Is this resource guarding? Dominant behaviour? Out of ideas - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 154 (permalink) Old 07-30-2019, 09:09 PM Thread Starter
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Question Is this resource guarding? Dominant behaviour? Out of ideas

I have searched, I have read, I can't decide what approach is applicable in my specific situation. So here goes:

Oso is our 15 month old mostly GSD, we adopted him 5 weeks ago. He was with a couple since a pup before they split up and he went to the shelter where he his balls were removed 6 weeks ago. His original origins are unknown. He's sometimes timid but getting better, super smart and great fun. We love him.

I work from home, he immediately bonded to me (even before we got home). I've been working on lots of behaviours, but there is one that I can't seem to solve. He doesn't trust/is aggressive towards my wife and it doesn't seem to be getting better.

When we got him, he was pretty nervous around the house but behaved well. He would sometimes grumble as you walk past his bed but we ignored him and he got more trusting. But then as time went by, he started getting worse at guarding his bed against my wife, and after 2 weeks it escalated into snarling and occasionally running towards her aggressively. With the bed removed, it would be the rug he was lying on etc. At this point we realised it wasn't just a case of waiting for him to settle in.

So we upped the attempts to teach him to trust her, she is the only one that gives him "high value" treats (hot dog chunks). And she'll throw them to him when he's just chilling on his bed, or give them to him when she walks past. He seemed to be getting better, a few days went by with no growling. He'll roll over for her on command, and listen to other commands well also.

Now is a good time to mention when she is here, it's always her who feeds him. She's been able to take bones from him that he finds in the bushes without a problem, in fact we've never had any problems outside the house. And 80% of the behaviour is when he's tired in the evening, or sleepy in the mornings. During that time he will sometimes appear afraid of me too (ears back, head down etc). We have never told him off for growling, only rewarded him for looking chilled on his bed and not growling. When he was growling we were just walking past or walking away not reacting. I did shout "down" to him twice when he ran 10m across the room barking and snarling straight at my wife, but resisted the urge to scold him.

Then this morning, as she got back from work (she's a nurse and worked a night shift) he sees her outside and runs at the door snarling and barking, much more aggressively than he does when strangers approach. Before this we wondered if eye sight was a factor, or tiredness, but I had woken him up to and got him alert with tricks and treats in advance of her arrival trying to prevent this and it was broad daylight.

So it keeps feeling like it's getting better, then suddenly it happens again and often worse than before. He hasn't bitten, just snapped/snarling/barking as a warning. Usually we can see when he's in this mood, but sometimes it comes out of nowhere.

Initially we were approaching it as resource guarding, and it does seem worse when he has a toy or his bed it out. We don't take things away when he's got things unless it is an exchange with a treat then giving it right back.

He still barks at strangers (working on it), and it's much more likely he'll bark if it's a girl. We don't know what his history was like, but there could be an unsavoury lady involved perhaps.

Anyone got any ideas to solve this?

I don't think it's jealousy, he never tries to get between us and it isn't when she approaches me. We thought it was location guarding and it might still be, but we don't understand why it is escalating still. We're not snatching anything away from him ever, we've only been kind to him even when he makes us scared and mad. Maybe it's getting worse as he becomes more comfortable in the house? But it's been a while now and he's perfectly settled when it's just me around.

Thank you everyone for any helpful input in advance!
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post #2 of 154 (permalink) Old 07-31-2019, 10:20 AM
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It doesn't sound like a space or toy issue, it sounds pretty specific to your wife. I know you mentioned strangers too, but thats not really a major problem to me. You touched on something I would have thought of, he got more trusting when we ignored him. Could be she's understandably afraid of him. That can trigger suspicion and a fearful reaction from some dogs. Could be she's trying so hard to earn trust, its still overwhelming for him. My only advice would be keep him away from your wife . I'm not saying that to be funny or insulting. I'm just not real big on trying to alter a dogs temperament. You can change their perception of things in some ways, but from what you're saying, I think this is a little beyond that.
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post #3 of 154 (permalink) Old 07-31-2019, 10:49 AM
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Another thought is to stop rewarding him when he's on the bed or rug.He might appear chill but still be in the wrong mindset and you're inadvertently reinforcing it.


