Aha Moment Re Alfie's Resource Guarding

Discussion in 'Dog Behavior Problems' started by Dioritt, Sep 21, 2012.

  1. Dioritt Well-Known Member

    I think I've realised where Alfie's problem stems from. On my previous thread (here) we discussed how Paul growls at Alfie and can be heavy-handed when taking things from him, but I don't think that's the main problem but it has probably exacerbated it. I don't know why I didn't mention this before - very stupid of me - but my daughter has a six month old Border Terrier that comes here most evenings and has his dinner with Alfie.

    Bruno is a bit of a bully boy. He used to totally ignore all of Alfie's warning signs when trying to steal his food or toys from him (because of his age, most probably. He started coming here from 8 weeks) and Alf has had to guard them from him. His food, especially, but also the toy he's playing with because Bruno will inevitably want THAT ONE.

    I think having to guard his food and toys (food especially) from Bruno has taught him to be on guard around everybody who might want to take things from him. After all, he never gets his food back from Bruno so why should he think he's going to get it back from anybody else, especially as sometimes he doesn't (when he's stolen something).

    Alfie's only 16 months so was still a baby himself when Bruno arrived on the scene. Also, it was just a few weeks after his arrival that I had to go into hospital for six weeks, leaving him with a friend who isn't experienced with dogs but who also had a 10 week old puppy at the time. I don't think her pup stole Alfie's food but Bruno was still around (she was living in my house for the duration of the hospital stay) and she certainly had her work cut out, looking after Alfie, who was 10 months, and two very young pups. I'm sure it was all too much for Alf to take in - losing his human mum, having my friend around instead and the two puppies leaping all over him and one of them stealing his food. Maybe if he'd been an older, more experienced dog, he'd have been able to put Bruno in his place but he was still very young himself.

    I'm sure this is the prime cause of the resource guarding and feel such a fool for not realising the root of it before. It was only last night, when Alf was calm and allowed me to take a really meaty bone from him that I started to think more along the lines of "why is he calmer now than usual?". Answer: because Bruno wasn't here!

    I realise now that I'm going to have to feed them separately, either in separate rooms or feed Alf before Bruno gets here. I'll work out which is more practical and feel my way forward with that.

    But should I stop Bruno from taking Alf's toys from him, too? Obviously he's free to play with any of the other toys here, but the one that Alf has at the time? I know that in doggy world, possession is nine tenths of the law and that Bruno is trying to exert dominance by taking the toy Alfie has, so I'm not entirely sure whether I should intervene or not. Bruno does this almost every time Alf has settled down with a toy. Bruno can be chewing on the deer antler (his favourite) but still he'll drop that to take away whatever Alf has.

    Alf and Bruno are good friends when they're out together. They stick together like glue then, so the relationship between them isn't all bad, but they do get into scraps when Bruno approaches to take something from Alf. No bloody has been drawn, though.

    We'll continue working on the bond between Paul and Alf as that definitely has been a problem, too, although it may not have been if Bruno hadn't been stealing Alf's food in the first place. There's no doubt that Paul's growling noises have been interpreted as a threat by Alf.

    As for why he bites my daughter more often than he bites me, what might be the reason behind that? I'm thinking either A) because she brings Bruno here so he associates her with him, or B) that he doesn't live with her so doesn't have the same degree of respect for her. Before she got Bruno, she used to train with Alfie, take him out for runs, etc but that mostly stopped when Bruno arrived. She's very patient with him, though. We've been bitten at least a dozen times between the three of us (my friend has never been bitten because she never tries to take anything from him), and still she loves him, as does Paul.

    With this new information (and I'm sorry for not mentioning Bruno in my previous thread), any ideas that you have would be warmly welcomed.

    alf&bruno.jpg alf&brunos.jpg
    Good mates when Bruno's not stealing stuff.
    MaryK likes this.

