at my wits end with 5 month old - resource guarding and other issues

(80 Posts)
CircetheWitch Thu 10-Sep-20 12:10:48

Namechanged as feeling so shit about all this. Sorry it's so long.

We've got a 5 month old puppy. I'm so concerned that she has the makings of an aggressive adult dog and I'm increasingly struggling to manage my stress and anxiety over her. Part of me is beginning to think we made a big mistake and I've got to confess I'm not enjoying this.

The main worry is her resource guarding. Believe me, I am trying. We've had a behaviourist over who gave advice. I've watched dozens of videos/read a lot. I have done lots of 'leave it' and swapping training, which works sometimes, but by no means always - and I am so worried.

We always, always, try to exchange treats for whatever she's got so she learns it's in her interest to do what we ask her. Like I said, sometimes it works, but over the past month or so she has started really snarling, baring teeth and air snapping if she senses something is about to be taken from her - it's horrible when it happens. I do lots of handfeeding so she associates hands with good things, but this is still an issue. I watch owners who can prise things out of their dogs' mouths easily and I think she'll never get there. sad

I've got three kids (all over 9) who know not to try to take stuff from her -. but I worry, say, that one could drop something and if she's shown an interest in whatever it is, they might go to take it without thinking and she will snarl and eventually could bite. I worry about them having friends over and what could happen. Most of all I worry about where this is going. She's also growled a few times at being moved or picked up (which we don't do often as she's a large dog and already big).

She's a mix of breeds known to be intelligent and also very sweet natured - I'm concerned she's actually not. Her parents are both lovely as far as I know. She doesn't show any other reactivity towards people or other dogs (aware guarding is rooted in fear) - if anything she's over-friendly, gets very bouncy and jumps up etc. She mouthed an awful lot when she was younger and still does a bit, but this is calming down.

DH thinks that with management and training that this is something that will pass. Is he right? I read an old thread on here about a puppy that showed similar guarding issues and despite masses of training, never quite got over it. Can anyone reassure me or help? I'm really stressed about it. Thanks in advance

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Bergerdog Thu 10-Sep-20 13:13:45

Have you seen a trainer at all?

Personally it’s not a behaviour I would accept or tolerate from my own dogs however I know a lot of people who see this as normal dog behaviour.

What is it that she is guarding? Is it something you can remove from the equation?

I have had issues with dogs in the past and wish I had consulted a behaviourist sooner. Find a good recommended behaviourist as opposed to a ‘dog trainer’ and go from there, it would save you lots of trail and error and potentially making the problem worse. At 5 months it’s best to start the right way rather than trying to undo mistakes that have already been made.

Greentulips1 Thu 10-Sep-20 13:23:51

I can't offer much advice over the guarding. But one thing I learned with my dog (who is a rescue and has various issues) is never to tell them off for growling. Growling is their way of communicating they are unhappy. My dog growls if he sees something that makes him wary, such as a person putting out a big wheelie bin or somebody pushing a shopping trolley. It's his way of saying 'I'm not sure about this'.

I've heard that people who train their dogs NOT to growl are the ones whose dogs end up biting. Because if the dog is told off for growling and taught not to do it, they have no way of communicating a warning that they are unhappy and will therefore just go straight in with a bite or snap.

Personally (if I was in your shoes) I would agree with your DP and wouldn't be too worried. The dog is still young and learning. Maybe google if there are any games you can play with your dog that revolve around fetch with the things they are protective of? To get them used to giving and receiving the object.

I understand how stressful it is when you are worried about a dogs behaviour (have been there myself) but in the grand scheme of things I think this is a really minor problem. Agree that using professional dog trainers is the best though. We made the mistake of not using one and actually ended up making my dogs behaviour worse.

CircetheWitch Thu 10-Sep-20 13:31:05

@bergerdog - we have seen a trainer/behaviourist (highly recommended by dog owning friends) and she wasn't unduly concerned at the time. She felt that much of this was down to our puppy being from a big litter where they competed for food and toys.

You ask what she guards - it could be anything. She's seemed threatened by people going near her if she has a pigs ear or bone so I simply don't give her those now.

In those cases it's easy enough to manage but inevitably there will be instances where she grabs hold of something she shouldn't have - a sock, a kids toy, a flip flop, say. Sometimes she will respond to 'leave it', and will drop said item immediately in exchange for a treat. Sometimes she'll refuse and it will take some coaxing. This is understandable, but what worries me is that in instances where she REALLY doesn't want to give something up, she might growl and snap. And not always possible to calmly exchange if she gets hold of something dangerous. She got a bit of plastic the other day and DH quickly went to take it - she snarled and lunged at his hand.