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post #4 of 154 (permalink) Old 07-31-2019, 11:27 AM
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Could you hire a trainer experienced w/working breeds to evaluate the situation in person?
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post #5 of 154 (permalink) Old 07-31-2019, 12:53 PM
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I would crate him until you figure out what to do. It may enhance the problem but your wife deserves to be safe in her own home. I would also get your wife and dog involved with some serious obedience training with someone that really knows what they are doing and then reassess.
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post #6 of 154 (permalink) Old 07-31-2019, 01:48 PM
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People often are too soft on adopted dogs. Or are afraid of them once they get them home and there is no one from the shelter handling the dog for you.

I know a lot of people are also into rewarding good behaviors only (positive training). I believe a dog needs both the positive when displaying good behavior, and corrections when they are being butt heads. Whether that be a firm vocal no, remove the dog from the situation in a “time out,” or a physical correction if the behavior warrants it. I train with a balance of positive training, and corrective training.

How long have you had the dog?

I’d start out with ignoring the dog altogether when he displays this behavior. Not just your wife, but also you. No attention besides feeding and bathroom breaks, and keep those all business. When he/she seeks attention, tell him to go lay down. He hasn’t earned your attention yet. After a day or two, if he is still displaying this behavior, get into his space physically while giving him the back command. Keeping walking him back until he looks away or moves away on his own. This one will likely cause some disagreement on the forum. I’m not a professional trainer, just stating what has worked with my fosters and rescues.

Don’t amp the dog up with treats and training before your wife gets home. That’s counterproductive. He’s in a heightened state when you do that, which makes him more aware of your wife. If he starts growling or showing signs of bad behavior, get in his space again and back him up. Once he starts moving on his own, give him a command to sit/stay. Not sure how much he’s trained on those, but if he rolls over he’s likely been trained to sit/stay.

And as a previous member stated, stop having the wife throwing treats at him. Until you know his language well, you may very well be having your wife reward bad behaviors, continuing the cycle, and increasing his reactions to her.

15 months is still a puppy, GSD’s don’t mature until around 2-3yrs. You’ve got to mold the behaviors you want while he is still young enough to be moldable.

Invest in a plastic crate, or a wire metal one with a cover. Crate the dog before your wife gets home, and don’t let him out until he’s in a calm settled mood.

He is likely sensing your wife’s fear of him, and that puts him in a fight or flight mode. He is choosing the fight mode. Don’t give him the choice, make that choice for him. If he is reacting negatively to your wife, crate him or put him out back (if you have a fenced yard), and again, allow him out/in when the calm and settled behavior happens. I wouldn’t offer any treats to any of these scenarios. His treat is getting to be with you when he displays the proper behavior.

Once your wife is more comfortable, have her do the things above. Remind her he is a puppy in a grown body. His mind does not match his size. Sure, they look very scary, but what he is showing is lack of confidence (based on your descriptions).

And of course, a good trainer that has experience with the breed is always recommended. They can have eyes on the dog that we don’t have over a forum post. Just be careful in who you chose as a trainer. Find one that balances praise and correction. One extreme or the other can ruin the dog.

Most importantly, aside from the trainer, is to get it out of both yours and your wife’s head that he had a bad history with women, don’t go down that what if road. He could have just as easily been a great dog, and was surrendered due to death, poor health, a divorce, or military being shipped overseas.

You’ll likely get a ton of great advice here, wade through it all and pick what works for your situation. There isn’t a one correct way to handle or train in this situation. Good luck, and we all love pictures if you care to share!
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post #7 of 154 (permalink) Old 07-31-2019, 02:09 PM
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OP in your shoes I'd suggest doing a lot of research... and get a trainer or a behaviorist to come to your home and put a fresh pair of eyes on the situation...reading your thread sounds like you're doing many of the "right" things but some times a different perspective may see something obvious that you're missing... but again any one can call themselves a trainer.. there's no regulation so you'll need to do the homework and check their reputation...whether or not it's successful hinges on the time you spend finding a "good" trainer........

As you said when we don't know a dogs history it can be a challenge figuring out what the root of a dogs "behavior" really is-it very well may come from a female in his past who looks like--dresses like or walks/ talks like your wife....again new eyes may see something obvious.....
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post #8 of 154 (permalink) Old 07-31-2019, 02:37 PM
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I would bring him back to the shelter unless your aim was to start a long, possibly risky project with mixed results. A shelter should not adopt a dog out like that. Is there a temperament test report on him from the shelter?
One of our local shelters cranks out dogs like him, causing similar heartaches. They come in loads out of sates where they are deemed unadoptable. So the shelter has these 'rescue transports' and people adopt them. Good business for the trainers though.
Can you post a picture so we can see what 'mostly GSD' looks like?
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Last edited by wolfy dog; 07-31-2019 at 02:44 PM.
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post #9 of 154 (permalink) Old 07-31-2019, 04:53 PM Thread Starter
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Firstly, thanks everyone for helpful and positive replies, it's clearly a great community here.