  2. Adrianna & Calvin Experienced Member

    Hi Sharon

    Hmm I might rain on the parade a bit here ... two things:
    1) all dogs are natural resource guarders. Every single one of them. Many dogs are so submissive that they don't bite (until they've got something they think is extremely valuable), but they ALL resource guard unless we purposefully do prevention exercises. If someone claims their dog doesn't do it, and they've never done any work for it, approach the dog when he's got something good. Does he eat faster? Move a bit so his body is between you and the Good Thing? Widen his eyes as you approach (so you can see the white part)? The dog is definitely on alert and guarding.
    2) it *almost* doesn't matter why, it just matters what the problem is. You should, if you haven't already, instituted management techniques between the two dogs so Alfie can eat his supper in peace every night. But apart from that, if Alfie's guarding did get worse during that 6 week period, well what matters is that it's pretty bad now.

    Questions like why it's worse for your daughter are interesting to ponder but don't make a difference in treatment. I would venture to say anyway that you've done the most work with Alf, teaching him that you're 'fair' in your exchanges and your approach means Good Things, so he's ok with you but no one else. Dogs don't tend to generalize this kind of information.

    There's one other concerning thing about Alfie's resource guarding, and that is that he's bitten to break skin. Dogs have incredible control over bite pressure and a puncturing bite only comes from a dog who doesn't have good bite inhibition or a dog who intended to cause harm. Based on your other descriptions of Alfie, and the situations you describe, I doubt it's the latter. It is hard to teach bite inhibition to an adult because they are no longer mouthing everything. Does he snatch treats from your fingers when he's excited? That might be a way to teach him about how hard he's using his teeth.
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  3. Dioritt Well-Known Member

    Thanks for your response.

    Yes, I realise they all resource guard as part of they're natural behaviour but they don't all generally bite when they're guarding, do they? I've had so many dogs I'd have to stop and count them and none of them ever bit anybody, even those I had when my kids were little and would take back things the dogs had "stolen" (I'm not sure it's really stealing, per se, more picking up stuff that they haven't been told they can have).

    With regards to his bite inhibition, he's very soft mouthed otherwise. He was a nipper as a pup but using "ouch" whenever he was too hard soon taught him to be more careful. We can play alls sorts of games with him and as soon as his teeth touch skin he'll pull back. He doesn't snatch treats, either, so I've no idea why he thinks it's okay to bite to the point of puncture when somebody tries to take something from him unless it really is to cause harm.

    I'll definitely get my daughter to give him more good stuff and exchange toys for treats etc. It's helped with my son. I'll try to get visitors to give him treats, too, and once he's more predictable, swap toys for treats.

    To be honest, I got Alfie at the wrong time. Not that any of us can see into the future but I ended up having two six-week stints in hospital, one when he was just three months old then another at 10 months and both times was still very poorly when I came out so I admit that I didn't manage the two dogs properly. It's difficult when you're having a hard time just managing yourself. But I'm much stronger now and am determined to do the right thing by them both. Alfie's such a good dog in every other respect that I can't possibly give up on him because of this.
    MaryK likes this.
  4. Adrianna & Calvin Experienced Member

    Hi Sharon

    Some dogs will turn to biting if the perceived 'rude' human behavior persists:

    And some puppies start out aggressively resource guarding:

    It depends on the dog's temperament, the value of the guarded food or object, the situation, and who's being guarded against. Some dogs will explode over plain kibble in a bowl. My late dog only growled over raw marrow bones. My current dog really only guards from my cat. But any dog, given a high value food and a more desperate situation (hunger, environmental stress), may decide to risk injury in defending a meal. As for the ones who guard kibble, and those who start out as puppies, well, we're all hardwired differently and that goes to temperament as well.

    I'm glad, Alfie is a lucky dog. If insurance does cover it, why not see Sarah Heath, maybe she can offer something new from an outsider's perspective.

    Take care and do keep us posted.
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  5. MaryK Honored Member

    Thank goodness I've never been faced with dogs of my own as bad as those in the vids PHEW!!!!!

    So glad you're not giving up on Alfie, he's one lucky dog. And not using 'old school training' either.

