Sudden guarding aggression
We have a huge problem with my 19 week old that just came out of nowhere. Yesterday while my husband was flirting with her, they took a break and he put the flirt down and went to handle her. We practice handling her multiple times a day (let me see your teeth, your ears, your eyes, your paws, etc). She growled and snapped at him in a way that suggested she was guarding the flirt. We thought it might be an isolated incident because she doesn't want to be handled when she's in prey drive mode, which makes some sense.
She got LOTS of exercise last night and this morning we got up and went out as usual. My husband took her for a walk and it went great. Then he fed her in her crate. We do it exactly the same way all the time. We prepare her food in one bowl and then dole it out in portions in another bowl while she's in her crate. So she sits and waits for us to prepare it, then she settles in the crate, then she gets the food. When the bowl is empty, we take it out (she stays in the crate), put more in, and give it back to her. We have always done this and she's always been perfectly fine. But this morning, she guarded her bowl, even when it was empty and he was putting more in. She barked and actually bit his hand and drew blood. I went in to finish feeding her and she was fine when I gave her her food, but when I went to take the bowl away, she barked and snapped at me. She's obviously resource guarding, but why now? We've been taking her to puppy training and working with her constantly. We exercise her and love on her and she's really been coming along with obeying us more and biting less. But this new behavior out of nowhere is terrifying. She's 45 pounds already and will obviously only get bigger. I know there are things we can work on with guarding, but it worries me that we had already firmly established with her that us being around while she's eating is a GOOD thing. We take the bowl, she gets more food.
We're both in tears because we feel like we already give every single minute of our time and effort to this dog. We work full time and we walk her every morning, come home and interact with her every lunch, and exercise and play with her every night for all of the time we have. She's always been on the verge of being "too much dog" for us, but I've always said that if it's just a matter of us trying harder, we'll keep trying harder. She's SO good and SO sweet and we love her SO much. But I don't know how much MORE work we can do.
I know that guarding is a fairly common issue, but does anyone know why it would come out of nowhere like this? And what we can do about it?
Your pup is nearly 5 months and growing up. She is a high drive pup according to your post. You didn't say how your husband reacted when she growled when he picked up the flit pole. If he did nothing to discipline her (meaning - when she growled - he told her immediately in a stern voice - to sit and stay - and then picked up the flit pole). If he backed away and gave up, then her behavior the next day when being fed and she bit your hand - is perfectly understandable. She got away with the behavior the day before in a mild form with the growling and won (according to her way of thinking) so now she is the boss and will take over. You and your husband need to take charge. I suggest you stop with the doling out of the food that has become a game to her. Put all her food down at once and leave her eat alone. For the flit pole - well you have already realized this, but I would not put down her beloved flit pole which she is focused on as the prey and then expect her to accept petting. What I would expect her to do is after I let her take a victory lap with the flt pole after a game is over, to bring it to do me and give it to me, I would put it away and then I would give her treat in return and praise her for playing well. If you have classes in your area, I suggest you sign up, because with your pup - walks, exercise, and love are not enough. She needs training and a job to do which she does when she performs the obedience exercises. I also suggest you start with the Nothing In Life is Free program - there are some excellent threads on that.
She did not win when she growled at him yesterday. He took her leash, made her sit, told her NO, and then moved her to a different location and examined her as he had planned.
The only reason we ever doled out her food was to slow her down some when she was eating. She's always been perfectly fine with us doing it. This is the first time she's ever shown any even slight problem with it. In fact, I would often ruffle her head after putting her food down and she wouldn't respond at all (except to keep voraciously eating).
We have in her basic puppy training and we go three times a week. The class is only technically once per week, but they do it in different locations and don't mind if you attend various ones. We go so often because she needs the socialization with other dogs and we think it's good for her to repeat the tasks. We work with her on the homework all the time, and we practice NILIF. She doesn't get anything without doing something for it first.
It probably isn't good practice to mess with a puppy at all when it is eating, head ruffling included in that.
The puppy escalated its behavior, so it more than likely got some sort of feedback that it found positive enough to continue the behavior and escalate it. His negative feedback might have came way too late after the puppys behavior to be effective or it might have been done in too weak a way after he did something that showed weakness such as gasping or falling back a bit in shock to the new behavior (it isn't really new he learned this works with his liter mates long ago) . I don't know what happened, I just suspect it did, but we can only take your word for it.
