Dogcharmer: Resource guarding

Sometimes Ludwig is protecting his food, other times he is protecting you.

Ludwig struggles with some resource overprotection. — Tom Shelby

Hi Tom,

My daughter needs to be able to recall Ludwig when he gets out the door. Also, how do we get Ludwig not to eat the 2-year-old cat and 16-year-old bichon frisé?


Dear Melisa,

Let’s start with the first question, the recall. As far as I’m concerned, knowing that your dog will come to you when called is critical. And luckily, dogs, like people, are creatures of habit, so it’s a matter of conditioning.

If you’ve seen my last column, “Not taking my own advice, Part 2,” I now have a 9-month-old (punk age) goldendoodle named Jeffrey. Almost every day, we hike a couple of miles on woodland trails with Jeffrey off-leash. In his sprinting around the woods, he will often range as far as 150 yards from me, and so far he has come straight back to me when I called him, literally 100 percent of the time, and I call him for the recall more than 10 times every walk. His conditioning started in the house, when I called him to come when he wasn’t expecting it. Four out of five times he got a treat when he arrived. He didn’t get a treat every time, because I wanted his attitude to be, “Maybe there’s a treat, maybe not, I better go check it out!” When he was 100 percent indoors, we took it outside, but I initially ratcheted up the treats from dog treats to small hot dog and chicken pieces. Now it’s all dog treats, and he’s extremely reliable, even when there’s a major distraction, like another dog or a deer.

Melisa, having spoken to you about Ludwig’s going after the elderly bichon and the cat, I’ve determined that you’re dealing with a touch of “resource guarding.” If you reach into a food bowl while a dog is eating and the dog growls or snaps at the hand, the resource he’s guarding is the food. So often, the dog owner in this situation makes the mistake of punishing the dog for its guarding response, either by taking the bowl away or yelling or hitting the dog, which makes the problem worse. A better response is to approach the dog while eating and tell him, “Here’s a gift” as you drop a little piece of chicken or ham into the bowl. Do that a few times, and he will welcome your arrival when he’s eating, as opposed to guarding the space.

Considering Ludwig’s size and age, he could seriously hurt the bichon and cat if he wanted to. My guess is he’s a little jealous of the resource he’s guarding, which is probably you. Picture the toy poodle sitting on Grandma’s lap that starts growling when the 3-year-old grandson approaches. The resource in this case is Grandma, and the poodle doesn’t want to share her with the grandson. The “resource” in a guarding situation can be quite subtle.

So my suggestion, until I get to meet Ludwig, is that you give him positive associations with the bichon and the cat. When Ludwig takes notice of them, happily tell him about his four-legged friends as you give him a couple of treats. If he associates the joy of treats with the cat and bichon, it may well change his attitude toward them.

Nonetheless, I will teach him a “leave it” command when we get together. “Leave it,” meaning to ignore whatever you are focused on, be it a cat or a piece of steak on the floor.

Looking forward,
Dogcharmer Tom

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