The woman calling me was in a state of abject panic. I will never forget the fear and desperation in her voice.
“I can’t get in my house because I think my dog will kill me! What should I do?”
Confirming that both she and the dog were safe where they were, he inside with free rein of the house and she outside, I asked some basic questions and gathered some information.
The owner had given the dog a bone to chew on before she left the house. It wasn’t something she typically did, but she was going to be gone for longer than usual and someone had given it to her for her dog. But now he was guarding not only the bone, but the entrance to the house.
“He’s never done this before,” she said, but upon further questioning, she admitted that they never gave him anything because he would growl at them if he had anything in his possession. He had already bitten people. Some of their friends were afraid of him. The family was, too, at times. He was 5 years old, and they’d had him since he was a puppy.
“We did what they said we were supposed to do when he was little. We would stick our hands in his food while he was eating and take away his dish to get him used to us being in control. We told him ‘No’ if he growled. We don’t know why he’s like this.”
It. Just. Won’t. Die.
The advice to “stick your hands in his food”, take away his dish while he’s eating, pull “unauthorized” things out of his mouth and even some of the AKC’s guidance promotes an adversarial relationship.* I don’t think I’ve ever, in 17 years, had a class where someone hasn’t told me they are sticking their hands in their puppy’s dish because “they” say it’s what to do.
Why do we think this is a good thing? Why do we think it will prevent a dog from wanting to guard?
If you were at a nice restaurant in the process of consuming the delicious meal in front of you, how would you feel about the waiter coming along and taking it away? Maybe he puts it right back and you shrug it off as being super rude (it’ll surely affect his tip), but how would you feel if he comes back and starts to reach for it again? I would be on guard. What if instead he checks on you occasionally, brings you additional delicacies, and refills your wine glass? Which one of these scenarios makes you feel more comfortable?
Back to the phone call
The woman knew her dog was capable of causing serious injury. She couldn’t get in the house because the dog would aggressively charge at the door each time she tried to unlock it even though he knew it was her. I advised her to call animal control. We ended the conversation.
It’s so easy to create resource guarding. And so very, very easy to prevent it.
Donate, donate, donate!!! When your pup has someone of value, be that waiter and add something valuable. YES, even if you want to get that item away. It’s our responsibility to prevent access to things we don’t want our dogs to have.
Do not forcefully pull something out of your pup’s mouth. Leave him alone while he’s eating, unless you ADD something.
Prewash Cycle. Here at our house, our dogs have always been very excited about us approaching when they are eating because it might mean another dish to prewash, a container to clean, a special snack.
Play tug with rules. Teach drop-it. Reward generously. Teach fetch for different items.
I called her the next day.
I wanted to find out what the outcome was. Animal Control came. She was able to get a sedative from her vet that she hid in some food and tossed through a crack in the door. Once the dog was sedated, he was removed. Then he was euthanized. It was tragic for everyone, but especially for the dog.
All dogs are capable of resource guarding. Don’t be a taker. If you see any signs of it, contact a trainer who uses positive training techniques.
Note: I wish I could say that this story was made up, an exaggeration, but unfortunately it is true.
*AKC off-base advice: “Develop your mindset. Start by understanding that basically, you are the human and everything in the house, yard and car belongs to you. It is all on loan to your precious puppy.” [akc.org] Typical puppy owners may very well interpret this to mean, “I have the right to take anything my puppy has in her possessions, because it’s all mine.” The AKC also advises handling the food dish.