    I agree, teach everyone, starting with your daughter to gently offer treats to Alfie. If he shows signs of biting, just back away. Does he growl a warning first? Or does he just go straight for the bite? Most dogs will give a warning growl first, as seen in the second vid. and only bite when their threshold is reached. Biting, in it's different levels, is the dog's last line of defense and something they usually don't do unless pushed too far. I would definitely stop before Alfie reaches threshold limit because it's dangerous for anyone to try past that point. Especially as his level of bites have reached puncturing the skin level.

    Make sure any treats offered in exchange for whatever Alfie is guarding are VERY VERY HIGH VALUE ONES - something he would really love, not just your common garden treats:) They have to be SO GOOD he'll decide to relinquish whatever he is guarding without any anger whatsoever.

    If your insurance does cover Sarah then I would be calling her in, as this is a major problem. Breaking skin isn't good and although everyone is very understanding, there just may be that one person who decides not to be, and will get very annoyed/upset.

    It's a positive that Alfie is great in all other areas and takes treats gently, so you just have the one problem, albeit major one, to work with.
    Dioritt likes this.
  6. Dioritt Well-Known Member

    Again, thanks for your advice.

    I've checked with Alfie's insurance company and unfortunately behaviour isn't covered. £24.95 a month I pay so I would have expected it to be, but there you go. It isn't :-( I'll give Sarah Heath a call anyway and find out how much a consultation costs.

    Alfie is somewhere between the two videos above. Sometimes he'll give a warning growl (a long, drawn out grumbling) for a few seconds then 'wham'.... he bites. Other times he'll give just a warning growl that's long enough for a retreat without getting bitten. Then there are other times he'll say nothing. He'll just hold onto whatever you're taking, completely silent, and then suddenly he bites. Mostly there are warning growls, though. BUT, he is getting better. My daughter took his toy from his last night. They were playing when he suddenly clamped down hard on the toy (after letting her take it several times) so she thought "this is it, he's gonna bite" but he didn't. He held it hard for a few seconds then let go. She then gave him jackpot treats and LOADS of fuss and praise. Before, if he clamped down hard it almost inevitably meant you either moved your hand or you'd get bitten.

    We fed the dogs separately last night - Alfie in the living room and Bruno in the kitchen. That didn't work too well, though. Alf was happy enough but Bruno just whined, barked and scratched at the door. I told my daughter she should have sat in the kitchen with him so tonight we'll do the opposite. Alf will go in the kitchen and I'll sit out there with him. I'm just going to give him kibble and keep throwing in bits of raw meat. I certainly don't want either of the dogs feeling that they're being punished for eating their meal.

    There was one squabble over a toy between the dogs last night. Alf had his duck (I'd removed the majority of the toys so that there wouldn't be so much to guard, but Alf likes to have something in his mouth) and Bruno tried to take it. They were friends again straight after so I don't think it was a problem. It's just as well he had a toy, though, because a neighbour popped in and he tends to mouth people to say hello (it's a Poodle thing) but because he knows he's not allowed to do that (it scares some people) he grabs his toy and holds it so that he can't mouth them. It's strange really because his self control is very good in all other areas than when we're taking something he thinks he ought not relinquish.

    Alf always has high value treats. I use cheese, cocktail sausages, hotdogs, chicken and any bits of cooked meat that are left over from our dinners. He won't even entertain standard shop-bought dog treats but will generally work hard for the ones he has.
    MaryK likes this.
  7. MaryK Honored Member

    That's a bummer with the insurance, I too would think that what you pay should cover behavioral issues, which are really just as important as physical issues. Hope you can work something out with Sarah Heath cost wise. Maybe she has an installment plan.

    It's hard feeding dogs separately and invariable one will get upset if left alone. I have had a small issue with my two boys on the feeding side. Zeus has the policy what's mine is mine and what's yours is also mine when it comes to food. So for a while I fed them both outside, not in the kitchen, and for some reason maybe because there is more room or because they were alone (I did not stay outside with them) the issue resolved itself. But I wouldn't suggest doing that in your case. I agree though neither dog should be left alone while feeding as that dog will perceive it as some form of punishment.

    Woopeeeee!!!!!!! Things are getting better. What you're doing is working. No need really to say to you it's an issue which takes time, patience and consistency, as I'm sure you're already aware of that.