OP’s posts: |
CircetheWitch Thu 10-Sep-20 13:48:35

@Greentulips1 - thank you. No, we never tell her off for growling. I understand it's a warning, distressing though it is to us.

I'm more worried about what this indicates about her personality...if she might always be prone to this and might become an aggressive adult. I know they are animals, and I know that there is wisdom in leaving sleeping or eating dogs alone, for example. But should she really be growling and snapping at us this early on if we go to take away a bit of plastic on the floor that she's interested in?

I had dogs growing up and they were huge softies. They were never snappy or grumpy, ever - so this comes as a shock to me. I know she's just a puppy and I am PRAYING she grows out of it with the right training. I know that a lot of dogs have 'issues' but if she grows up to be an aggressive adult I don't think that will be manageable in our household and this is my big fear. I have a friend with a snappy, highly strung terrier but they don't have kids and they can manage it in the context of their lives...

Sorry if I seem to be over dramatic about this but I'm shocked and alarmed by this behaviour and exhausted from worrying about it. Been in tears this morning etc.

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BiteyShark Thu 10-Sep-20 13:48:50

No advice on the actual behaviour I am afraid but this stood out

* we have seen a trainer/behaviourist (highly recommended by dog owning friends) and she wasn't unduly concerned at the time. She felt that much of this was down to our puppy being from a big litter where they competed for food and toys.*

Find someone who takes your worries seriously and helps you manage that behaviour. Maybe ask your vet for recommendations for someone different.

ChardonnaysPetDragon Thu 10-Sep-20 13:52:26

Do you use high value snacks for swapping?


CircetheWitch Thu 10-Sep-20 14:01:02

@biteyshark - thanks. Probably didn't explain about the trainer well enough - her take was that the big litter is the reason our puppy is like this, and she isn't concerned that she'll become an aggressive adult. She gave me lots of advice on swapping games and how to teach 'leave it' etc - all helpful, though it hasn't eliminated the behaviour.

chardonnay - yes, I use high value snacks for swapping as much as possible. That said, at home it's easy to grab something really special to exchange (a bit of ham or chicken)...but if I'm out sometimes the day to day training treats don't cut it.

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PollyRoulson Thu 10-Sep-20 14:38:18

You need to see a behaviourist not a trainer.

The stuff you were told about the litter is bollocks so you need to get someone that is qualified to deal with this. "Leave it" is rarely used in resource guarding as it justs increases stress and frustration in a dog so I am surprised to hear that was suggested.

A good behavourist would not leave you hanging if the plan they gave you was not working which is what is happening here.

I would be looking at lots of different things here as well as the guarding, this is very likely a sympton rather than the main issue.

The behaviour and environment needs to be seen in real life for you to get the correct managment that will work for you.

You are right that this will not go away on its own and does need some behavioural plan in place.

In the short term until you can get a behaviourist to see the situation, control and management is the way to go. Either keep the dog in an area where they can not get things you do not want them to have or make sure anything she should not have is out of reach. However do let her have items to chew, play with that do not have to be taken off her.

Resource guarding does not need to indicate aggression BUT it can show a stressed or anxious, frustrated dog and that needs to be worked on.

If you need help finding a qualified behaviourist just yell

CircetheWitch Thu 10-Sep-20 15:10:58

@PollyRoulson - thanks. The woman we saw was a behaviourist. She hasn't 'left us hanging' I don't think..we saw her earlier in the summer when I'd seen the beginnings of these guarding issues. I need to see her (or someone else) again.

So interesting about this perhaps being a symptom of something else. She doesn't seem fearful or reactive in other ways, and we try hard to have good routines etc. She's lively when playing with other dogs but not aggressive. She's pretty full on at times, but I don't know how much of this is being a puppy. Gets lots of exercise but also plenty of rest. I can't think what we're doing wrong.

Also interested in what you say about 'leave it' - obviously it's important she learns to leave something when we ask her to, and this could apply to an item that she's not meant to have and is guarding. Not sure why that would be a bad thing? I'm not suggesting the way to train her out of it is to give her high value things and then command her to leave it.

ps - I don't think the litter thing is necessarily 'bollocks' - if you have ten puppies that are fed together, that is going to cause more of a scramble than 3 puppies who can be fed individually. Equally, if there are less toys to go round and the breeder can spend less time with each puppy alone, it makes sense this might impact negatively?

