Thursday, November 3, 2011

Resource Guarding: Identifying the Cause

One of the most difficult aspects of "diagnosing" Hurley's budding resource guarding is identifying the cause.  As I noted in my last post on this issue, we believe the core issue stems from being the runt of his litter and having to fight for resources as a tiny baby puppy.  The thought of the below little ball of fur being squished out of the way and away from his mom's milk just makes me love him all the more - for the spirit that experience installed in him.  Even when that spirit causes training issues.  I can just imagine that smart little brain o' his having to figure out how to get what he needed when he had larger puppies around getting in his way.  And given his talent as a linebacker, I imagine infant Hurley head butting and plowing his way in.  He's one smart cookie - the fastest route is usually the most direct one!

And while identifying the potential root cause for the behavior is all well and good, it's not enough to set us on a practical path towards resolving this issue and improving his behavior.  To do that, I've needed to identify current causes - what in his life right now does he feel the need to guard?

There is the obvious resource that dogs guard - food.  We've seen from Hurley's behavior with high value treats, trying to steal treats that are given to his sisters, hard taking of treats, and general possessiveness of the store (a food rich environment), that part of the issue is related to food.  That's the easy diagnosis.

But the other half of the issue?  Me.  I believe that I am a resource that Hurley is possessive of.  Hurley and I have been attached at the hip these past 6 months.  While his sisters only get the pleasure of my presence mornings, evenings and Mondays off, Hurley has been with me 5 days a week, all day long.  When looking at the entire picture of resource guarding, it's not enough to just talk about the food.  Attention and toys can be part of the issue as well and in our case, I am certain that my attention is part of the equation.

The good news is that he's not possessive at home.  He is learning to share with Maggie & Sadie (The accurate description is that they have always been great at sharing with him - he takes and they let him.  We are putting a stop to him taking and encouraging sharing behavior).  Maggie will even let him share her bone - she gnaws on one end while he nibbles on the other.  If his issues were truly insurmountable, I doubt that we would see this type of easy-going behavior around some shared resources at home.  I mean, really?  Who can say their dogs share a bone?  But while he's accustomed to sharing his resources at home, he is not accustomed to sharing them at the store.

My store is the environment where Hurley has me, food & toys all to himself.  He has never had to share the store with Maggie & Sadie.  I'm pretty confident that this is the basis for the behavior we're seeing.  If he doesn't have to share Mom's shop and all the attention & treats he receives there with his sisters, he sure doesn't want to share it with other dogs who aren't part of his pack.  And when they enter, his bark is to let them know whose turf they're on.  A part of our solution will certainly be bringing everyone into the store when it's closed to practice sharing resources in this particular environment.

So now that we've narrowed down the causes to food, food-rich environments, my shop, my attention and most specifically, my attention and food in my shop, the next step is to identify the full scope of triggers.  Isn't that the same as cause, you might ask?  Possibly.  But what I mean by triggers is identifying the specific circumstances that trigger the behavior, not the general environment.

I'm in the process of testing Hurley - is my store the only environment where this behavior happens?  How close does the other dog have to be?  Does on leash or off leash affect the response?  How is his behavior in a different area of the store not close to the counter?  Essentially I'm mapping out his threshold.  I'll be talking about our experiences in identifying triggers/thresholds in my next post on Hurley's resource guarding.  Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. I have very little experience with resource guarding, so it's interesting to read about what you are going through with Hurley. Amazingly, it was one of the few issues Shiva didn't have. But more than likely it will be something I encounter in the future. Good luck with your training! I look forward to learning about your successes!