    I think when Alfie doesn't growl but goes straight for the bite, his body language is what you need to observe. The tighter clamping down on the toy. Does he seem to stiffen as well?

    Great that Bruno and Alfie sorted out the toy issue themselves. Provided you can see it's not going to develop into a blood bath it's often better to let the two 'combatants' figure it out doggy style. I always did that with Zeus and his sister Tiger Lily. Never once did it even look like getting to the claw and fang stage, just a good verbal ticking off by Tiger Lily at her brother Zeus when he tried to 'share' her food!

    Anything of highest value with his treats? Something he absolutely adores more than any of the others? That's the treat I would use in this case.
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  8. Dioritt Well-Known Member

    Yes, I realise this isn't going to be resolved overnight but we've lived with the problem this long so we can live with it longer. Seeing things moving in the right direction makes me feel really happy and proud of Alf. I know he's trying hard to do the right thing because of the situations where he would usually have bitten but has managed to control himself.

    He does give signs through his body language. Definitely stiffens when he clamps down on a toy (or more likely, something he's found that he thinks he should have) and his head will go down slightly. I do watch for body language and I think this is probably why my son gets bitten more than me or my daughter, because he isn't as aware of Alf's body language. They're just a bit too subtle for him to pick up on.

    I'm trying to think whether there's a treat he loves more than any other but I can't think of anything offhand. Nothing that's small enough to be used every time he gives up something that he'd usually guard, anyway. I suppose in situations where he's found something (that's when he's least likely to give it up) then I could give him a bigger treat like a pig's ear, or a piece of dried liver, but not with the toys.

    He's laying here beside me now looking as if butter wouldn't melt. But then again, most of the time it wouldn't :)
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  9. MaryK Honored Member

    You've every right to be happy and proud of Alfie and don't forget to give yourself a pat on the back too for persevering and working on his issue:D(y) . I can well understand how you feel because after Ra Kismet had his big over reaction when out meeting other dogs (result of dog attacking us in the street) each little step towards him getting back to being a normal, happy dog, was a cherished moment for me. Still is and we're almost there! One thing we can rely on with dogs is that their love and loyalty to us makes them really try to do the right thing. And with the care and training Alfie is receiving he'll get there I don't doubt that for a moment.

    Definitely agree, why you're bitten less than Paul . You read the body language and know when to 'back off' before the ultimate reaction - a decent bite. I guess it may be a bit hard to you to teach Paul the 'warning signals'.

    LOL I think Alfie is spoiled treat wise:LOL: But yes, when he's found something, I would try the bigger treat like a pig's ear or dried liver. If he's watching his weight, then I'd go for the liver first, a bit less fattening than the pig's ear:)

    Well really, apart from this one issue, he's a wonderful boy and butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. He just needs to learn the lessons now he needed to learn when a little younger but unfortunately because of your illness and subsequent hospitalization you were not able to teach him.

    I know you're not going to give up:D so I am confident in saying that Alfie will learn this important lesson and be perfect in every respect. Pats to Alfie for his work so far and chocolate to you for being such a wonderful person and helping Alfie get through his issue.
  10. Dioritt Well-Known Member

    I didn't realise you'd had that problem with Ra Kismet, Mary. I'm too new here to know much about each member and their dogs but I'm reading a lot and trying to catch up. I really like it here - the best dog forum I've found. Everybody seems to be so friendly and understanding, instead of pointing a finger as soon as things go wrong.

    Yeah, it's hard to teach Paul to look for the signs. He just doesn't see those subtle changes. I have to keep an eye on them the whole time when they're together because Paul will still just try to grab something from Alf instead of just holding his hand partly under his chin and using a pleasant sound for "give" while offering a treat (he can't actually speak so Alf's been learning what Paul's sounds mean). I have to remind him every time. Paul's terribly forgetful, but that isn't his fault, it's part of his syndrome.

    I'm looking forward to feeding Alf alone tonight and giving him bits of meat with his kibble. It'll be interesting to see how he reacts to my hand coming towards the bowl then. He has been allowing me to stand right by him while he's eating recently, so that's a step in the right direction, too, being as it's only a week or so ago that he'd growl if I came within two feet of it.

