The Story of Effie: Managing Resource Guarding

October 30, 2013 | By Mellie Test

A couple of weeks before this latest incident, I'd asked Abby about possessiveness because Ronan seemingly increased his food guarding, and I'd notice Effie occasionally growling at Ronan while she was sitting on my lap.

Abby consulted her trainer friend (again — thankfully!), who said that relationships surrounding resources depend on the individual dogs and their temperaments, as well as how important the resources are to them at any given time. Age, gender, size, and breed do not and should not determine which dog defers, and who controls what resources.

She said that dogs communicating (such as growling or turning away) about resources (such as a toy, or even a person's lap) is fine, and that it's a good sign if they can work out differences through communication and without conflict. Effie's growling as a warning and Ronan's deferring would be considered "without conflict" as long as Ronan always continues to defer.

Abby recommended an article about different kinds of resource-control situations in multi-dog households. "As long as the pattern repeats itself, you needn't worry. You just need to stay calmly observant and take note if the pattern changes...If you see subtle signs of increasing tension, however, or if you see Scenario 2 behavior, where Dog B is bullying Dog A into giving up the resource, you have potential trouble brewing."

Abby suggested that we implement a "go to mat" behavior to give him something else to do when he comes over to investigate while Effie is on my lap. Abby says that "go to mat" is her favorite redirection behavior for helping her manage her own dogs.

She also suggested having an "invite only" rule for laps (and perhaps couches) so that I can determine appropriate timing. When the dogs are nice and tired, for example, guarding might not be an issue, but if the dogs have been cooped up or seem agitated from something earlier during the day, things could potentially escalate, and therefore lap time may be postponed.

Here's a fabulous video for teaching go to mat (which you can do without moving around so that works out well for the time you are laid up):

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