You have a 1.5 second window or so to punish an undesirable behavior with good effectiveness. The further outside that window you go the more the chance the puppy will fail to link the consequence with the action. Past 4-5 second mark you might as well not punish at all because the dog just won't get it.
Had a puppy of mine done this the no followed by appropriate level of handtronix (a pop with the hand) would have been applied immediately. I wouldn't have tried to give an obedience command to rectify a behavior problem, you don't want your dogs associating obedience with punishment or correction anyway, because you want those behaviors associated with positive things. On top of that according to what you said he punished your puppy for sitting. He took the leash told the dog to sit then said no.
I would wonder is it a good idea to give her food in stages. I find when I add more food to a dogs bowl it encourages them to wolf the food. As in swallow as fast as possible rather than eat it slowly. It also increases competition. It is easier for them to understand, 'here's my food and nobody or dog is gonna mess with it and I'm gonna eat it'.
I would just give the bowl all at once and let her eat it in peace. When i feed I hold the bowl of food over the dog or pup and wait for them to give me eye contact and then give them the food. Usually they will be transfixed with the food but after a while they realize when they sit relaxed and look at me they get the food served quicker.
I find this way is the most relaxed way to eat for them and causes no issues.(I feed a few dogs at a time, so this way works for me and causes least tension between the dogs)
I would feed her out of the crate as well in an open area.
I always eat my food and feed the dogs after. This is a small signal that i am in control of the resources. As is the techniques above. I use the food to calm the dogs. The method you are using is encouraging the dog to be aggressive. It is hard to explain why, but the actions of the dog speaks for itself.
It will then act better and respect you more.
Not to be defensive, but I think these responses have been off the mark (I'm the husband). I probably didn't explain it in explicit detail when I told my wife the story.
When Morgan growled at me during her flirt pole session, I corrected the growl not the sit. I never punish compliance with obedience. Also, I continued the handling routine to enforce that we get to handle her when we need to (e.g. when she's hurt). In fact, I was pretty proud of her that she got through it despite having an issue. Here is exactly what happened:
This was not the first time we performed an obedience exercise in the middle of a game. In fact, I do it regularly. I like to mix play and training because a) I get to use play as a special reward, and b) I want to get her accustomed to the idea that she should be obedient at any time. Maybe she's too young, but it had never been a problem previously.
As for doling her food, again, our concern is how fast she eats. We don't want her to get bloat. Morgan eats 1.5 cups of dry kibble in less than 10 seconds. This was the case from the very beginning; we didn't encourage fast eating by feeding her slowly. It got so bad that we started the dole and got all new dishes to address the issue. First we tried elevating her food, which had no effect. Now we use a slow-food dish, which makes it maybe 20 seconds per portion, but it would probably be 30 seconds if we gave it to her all at once.
I should also say that we don't pander to her needs for food. When we serve her, we have her sit-stay while we prepare a portion. Then we will sit in a chair with the portion in our lap or whatever--someplace clearly in our control--until she is quiet and makes good eye contact. At that point we release her stay and have her settle in her crate. There has never been a single issue with mealtime (except the speed eating, which we addressed) until this morning. That includes last night after the incident with the flirt pole.
Our trainer, who specializes in treating dog aggression, suggested that we feed her on-leash, in portions, and call her away from the food periodically. I don't know if it's going to work, but it made lunch much safer if nothing else and she didn't direct any aggression at us. All I can say about the trainer is that he has come highly recommended by at least 4 vets as well as our neighbors, a coworker with an aggressive dog, and just about everyone else in town who we've talked to about dog training (like pet store employees and patrons). "Our town" having a population of 250,000, that's not a trivial recommendation.
I don't know if this all sounds harsh or overly strict or whatever, but I can say for certain that social distancing and other motivational techniques to put her on a lower level don't work on this dog. She comes from a working line, she's very willful and has no reaction to taste or noise. Leaving the room, being a tree, shaker cans, holding the muzzle, hand on the back of the head, calming signals--all the techniques recommended in literature (e.g. the art of raising a puppy) or by trainers and vets--are ineffective on Morgan. We've been told she would be perfect for law enforcement because no suspect would be able to deter her.