    I'm off to do some chair trick training now. Lol.
    MaryK likes this.
  11. MaryK Honored Member

    Yes big time problem with Ra Kismet. Went from being an angel to walk to a total zoned out tantrum big time after a dog attacked both of us when out walking. No physical injuries sustained but mentally it completely upset Ra Kismet, who's a really friendly chap with people and dogs. I think my post is Over Reaction Tantrum Big Time or something like that, it's in the behavior thread from memory around the end of July/beginning of August this year. Happened very end of July this year, he's made amazing progress back to being a normal boy again. Just the Big One, passing a dog face to face without any reaction, we're almost there, just a little way to go and I am not pushing him. Just taking it easy peasey, one step at a time.

    This forum is awesome, people are all so helpful and friendly. And the advice given is very sound, practical and no-one gives up, points the finger or anything untoward at all. It's the only forum now that I am on or go to, as I don't need any other!

    You are really doing well with Paul, must be so hard for you and I totally understand where you're coming from. But dogs have helped children with problems like Paul, so it's really a mutual learning together and understanding each other. As you say Alfie has had to learn Paul's way of communicating too.

    Do let us know how Alfie goes with feeding tonight. He's making such good progress and you know just how far to go without pushing him to the threshold and thereby undoing all the good work so far. Definitely a step in the right direction, him allowing you to stand by his bowl.:D(y)

    Good luck and as I said, keep us posted, very interested to see how Alfie progresses. He'll get there in the end that's for sure!:D
  12. Dioritt Well-Known Member

    Things are going well :-)

    The first night I gave Alf kibble but he wasn't interested. He very rarely has kibble being as we raw feed, so he turned his nose up at that and just walked away from the bowl. So instead I called him to me, and hand fed him pieces of raw meat. He sat nicely and took eat piece carefully.

    The next night I put minced chicken in his bowl and held a chicken wing. He was a bit uncertain as to whether he should go to the bowl or to me - both options were good. He decided to go to the bowl first, so I approached while he was eating and there were no growls. I leant down and put my hand (without the chicken) by the bowl. Still no growling and he backed up slightly. I then threw the chicken wing into the bowl.

    Last night I had a friend's pup here and didn't want to leave him to eat alone so I didn't do any food bowl training other than to stroke Alf while he was eating. He was perfectly happy to let me do that. No stiffening and he actually lifted his head to have me pet his chin. BIG difference! I'm not sure he'd have let me take the bowl, but it's a huge step in the right direction.

    We've also been doing lots of 'leave it' and 'drop it' training with high value treats. That's been going well, too. If he hasn't wanted to swap, we haven't pushed it, but last night and today he's been swapping a lot. Paul even managed to take back a pair of socks that he'd stolen without so much as a growl even though he didn't have a treat close by at the time. As soon as Alf had given back the socks he started asking for his treat so Paul went downstairs and found one for him, with Alf following after him, tail wagging away. Paul's really starting to understand the idea of having to swap for a treat now :-)

    AND... and this one is probably the one I was most pleased with.... Alf was having a bit of a quarrel with Bruno over a toy. Alf had the toy but Bruno wanted it, too, so he went into gaurding mode. Lots of growling and snapping. I asked Alf to give the toy, and offered him a treat, and immediately he dropped it. I picked it up quickly before Bruno could get it, gave Alf the treat, then gave him back the toy (then distracted Bruno with the deer antler - his favourite thing).

    It's so nice to see things going in the right direction :-D
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  13. MaryK Honored Member

    Thrilled to read of your progress. That's awesome that Alfie allowed you to feed him, LOL my boys don't knock back anything resembling food, Alfie is such a gentleman:D.

    Excellent work with the chicken and throwing it in when he backed up a bit.

