fine until we got within leash distance of Beulah and then he exhibited the same behavior (though not as severe as earlier) - baring of teeth and snapping.  My customer took one look and said "It's gotta be the food.  He sees Beulah as coming between him and those treats." Over the next 10 minutes while the two of us chatted and brain-stormed, Hurley relaxed around Beulah and laid down quietly.  Of course, this was after I took all the treats out of my pocket and put them out of his reach. 

It clicked.  Between his impulse control issues, hard taking of treats, and food obsession, it makes sense.  He's fine with other dogs at the dog park; he's fine with the girls at home though they let him take whatever he wants, including food, so the lack of confrontation over food is more due to Maggie & Sadie being cool than his behavior being superb.  Our current theory is that he is possessive over the store environment only because this is where he receives the majority of training and is constantly being given treats, rawhides, bully sticks, etc.   What I have yet to figure out is whether the behavior is triggered as the other dog gets closer to the counter (the epicenter of all treat dispensing & where his kennel is & where he receives the Kong Wobbler), if it can be alleviated by eliminating the feeding of any rawhides, bullies, etc, reducing the overall amount of treats and making him work harder for the treats he does get, or if simply a food-rich environment like a pet store is just too much for him.  My hope against hope is that it's not that last one.  Honestly, I would be heart-broken if it turns out that this is an obstacle that Hurley cannot overcome; if it turns out that he's not a good candidate for shop dog.

I keep repeating to myself that I've always said my philosophy is to help my dogs become the best dogs they can be, not what my expectations for them were.  Not all dogs are suited to be in a retail environment day in and day out.  Hurley might be one of those dogs.   

And the hardest for me?  I already have two dogs with different fear-based aggression issues.  Hurley was supposed to be our easy dog.  Socializing him in the shop from such a young age, working so hard on basic training - I thought we were setting him up for success.  I thought I was doing everything right.  But sometimes, it's easy to miss the signs.  Sometimes "everything" is not enough.  While I'm thankful we've caught this early and hopeful that we can solve this issue, I also know that I must prepare to accept what might be the inevitable.  That Hurley isn't suited for life as a shop dog, at least not in a shop full of dog food.


  1. Don't beat yourself up- many dogs go through periods of heightened possessiveness in adolescence. The very best advice I can give you is to buy Patricia McConnell's booklet "Mine" and follow it step by step. I think Hurley can change his associations with the store and dogs- I've seen dogs overcome much bigger obstacles. One of the primary factors to consider is how long a dog has practiced the guarding and how far they are willing to go to protect a resource. Luckily, Hurley is young and conflicted (by the sound of it). I know you're dedicated to making your dogs the best they can be, but this booklet is incredible. Good luck!

  2. @Of Pit Bulls and Patience

    Thanks for the recommendation! I'll look into her booklet. We do a lot at home like petting him while he's eating, making him wait to eat, feeding the girls first, etc. I hope this is just an adolescent phase that will pass so long as we keep working on it!

  3. You are doing an amazing job socializing him and trying to nip behaviors in the bud! I do have a post on resource guarding at that's not much help for guarding from other dogs. This is a tough one and the only advice I've heard is management, management, management. Doing just what you're doing--minimizing the high-value treats when other dogs are around--sounds like the best thing.

    But you're right, sometimes its just a question of shifting expectations! You are to be applauded for accepting that that might be the outcome, while working to see if you can't change that outcome. Keep us posted!

  4. @Kirsten (peacefuldog)

    Thanks for the link! You're right - there's not much out there to help with dog vs dog food possessiveness except for management. Maybe I'll write a book when we're over this hurdle!

  5. how did this mot show up in my reader?! Elli has the *exact* same issue, if you can believe it! Elli even does it at dog parks (I don't bring food b/c she won't leave my side) but if she decides one particular stick/destroyed tennis ball is hers, she lunge/snaps/barks at the other dog (who may even be simply a foot too close). usually she'll growl a little before they overstep her bubble, but it happens a lot of the time, way way quickly. there is *one* resource I found to be extremely helpful, but you have to be a member to read it. I can print it out for you and bring it on Saturday to the workshop, if you'd like! then maybe we can even work on together - seeing as we both have possessive little beasties! lemme know what you think!

  6. @Ximena

    That would be awesome! I need all the help I can get to help him over this hurdle. He's completely fine with dogs most of the time but it's just the first 30 seconds of greeting in the store.

    Blogger has been weird the last couple days. Blog was down most of the day yesterday. Glad you saw it though! See you Saturday.