Does your dog snarl when you try to take a toy from him? Growl when another dog approaches his food bowl? Or perhaps "protect" you from passing people or dogs on the sidewalk? If so, you may have a resource guarder.
Resource guarding is a normal phenomenon in the animal world. A feral dog that doesn't guard his food is likely to starve. Even people guard what they find valuable. We set up security cameras around our properties, lock our valuables in safe places, and may refuse to share our hard-earned money with others. While our dogs don't have expensive jewelry or savings accounts, they do have items that are valuable to them: food, toys, chewies, sleeping spots, and beloved family members. And they don't want to lose their treasured belongings any more than you do.
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When my private training clients are faced with their dog’s behavior issue, we address it through behavior modification, a sort of “doggie therapy,” if you will. But when does a dog need “therapy,” as opposed to regular manners training?
Do versus Feel
Typical dog training is intended to teach your dog good manners: staying on his dog bed while you eat dinner, walking on a loose leash, or sitting while you open the door for him. This kind of obedience training prepares dogs to be polite members of your household and community by teaching them what behavior is acceptable and what is not. For instance, a well-trained dog is able to sit calmly when being pet by a stranger, rather than jump up on him. In essence, training teaches your dog to do something, whether it’s a sit-stay or recall.
Then there is behavior modification. The purpose here is to encourage your dog to feel something rather than do something. Just as many people look to a therapist to help them overcome an emotional hurdle, lots of dogs can benefit from behavior modification to address unhealthy behaviors. Common issues include: leash aggression towards other dogs or people, resource guarding, fearful displays such as hiding or shutting down, separation anxiety, reactivity to loud noises, or intense barking at triggers such as the doorbell. When dealing with any behavior issue, we have to consider the underlying emotions that are driving the unwanted behavior. That is, how can we make your dog feel better? By focusing on the feelings associated with the barking rather than the action of barking itself, you can address the underlying problem.
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Kate is a certified dog behavior consultant, certified dog trainer, certified dog parkour instructor, and award-winning author.
The views expressed on this website belong to Kate Naito and may not reflect the views of the agencies with which she trains.