Secondly, pictures should be attached! Try not to fall in love with him too hard =D GSD/Rottie? Or a small part Lab maybe? He has a short single coat and massive head and paws.

Steve Strom, my wife is doing a really great job of staying calm, giving him attention when he asks for it by sitting and making eye contact. Not overwhelming him just frequent and (we think) appropriate treats to gain trust and so he knows when she approaches it isn't something to be scared by. Understandably she sometimes gets frustrated/upset with him after she's been working in the emergency ward for 12 hours overnight and comes home in the morning to a butt head dog (and husband but I'm a lost cause). If we can't get him to accept her, then we'll be unable to keep him. We like camping, travelling, we need to mesh all three of us and I believe it is still possible. It's early days still and he's young. I've seen big changes in lots of behaviours and he was somewhat like this with me sometimes before, didn't like his head being grabbed or foot held onto or giving up a toy. But now with me he's great and nothing bothers him so I believe in him getting there with my wife too.

dogma13, this is true, our thoughts were if his ears are up and he's just watching then she'll give a treat as she passes to teach him that her approaching isn't a threat. If he looks scared we ignore him and walk by carefully. But we'll give it some thought thank you.

sebrench, there's a trainer who used to show Belgian Shepards nearby, I'm trying to get in contact with them as they're supposed to be very good.

MineAreWorkingLine, unfortunately we don't have and don't want a crate if we can help it. We live really lightly and don't like to accumulate stuff if we can avoid it, but it is an option.

Jchrest, we've had him just 5 weeks, and have been avoiding correcting him mainly because we've assumed it's a fear reflex and don't want to make that worse, or "prove him right" that we are scary and need to be kept away. But with other behaviours such as chasing animals etc, if appropriate, we will correct him as required. The "amping up" was more to get him moving around as the problem seemed worst when he was sleepy/tired. He wasn't a bundle of energy but rather just switched on ready for the day. In fact, when he's stoked for food etc he has never been bad with anyone, and if a stranger has a treat he's their best friend immediately (so I've been passing treats to new people). He was surrendered because a relationship broke down and the man couldn't keep him as he had a job. I wasn't trying to make excuses, just observing that he isn't as fearful with men as he is with woman. And he does seem more fearful when people are in a rush, such as preparing for work etc. So he is probably sensing something isn't right with my wife prepping for her shift maybe.

Shane'sDad, I've been doing a bunch but was running out of ideas so I put it out to you great folks! Thanks for your advice

wolfy dog, The shelter is good, it's the BC SPCA here in Canada. They did a temperament report, and we were aware he was pretty timid for his size. But we believe in him, but if it really really doesn't work out we do have that option.

Thanks again everyone, he was very good today and more relaxed around my wife than he has been before, no growling or scared behaviour at all. But we've been lulled into thinking it's getting better before then suddenly.... Will keep this thread updated and keep trying to get a trainer who knows their shizzle!
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post #10 of 154 (permalink) Old 07-31-2019, 10:48 PM
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Wow, this sounds terrifying for your wife!

I agree with the suggestions of having a trainer/behaviorist evaluate - that's what I would do...then you can get a (hopefully) expert opinion on whether his behavior is dominant or fearful or fear-aggressive. His behavior actually doesn't sound "dominant" to me (like you describe that he sometimes seems fearful and has his head down/ears down)? But it's hard to tell what's really going on!

My dog, although never to that point, did have a really strong preference for me and preferred to have nothing at all to do with my husband. A few times when my husband approached him and he was laying in a corner, he growled. He did that to his foster mom's husband as well (she warned us). And he growled at my husband for moving his dog bed, whereas I was free to drag his bed all over the house (who knows why). Anyway we evened up the preference a lot by having my husband hold his dinner bowl and command "Sit" and after he Sat, my husband put down the bowl. My husband also brought him in the car and took him for long walks in new places. Things are better now...even though my dog remains fixated on me as his One, he accepts my husband as Runner-Up. One thought is that instead of dispensing hot dog when walking by, your wife could ask for a behavior (like, "Come" or "Sit") and then give the hot dog i.e. have the dog "work" for her daily...?

And I've got to hand it to her, I would have already asked to return the dog by now! It sounds very scary to get rushed at by a snarling barking GSD when you come home! I agree with crating if necessary so your dog can avoid making that into a habit.

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