Help needed with resource/person guarding rescue

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Barked: Sun Oct 7, '12 4:24pm PST 
Hi all! We recently adopted a Belgian Malinois cross from our local high kill shelter. "Baylor" is practically perfect in every way...but one. When he first came home he was very, very protective of his food. Not from his people, but from our cat. He has since learned that food is a regular thing at our house and has mellowed out to the point that he lets the cat sniff his food bowl without raising an eyebrow. He is still very protective of toys and his home in general when it comes to other dogs. We have a good friend who walks him during the day with her dog. They get on great so long as "Olive" doesn't find one of his toys.

All of this is kind of to be expected when dealing with rescues. He came to the shelter with his parents (mom was a malinois and dad was a chow/mastiff). He was clearly bottom dog, and quite underweight and I think a lot of his possessiveness is actually a manifestation of his insecurity.

The biggest issue we had was today - and I was hoping some of your more experienced folks could help us. I have been taking Baylor to the local dog park to socialize him and let him play with other dogs on neutral territory. It's been a great thing for him, until today. My 7 year old son was with us, when another dog came up to my son and jumped up to give kisses, Baylor came galloping from the other side of the park and attacked the offending dog. I managed to pull Baylor off and apologized profusely to the other dogs owner (who was very cool about it).

On the one hand, I appreciate that Baylor was protecting "his boy", but the protection was totally unneeded and unwarranted.

How can I help Baylor feel secure in his new home while also teaching him that this over-protective behavior is NOT socially acceptable? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Barked: Sun Oct 7, '12 9:31pm PST 
First problem I see: Taking a dog who has a history of resource guarding to a dog park.
Second problems I see: A little kid in the dog park.
Third problem: Taking a recently adopted dog to the dog park.

I will NEVER combine those, it's just asking for trouble. Kids, even your own kids, can be unpredictable around dogs, and dogs can be unpredictable around kids. Any person who brought their kids into the dog park that resulted in a bite from one of the dogs would be the only ones to blame in my opinion. Yeah, the owner of the dog who bit the kid should have left when the kid came in, but the kid shouldn't even be in there in the first place. Many dog parks have rules against children of a certain age being in the park, and it is a very good rule in my opinion. You can never guarantee that someone else's off-leash dog will not bite your kid, even if the owner says they are "friendly" or some such.
Also, a dog park is NOT a good place to "socialize" any dog. Only balanced already socialized dogs should go to dog parks. Dogs who need socialization should go to training classes or meet dogs who are already socialized in controlled settings, not the unpredictability of a dog park. Again you cannot guarantee what the temperaments of those other dogs will be, and one bad experience can cause a whole host of problems that are very hard to undo.
But if you think your dog is fine, or whatever, go ahead and take him to the dog park. Just leave the kid at home.

Anywho, I have never had this particular issue, so I don't have any other advice, except for removing Baylor when he acts aggressive and returning him when he is calm. Anytime he acts out, remove him from the stimulus until he is calm, then give it another go.

Edited by author Sun Oct 7, '12 9:40pm PST


Let's play tug!!
Barked: Mon Oct 8, '12 1:41am PST 
A dog who has been taken to dog parks from puppyhood has lots of precedence for seeing it as a mostly nonthreatening place. He has watched other dogs run up to his owners from puppyhood, and nothing bad has ever happened as a result. Even a well-socialized dog who hasn't been to dog parks may be able to look at an approaching dog and see relaxed face, smooth gait, wide sweeping tail wag, etc, as well as a lack of tension or fear on the owner's face, and judge the situation as being nothing to worry about. That same situation seems ambiguous or threatening to a poorly socialized dog who doesn't know how to read all those cues.

I guess a generic response to a lot of dog problems is to expose him at a lower level and reward him for staying calm, slowly increasing the intensity of the stimulus as he seems comfortable, until he can tolerate the situation that set him off in the first place. I'm not sure what all the variables were (was the other dog big or small? Had he had any negative interaction with that dog or witnessed that dog having negative interaction with another dog? Was he an intact male? Has he ever seen a dog jump on your son before? If so, what was different this time? Was he stressed before the incident? How was his behavior before that? Great reciprocal play where he's chasing and being chased, rolling over during play, taking a rest when he's tired? Hovering around looking scared and running away when anyone tries to sniff his butt? Tandem play like chasing a ball together?) As a really safe first step, you could have him watch your son interact with a small dog stuffed animal. Your son can mimic the dog jumping against his legs. He may not even care about that, but you just feel him out. The point where he's interested enough to watch what's going on, but not showing frozen body language with a long, hard stare or other signs of discomfort is a good starting intensity. Then reward him for any behavior you like. Dogs will often comfort themselves by licking their lips, yawning, looking away, turning their heads away, walking away, sniffing the ground, or peeing. It doesn't matter what it is- any kind of disengagement from the stimulus with a socially acceptable behavior is great. Praise him enthusiastically and give him a treat. The next step might be restraining Baylor while he watches a nonthreatening dog approach your son. For example, a dog who won't jump, or a tiny dog, if you think size is an important trigger. You could probably do this step on walks, just make sure you're far enough away from your son and the other dog that Baylor can't reach them even if he's lunging at the end of the leash. You don't want to put him in a situation where he's that upset, but you do want a safety net in case you're wrong, or another trigger appears and puts him over threshold. Have your son keep the interaction very brief- a couple of seconds, and it's great if you can actually have your son stop interacting with the other dog and all three of you walk away as soon as Baylor gives you a calming signal. This teaches him that good behavior is the most effective way to control his environment and get what he wants (the other dog to go away).

When you say attacked, do you mean that he ran over and made a big noisy fuss, or that he bit the other dog? If he has bitten, I'd work on teaching him to calm himself or walk away when he's upset before you try the dog park again or letting him within striking range of other dogs on walks. Unfortunately, it often only takes one bite and subsequent complaint for a dog to get euthanized by animal control or for you to get fined thousands of dollars.


The Monster
Barked: Mon Oct 8, '12 5:21am PST 
I would recommend actively addressing all of his resource guarding behaviour. I think hoping that he mellows out as he gets comfortable in the environment is unreliable and can lead to some very unsafe situations.

Purchase/borrow/read Mine! by Jean Donaldson. She lays out series of specific exercises for you to do with a guarder, as well as explaining the hows and whys of addressing guarding behaviour.