    I wouldn't go for picking up the bowl just yet, as I'm sure you won't, as he's come on so well allowing you to stroke him and even lifting his head for a chin tickle. That's a MASSIVE step in the right direction. Way to go Alfie!(y):D:love:

    That's so wonderful that Paul is also learning and how cute that he went downstairs, with Alfie wagging his tail in right by him, and gave Alfie his treat. Absolutely wonderful you must be so happy for them both.:love:(y):D

    WHOOOPEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!! HUGE step forward with Alfie and Bruno, can well understand that you're most pleased with that. Honestly you've worked so hard and now you can start to see really positive results! So happy for you all!:love:(y):)

    Alfie is one smart dog he's really 'getting it' so quickly I am thrilled to read of his progress. Do keep us posted please.(y):D:love:
  14. Dioritt Well-Known Member

    Quick update:

    Alf hasn't bitten anybody at all since my last post. Not even threatened. And for the past few days there hasn't even been any stiffening of his body. Nothing at all.

    He'll now let me take his food away, add more to the bowl, and put it back. I do this regularly - it's been part of teaching him that I provide, not take away. I started by feeding him low value food and adding something of higher value. Then feeding him the high value food and adding something of even higher value etc. I also fed him with his bowl between my legs, adding pieces of food as he ate. We then progressed to feeding from the hand with stop/start - if he stopped twice when he was told, he was then given the lot to eat in peace.

    We've done lots and lots of swapping things for treats and, if suitable, giving the original item back again. Now I'm able to ask for any item he has, including things he's stolen, and he'll give me them. I still give him a treat and fuss every time and he seems to actually go around looking for things to pick up so that he'll be asked to 'give' and get a reward. I'm pleased with that, because it means he's really thinking about it and how good it is to give stuff up.

    I'm so incredibly proud of him :):D:). It just goes to show that even though some people were telling me my dog was dangerous and that I shouldn't keep a dog that's bitten once, let alone the number of times Alf had bitten, you can turn these things around.

    Sometimes, when I take things from him now, I actually wonder whether he's the same dog or just one who looks exactly like him. Lol. He's my treasure :)
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  15. jackienmutts Honored Member

    This is such fabulous news!!! Kudos to you for all your hard work, and esp for NOT giving up on Alfie!!!!!!! (y)(y)(y) Keep up the great work with him. The trust that will continue to develop will be worth it's weight in gold!! All dogs ask is that we listen to them, and when we do, and they see that we are listening to what they're asking, and that we're willing to hear them, and work with them, they try so hard to work with us - it's amazing, isn't it? LOVE stories like this!!! Reading this was a great way to start my day!! :D Keep up the good work!

    Just a side note: if you ever see Alfie feeling uncomfortable with anything you're doing, take a step back and be ok with whatever he's asking, and just slow way down, do some backtracking, whatever it takes. Always remember to listen to him and respect his wishes. Dogs have 'days' like we do, but it sounds like things are going great now.
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  16. Dioritt Well-Known Member

    Thank you, Jackiemutts. I'm glad Alf's progress gave you a good start to your day. Every morning, when I look at him and think about how far he's come, it gives me a great start :)

    The note about backing up if he's uncomfortable is really good advice. I do try to be aware of what he's trying to communicate to me, but it's always good to be reminded. We humans do have a tendency to forget that we have to listen to them as well as expecting them to listen to us. When we were still at the stage where he was clearly uncomfortable at times when I asked him to give me something, I'd move back and call him to me instead. He seemed happier to do it if he'd been given a choice. I think that's pretty important - to let the dog have 'a say' in what's happening, instead of just forcing our wishes on them.

    Ooops.... he's just stolen a tissue. No doubt because he wants a treat for giving it back to me :)
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  17. MaryK Honored Member

    Overjoyed with Alfie's progress!!!!:D:love::love: It's amazing isn't it what LOVE, patience, listening to your dog can do, in turning around a dog once considered 'dangerous' by some, into a boy who's a total joy to know:D:love:

    I'm just thrilled and you've made my day, or LOL rather night. Reading success stories like yours is something which makes this forum so grand. Jackie is so right, all dog's are asking for is for us to listen to them! Take notice of what's bothering them and work with them to overcome the problems. And you've done just that with Alfie.

    You've every right to be so proud of him and give yourself a big pat on the back too for all the time, work and effort, you have put in to help Alfie.

    Congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!!(y):D Do stay with us, we want to hear more about Alfie, his new tricks and everything.:D
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