together solutions for
guarding behaviour at home
Fifty years ago, if a dog growled when they were eating their food, you may well have said “Leave the dog alone he’s eating”. Nowadays, our expectations are rather different. Some dogs guard stuff and some dogs don’t. Dogs can guard anything from a comfy chair to a soggy tissue and anything or everything between. Just as the perceived highly valued resource will be different for each dog, so the range of ritualised aggression or protracted warnings that we may see will also be individualised. It’s hard not to take guarding behaviour in our dogs personally, as after all, we do provide all their resources! A dog who guards stuff isn’t on a mission to take over the world or a bad dog, they are just being a dog. Just being a dog however, doesn’t always mesh with our expectations or our lifestyle. Guarding behaviour can successfully be modified without force or intimidation or making your dog afraid.
Here’s some more information
Fear and Aggression at Home
We may see aggression in all animals, including us when
There is a conflict over resources
The situations we usually see in which dogs are usually fearful and may use aggression in the home are
Fear of Visitors or Strangers which may escalate to aggression
Fear of Body Handling which may escalate to aggression
The situation in which we may see aggression in our dogs at home
Guarding Food, Objects or Toys or Locations such as a sofa, a bed or a specific space in a room such as a doorway
For Fear or Aggression with any kind of body handling such as grooming, veterinary visits, restraint, giving treatments such as ear or eye drops – please see Together Care
For Fear or Aggression with strangers or visitors to your home – please see Together Solutions for Fearful and Anxious Dogs
Resource Guarding in dogs is a behaviour that is modifiable without force, fear, threat or intimidation.
Frequently Asked Questions
"Why do Dogs Resource Guard?"
In the wild, if you didn’t guard your food you wouldn’t last long, you wouldn’t survive, you wouldn’t pass on your genes to the next generation. All wolves have the full guarding software – they need it! Wolves and our domesticated dogs have evolved from a common ancestor. Dogs have been living with us for at least 15,00 years, so why do some dogs guard things and others don’t?
Selection and Domestication
Domestication is the process by which plants and animals are genetically modified over time for traits that are advantageous or desirable for humans. In the wild Natural Selection is the process by which traits are maintained in the population. Traits which work best in the local environment are passed on to succeeding generations. As a domesticated animal, the traits in our dogs have been selected by humans. People have selected dogs for working traits, coat colour and size.
"How come some dogs still have the guarding trait?"
Whilst no-one knows if guarding is genetic or learnt, consider guarding as both. We now know genes can “learn”, we also know that the specific adaptive trait of “capacity to learn” is genetic. Like green eyes in a family, guarding can pop out in the dog population. Sometimes puppies guard, sometimes guarding behaviour comes with onset of maturity. Guarding software is such a valuable trait in the natural environment. This trait persists in some of our domestic dogs, it drifts, appears here and there. Some dogs may guard obvious things like their food bowl, a favoured toy or resting place. Like computer software a trait can get “buggy”. Dogs can value soggy tissues or anything they feel is a life sustaining resource. For us it may seem strange, we are endless providers of resources. But for our dogs, guarding is a normal behaviour. It’s a survival adaption that has indeed survived!
Some dogs may guard one specific thing, some a category of things such as all food or all ball shaped objects. Some dogs may guard this sofa but not another sofa. Some dogs may guard your lap or a soggy tissue or your best socks. Because the trait is very “buggy”, just like a piece of computer software that has a virus or is bugged, the guarding trait we see in dogs can seem weird and make no-sense to us at all. For our dog, however, this “thing” is very valuable and absolutely precious.
"How do our dogs communicate their need for distance?"
When dog’s guard stuff, it can be very frightening or scary for us.
Dogs have body language that tells us “Back Off”. Recognising what our dog is telling us is important, so we don’t miss the earliest warning signs. When there is conflict over resources, dogs have individual threat signatures, some give lots of warnings, some zoom from the beginning to the end quickly, some miss some stages, and some have very little warning at all. Punishing out any of these warnings is as Ian Dunbar says, “like removing the ticker from the time bomb.”
How we work with Food, Object and Location Guarding
We work closely with clients who have a dog who is guarding food, objects or locations. Sometimes dogs may guard a mixture of these, sometimes dogs may guard everything. We work with Session Packages tailored to your individual circumstances to ensure the situation is resolved.
Key Components of our work with dogs who guard resources
Establish the trigger or triggers
Safety and management protocols while training is on-going
Knowledge and awareness of body language
Teaching an understanding of Classical Conditioning
Behaviour Modification Plan for your individual circumstances
Starting Behaviour Modification with a non-guarded item
Working only at level at which your dog is completely comfortable
"My dog is guarding, what should I do?"
Please get in touch with us as soon as possible. We understand that guarding behaviour in dogs can be frightening or scary, and we are used to talking to people who are upset or worried. We will talk on the phone to get the broad picture of what’s going on and give you interim safety advice if needs be. We will set you up with an assessment as soon as possible.
We work through a range of assessment procedures to get to a detailed analysis of your dog’s difficulties – the what, the why and the how to change it. We carefully consider how your dog’s behaviour is impacting you and what interventions we can make in the short and longer term to resolve the problem or range of difficulties, so that you are able to enjoy life with your dog. The Assessment Consultation is a key part of resolving your dog’s difficulties. This is followed by a written Report which summarises our conversations and outlines recommendations for training or behaviour modification.
Training and Behaviour Change Sessions
Following your Assessment, you will have a very good picture of the work that can help your dog. You will have a clear outline of the sequence of your training or behaviour change programme that is needed to resolve any difficulties. Each programme is highly tailored to you and your dog’s needs. Any training techniques are modelled for you and we always make sure you know what to do and how to do it. You will be fully supported between sessions by phone, text or video conferencing. For very difficult cases, we can work with feedback every 24 Hours, some clients like this level of support especially when beginning their programme. Behaviour change programmes are organised in a step by step style, so we only ever move at a pace that is comfortable for you and your dog.
Our long term aim is for you and your dog to continue living happily together. Following our Assessment and Sessions you will have a great understanding of dog behaviour and feel you have the tools and knowledge to form that fabulous partnership with your dog. Because we know that behaviour is always influenced by environment, our dogs can change as they grow up or age or we can undergo changes to our lifestyle too, we check in with you at regular intervals. Once a together dog, always a together dog.