OP’s posts: |
CircetheWitch Thu 10-Sep-20 15:14:28

I just re-read my last post and 'I can't think what we're doing wrong' wasn't in any way meant to sound stroppy! I'm just trying to think what could be leading to this. I've noticed that she does seem grumpier in the evenings when tired, and generally her behaviour becomes more 'attention seeking' when the kids are buzzing around - this is in general rather than connected to the guarding though.

I'm really worried about her and this whole issue sad

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PollyRoulson Thu 10-Sep-20 15:21:43

If you are happy with your behaviourist then best to get back to her.

Re Leave it.
You have a young dog that wants something, you yell leave it - that does not give the dog any idea of what behaviour you do want. It takes a lot of cognitive ability to just do nothing.

if you were to ask the dog to do an laternative behaviour rather than stop doing something then you will get results and the dog will be rewarded happy and have clear understanding of what you are asking.

In practice you have your puppy about to pick up a shoe from the floor - puppy knows the shoe will give them fun and attention from you that is why they want it.
You shout leave it nothing happens for the dog maybe a small reward. It is not worth it so the dog goes to get the shoe - it is worth the chase it is going to get from you to get it back, or the even tastier treat you will eventually offer them.

Alternative Behaviour
In practice you have your puppy about to pick up a shoe from the floor you ask the puppy to recall to you,you run off and they chase you, they have a great game, fun reward and are kept busy and clearly understand that they have done well. The behaviour is rewarded and as fun as picking up the shoe.

Ask for a hand touch, this is so much easier for the dog to understand and way more effective than asking them to do nothing - puppies are not great at doing nothing smile

But your dog is not fighting with litter mates? It is the only dog, there is no need to resource guard anymore , except for fun and the fact that is gets attention very quickly

I cant say but this is why you need a behaviourist. I would be looking at calming activities, looking at making a safe haven, teaching calm and settle. Upping rewarding activities with you.and a lot of control and management.

PollyRoulson Thu 10-Sep-20 15:23:44

laternative behaviour =alternative behaviour

CircetheWitch Thu 10-Sep-20 15:30:46

@PollyRoulson - thanks again. With 'leave it' I taught it as an exchange game, so she drops something for a higher value treat. This has been useful without doubt, particularly if we've been out and she's picked up some litter or whatever, but it doesn't work 100 percent of the time unfortunately.

I do like the idea of the recall game and will try that, though I think we might face a similar problem in that if she has something she really wants she doesn't want to leave it alone at all, even if I tried to make it a fun game for her. confused

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namechanged984630 Thu 10-Sep-20 15:37:18

I have read that sometimes taking it off them and then giving it back helps, to learn the lesson that giving something to you doesn't always mean they have to give it up. So give back the sock AND a kong full of cheese or whatever!

Sertchgi123 Thu 10-Sep-20 15:53:07

Giving a treat is training her to take things. An intelligent dog will soon learn that this is a way of getting a treat. She has also learned that taking stuff results in attention and she's having fun with it. So first of all, stop rewarding her for taking things. She has the upper hand entirely if she has something you want back and she's enjoying this game. Try very hard to remove temptation from her, so that there isn't anything she can steal. I know this is difficult. Put out things that you don't mind her having and when she steals them, ignore her.

Young dogs need to have something to do to keep them occupied. First of all, she needs plenty of positive attention from you. Play with her, dogs need games every day. Have as much fun with her as possible, so she's getting her fix in a different way.

There are plenty of puzzle toys available for her to play with by herself, where you hide treats inside and they have to work out how to get them out. She needs occupying, so she doesn't make up her own games with you.

Dog behaviourists vary considerably in how good they are.

PollyRoulson Thu 10-Sep-20 15:53:28

Yep and can you see why it is not working 100% - a treat lasts a milli second, holding onto the item can mean fun for ages and ages.........

What you will end up doing is having a dog that either takes no notice, (beginning to happen already) or a dog that goes and picks up anything at all to get the treat and attention

PollyRoulson Thu 10-Sep-20 15:55:31

sorry that sounded preachey - I did not mean it to come across as that blush

Veterinari Thu 10-Sep-20 16:06:02

Firstly @CircetheWitch well done - it definitely sounds like you've made some good progress.

