We are starting to formulate a plan for helping Hurley get over his resource-guarding issues at the store. I know Sunday's post had a few moments of me wallowing in my emotions but we are not giving up! One of the greatest gifts this blog has given me is the forum to spew so that I can get it all out and move on in a productive manner. Sometimes a girl just needs to unload!
We're taking a variety of approaches to Hurley's most recent issue. And I'm fully employing the Hubster's help because I know this is one issue I can't tackle alone. One thing I have to be more aware of is how my worries over this issue may cause the behaviors at times - if I expect him to behave inappropriately, he very likely will. This is my greatest challenge as a doggie parent (and has always been so). Fortunately, the Hubster is a lot more level-headed about these types of training challenges and will help both me and Hurley get over this current hurdle.
We believe that this behavior stems from his early in life experiences with his litter mates. When the Hubster picked Hurley out, he was the smallest of the remaining puppies in the litter. The night he came home, his ears were covered in scabs and his belly scarred. Our vet told us this was indicative of him being the runt of the litter and having to fight his littermates for food. We have made huge strides in his behavior around food. But we've still got a ways to go and this is just another way in which the underlying issue is raising its ugly lil head.
Our first reaction to Hurley's recent resource guarding-based aggressive behaviors was to say "no more treats" and "no more store" but after calming down a bit, I've come to realize that those are exactly the worst things to do. One of the biggest mistakes we made when Maggie started displaying aggression towards small dogs was to never go back to the dog park. What we didn't realize is that one bad experience with that one small dog was etched into her memory and colored her view of all small dogs. We didn't create a positive memory with a small dog to replace the bad one. You cannot solve an issue by avoiding it and so we move forward with Hurley prepared to challenge him, re-focus him and pile on as much doggie socialization as we can.
Step 1: Enroll Hurley in a basic training class. While he will likely be the star student since he has so many of the behaviors that are covered in a basic training class down, our goal is not so much to add commands to his repertoire as to accustom him to receiving rewards in the presence of other dogs, solidify his basic commands in the presence of distractions, and to continue canine socialization in a controlled environment.
Step 2: Beef up rules & regulations at home. We do have a feeding routine that includes Hurley being fed last and sitting nicely for his food. I am stepping this up by not allowing Hurley to lick clean his sisters' bowls when they are done - which I hope will re-inforce that not all food is his. The Hubster and I are in the process of mapping out other household behaviors that will strengthen our place as leaders. Simple things like making him sit & wait at doors, sit to be petted, spend extra time just chilling in his crate, controlling when playtime occurs, etc. Many of these rules will be created without the use of treats, using our affection & toys, as his reward.
Step 3: Temporary time-out from the store. The reality is that I must have a welcoming environment for my customers and their dogs to have a successful business. And that welcoming my customer and dealing with Hurley's issues at the same time is usually difficult for me. So that's where the Hubster comes in. Hurley will, for the time being, only come to the store when my husband can be with him so that he can work with Hurley while I help my customer. So Hurley stays home during the week and makes several visits over the weekends. I will also try to set up structured visits from the dogs of some of my best and most understanding friends & customers to help work on Hurley's awful greetings in the store.
Step 4: Remove of all high value treats and bullies, rawhides, etc at the store. At home, we will practice enjoying such treats in the presence of Maggie & Sadie. The goal is to be able to give all 3 of them one of these items and have them all go to their separate beds, kennels, etc to enjoy them in peace. I don't expect for them to be able to enjoy these treats while all piled on to the same bed (that's asking for a dog fight!) but my goal is to get Hurley to respect Maggie & Sadie and not attempt to steal their treats from them. We are going to go very slow on this one so that we don't create any resource guarding issues at home.
Step 5: Increase visits to the dog park where he gets the opportunity to socialize with all sorts of dogs. We're also considering enrolling him in doggie daycare for a weekly visit after we finish the training class (our budget dictates only doing one of these things at a time). We will also create situations in which we can practice on-leash greetings outside of the store environment. I'm going to be looking around to see if we can find a group walk here in Portland - I hear they do wonders for reactivity issues.
Step 6: Create new training challenges. Quite frankly, we've been working so hard on his impulse control issues that I've stalled on teaching him new commands & tricks. Therefore, the same few tricks he shows off for customers who come in the store, and gets treats for, are no longer challenging to him. I need to make him work harder for the rewards he is given.
I'm sure this is just the beginning of the full picture of how we address the budding resource guarding. Both the Hubster and I are spending a lot of time researching this issue but I am finding that most of the advice out there relates to resource guarding issues with people. That is not Hurley's issue. I can give his bowl, take it away, give it back, pet him, move the bowl around while he's eating - all of this may make him antsy but he never acts out towards me. We are lucky that this behavior issue is so specific in one way but challenged to find solutions at the same time. This is going to involve some trial and error and creativity on our part. And if the steps we are taking aren't enough, I'll bring in a trainer to the store to help me formulate a plan in that specific environment.
Now I've got to get crackin' - lots to do! Including a new training schedule and spreadsheet.