Maybe we do need to become mentally tougher or whatever, but I don't know if we are adequately expressing the suddenness of the change. When I brought my puppy in from her walk this morning to give her breakfast, I knew her implicitly. After breakfast, I feel like I don't know this dog. It was like a switch flipped.
I don't know; this is long. I guess my point is that we've either previously tried or already incorporated most of the suggestions into our routine. The only thing we definitely do differently from the feedback is feed her in doles. If it's okay for a 19-week-old puppy to eat a cup and a half of food in 30 seconds or less, then maybe we can stop with the portioning.
I can only give my opinion on what "I" would do in your situation.
The flirt pole incident, it sounds like the flirt pole was pretty close to her when you decided to check her teeth/paws etc? I would remove the flirt pole from the scene, stop the game, give her a few mins to chill out, calm down, since she's probably still in an exciteable stage..and then do the "check"..all goes well, go back to the game.
The food ...I personally wouldn't go thru the portion thing, get in the crate routine.
Right now, after her snapping, growling episode..I'd sit there and feed her every single piece BY HAND..Not in the crate.
No I don't like the idea of her chowing down 1.5 cups in 10 seconds, and she just may be doing it, because of the portion thing your doing.
I'm certainly not saying what your trainer said was "wrong". I am just saying what I would "try".
It's really hard to say 'what' she's thinking or why she's doing what she's doing. But somewhere along the line she IS becoming guardy and possessive of 'things'.
Puppies CAN change with the flip of a switch, one day they know every command you taught them, the next they look at you like "DUH? HUH?"..
Let me ask you this, how much PRAISE and REWARD does she get for doing "good" things?? Just curious.
Chris, I cannot recommend Mind Games strongly enough. It was recommended to me by a fellow poster, msvette, when I adopted my shelter puppy. This "puppy" is now a year old, not a GSD, but a hound mix - probably beagle/JRT/something. At any rate, he is by far the most challenging dog I have ever owned - including my dog aggressive German Shepherd. He is very snarky. When he first arrived, he resource guarded EVERYTHING - his food, his toys, his crate, his space, his body.
I started doing Mind Games with him. I did not feed him in his crate. I sat on a stool and made him sit in front of me. I hand fed him every meal. He had to earn every handful. BTW, he also ate very quickly. The commands don't have to be difficult. It can be a sit, or down, a high five, whatever he knows. My dog learned a lot of tricks. Sometimes, he had to touch his nose to my hand, beg, roll over. Wait and watch were two very important ones. I would tell him to wait and put the food in his bowl. He wasn't allowed to eat it, until I said so. Other times, he couldn't touch the food until he made eye contact and touched my hand.
We also did the 30 minute downstay every day.
It sounds like you really love your boy, but it doesn't sound like he is earning all that love you are smothering him with. Make him work for it.
Mind Games (version 1.0) by M. Shirley Chong
Here is the link. It worked WONDERS for my dog. You can do all of the steps, or modify it to your needs. With resource guarding, I always trade, never take. They resource guard, because they "think" you are going to take something away. Even removing the bowl to add food, you were taking his bowl. Leave the bowl in place and put the food in the bowl, or have him eat out of your hand. My dog no longer gobbles his food either.
Good luck! This is fixable.
Thank you Jakoda. You're correct, the flirt pole was close to her, which was probably a mistake. Putting it up (she understands that when it's on the table, we're not playing for now) and then doing the check is a good idea.
Just to clarify, 1.5 cups in 10 seconds was before we started portioning and what led us to portion in the first place. She's much better now that we break it up into smaller chunks, but of course that was before the guarding. I should also mention that we have always fed her the last quarter cup or so by hand. We fed her probably half a cup by hand this afternoon, after following our trainer's advice, which she took with no problem. I think we'll try doing most if not all of it by hand for now.
She gets LOTS of praise for good and we always try to set her up to succeed. If she's having a rough time with something, like returning the ball during fetch or something, we redirect to another game where we can give her praise and reward. We use "yes" (single action), "good" (keep doing that) and treats and affection. She more motivated by treats or toys than affection, but we always do both. And always a very upbeat and happy voice when praising ("Good, Morgan, GOOD, very good, good girl!")
What are the dogs issues in your opinion?
Another thing is maybe it would be better to not use the flirt pole until the dog is older and can mentally handle it.
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