I'd suggest the next things to consider are 1. Increasing reassurance when she gives you something - you can do this by rewarding/returning the item to her as soon as she gives it up so that she doesn't always lose/trade the things. Obviously this depends on the item but if you can work on her bringing you a toy she has/rewarding her and immediately returning the toy, this will help to alleviate anxiety over losing it.

The other thing is to work on your reinforcers - use really nice food rewards, or think about tactile/attention or games as rewards depending on her motivations

The other thing to work on is impulse control. There are a number of general impulse control exercises you can do but 'tug' is a very good one. Using a rope toy get her interested and play tug by pulling the rope around. When she's latched on to the rope, stop suddenly and give the 'leave' command. The instant she relaxes her grip on the rope, give a verbal reinforcer (good girl) and restart the tug game to reward her. Do this repeatedly.

It works by getting her excited but then forces her to listen to your instruction and relax her grip on the rope in order to continue the game. So she repeatedly practices controlling her emotions/impulses. You can do similar when playing fetch by throwing the ball but making her wait before she retrieves (on command).

As much as possible practice safety with resources, leave her in peace to eat and rest etc.

CircetheWitch Thu 10-Sep-20 16:07:36

@Sertchgi123 - thank you. Trying very hard to remove anything that could be fun for her to grab and not make it a game. She does have lots of toys - including ones to engage her brain - and gets lots of positive attention from us. If an item isn't a risk to her (or something we don't care about!), I often ignore it and let her have stuff. Know it's important to reinforce 'good' behaviour rather than 'bad'.

However, and this also relates what you've said @PollyRoulson - I'm confused as to what to do if the item she's got is either dangerous to her (a bar of chocolate, say) or something she shouldn't have (some kids' homework, for example) and needs to be removed quickly. If she's tearing something to bits and growling when approached, how else am I supposed to deal with it other than make an exchange?

OP’s posts: |
PollyRoulson Thu 10-Sep-20 16:09:47

Dont let her get it in the first place.

Look at door gates, a pen keeping things out of her reach. This is vitally important.

CircetheWitch Thu 10-Sep-20 16:30:21

@Veterinari - thank you for your helpful and kind post. We do play fetch with her and reward her for bringing back the ball but haven't tried getting her to wait BEFORE retrieving. Also the tug game sounds good, I will try that.

Out of interest, I'm wondering how much training etc I should be giving her in a day? She is half collie, so needs stimulation - but I'm also aware that overdoing it is a bad thing. At the moment she has two walks a day that usually combine a little bit of training (recall, fetch, heel etc) with playing with other dogs and walking/running around. We're walking in woodland and a playing field - but in a city so lots of others around. They feel like quite stimulating/fun walks for her.

She lounges around sleeping for a lot of the day though might amble into the garden where there are balls and various things to chew etc. I might do a bit of training at lunchtime with her food...and then she usually sleeps again until her evening walk. Does this sound like we're perhaps not engaging with her enough?

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CircetheWitch Thu 10-Sep-20 16:35:33

@PollyRoulson - "sorry that sounded preachey - I did not mean it to come across as that" - no worries! Thank you.

We definitely try to keep things away from her that she shouldn't get hold of, but it's not always possible - particularly when we're out and there's overflowing rubbish bins or whatever. I'm most concerned with how I stop her growling if we have to take something away from her, and if this points to her becoming an aggressive dog.

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Sertchgi123 Thu 10-Sep-20 16:43:25

When you're out, how does she get hold of things she shouldn't have?

I agree that she has to be contained in order to stop her getting things.

As she has Collie in her, then she's highly intelligent and playing you very successfully.

You're coming at this from the wrong direction. You have to completely avoid having to take something off her, because once she's got something and growls, she has won and there's nothing you can do at that point.

The growling does not point to her becoming aggressive, it points to her winning because she's very intelligent.

CircetheWitch Thu 10-Sep-20 16:43:33

Ultimately - sorry to bang on - I'm just worried for what the future holds. I know a few dogs with issues but they can be managed. I've got a friend with a dog that is nervous around children and will bite/snap if they touch him - however, this friend doesn't have kids so it's rare she comes across them and takes precautions in certain situations. I've another friend with a very dog-reactive rescue that never lets them off the lead when out walking....

My big fear is that these guarding issues are becoming evident so early on that this is 'her'....and that this could be dangerous in a big busy house with children.

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