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Canine Behavior/protective of couch


Dear Madeline, I have read you biography and I promise to read and rate your response within three days.  I understand that your time is valuable, that you are most likely spending at least 45 minutes of your time in response to my question, and I understand too that when questioners read and rate your responses fairly that you make random donations to animal shelters to help homeless animals.  In the interest of being appreciative of your time AND helping shelter dogs and cats, I agree that I will rate your response and give you fair feedback."

My rescue dog Ginger (3 years old) has been acting protective of me but also of the couch when another dog comes close ever since I got her. I knew this behavior happened exclusively with other dogs (that's why I no longer allow  friends' dogs in my home and had to re-home one) until now. Last week, my son came over after finishing college and she looked OK with him, but then when he came home he pet her on the couch this morning and when he sat on the couch, she charged at him and as he moved away and came closer to me she kept on charging and eventually bit him on the arm, but didn't break skin, just left a black bruise. How do I deal with this situation? I always thought aggression towards dogs wouldn't generalize to people (that's what a trainer told me years ago), but apparently I was wrong. I guess she does it now to people as well. How can this be possible? Why would she do that? I don't think it's fear, it just seemed like she didn't want him near the couch and me as she did fine with him in other areas. And she didn't back down initially, kept on trying to bite. My son had to immobilize her to the ground to stop and then I got control of her. How can I deal with this issue? This is totally new to me and I feel sick just thinking about what happened today. Thanks.

Hello, Marge (I'm assuming Ginger is the dog!),

Thanks for your question. I appreciate your agreeing to the virtual "contract" and taking the time to read my bio.

Aggression toward other dogs doesn't usually generalize to people, although there are some instances where it can because of associations made by a dog that may figure into the aggression equation.  However, on its own, and devoid of these special associative circumstances, your trainer was correct.  However, we're talking about aggression resulting from resource guarding, which it seems as if you're describing.  Aggression from resource guarding CAN generalize, from guarding one object or person to guarding other objects or people, especially when those resources are associated with people the dog is guarding (such as the sofa).

My guess is that Ginger lies on the sofa next to you and spends a fair amount of time doing that, as well as lying on the sofa on her own for comfort.  

First, don't allow your dog access to the sofa any longer, since it sounds as if Ginger is guarding it.  The more she guards it, the better she'll become at guarding it, and the more confident she'll become in her guarding behavior overall.

Second, get Ginger a bed of her own located a distance away from you and train her to lie on her bed at all times when she's in the same room as you.  This may entail you having several beds, or at least a large towel, for Ginger to lie upon.  For the training that this may entail, you may want to work with your trainer again.  If you liked working with your trainer and felt he or she did a good job, and if Ginger seemed to like the trainer and be responsive to him/her, then it would be best to stick with the same trainer.  Changing trainers can be confusing for dogs.

I would also work with the trainer on "Off," a cue that will tell Ginger to get off a bed, chair or sofa with a verbal cue, from a distance if necessary, rather than having to use your hands to remove her, which could be dangerous if she has this tendency to resource guard.

A trainer can also advise you about and help you train Ginger other cues related to making a resource guarding dog safe for people to be around.  Your trainer can advise you about these.

Last, until you're confident Ginger is trained well enough to prevent her resource guarding, have her trail a leash from her collar or harness, ALWAYS UNDER SUPERVISION, so that you can safely handle and remove her from a surface if you need to do so.  Never leave a dog alone with a leash trailing and doing so can be hazardous for the dog, even if it's just to go into another room.  Take Ginger with you from room to room if she's trailing a leash so that you can keep an eye on her.

If Ginger sleeps on your bed, be aware that she can also start resource guarding the bed.  I would suggest she sleep in a bathroom which may be ensuite to the bedroom, or crated near your bed.  Many resource guarders also guard their food bowl, so have the trainer test for this rather than test yourself, so you don't get bitten and so Ginger isn't allowed to practice her resource guarding skills and refine them.

If you do crate Ginger, don't feed her or allow high value (for Ginger) resources such as her meals or high value toys with her in the crate, as she may start guarding the crate.  While you want a crate to be a safe haven for a dog, you don't want Ginger making the association of the crate being the site of high value resources.

For resource guarding dogs, I say NO to rawhides, pig ears, Greenies, and other similar dog "treats" which are usually high value to them.  Instead, ask your trainer how to use a Kong toy safely from which Ginger can get some chewing time, as well as other safer chew toys less likely to elicit resource guarding.  In general, a toy that a dog can finish in a finite amount of time, such as within 10 minutes, is best.  Chew toys that go "on and on" and last hours or days are NOT the type I recommend.

DO work with a trainer, as resource guarding is a serious issue and can worsen over time (as you've learned) if not addressed and the behavior is not modified.

Also make sure that Ginger is getting several walks a day of 20  minutes or more, as well as interactive play time outside with you and your son, such as "fetch."  Dogs who get exercise are less likely to have behavior problems.  There's a saying: "A tired dog is a good dog!"

To end, resource guarding is an instinctively natural behavior for dogs which evolved from their needing to survive in the wild before domestication.  A wolf or wild dog that couldn't protect its resources from others (of which people can be as well as items) would be much less likely to be able to survive.  However, it's not appropriate in our homes and in our daily lives, and dogs CAN be trained to not resource guard, although it takes some effort and a lot of positive reinforcement training.

I hope this helps.  If you can, an update down the road a bit would be welcome.

Best regards,
Madeline Friedman, M.A.
Allexperts Volunteer
A NY, NJ Dog Trainer

Canine Behavior

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Madeline S. Friedman, M.A.


I respond to public questions only. I'm not a veterinarian & do not respond to medical questions.Suggestions: Submit a question in one area of priority, as what I am able to address in this venue is limited. Provide as much detail re: the behavior & issue as you can. Tell me how & if behavior is a change from previous behavior & when the changes occurred. Let me know what you think may have triggered such changes & what you have tried so far to resolve it, & what the results were. Let me know what you want help with & what are your concerns & questions about the behavior. I have set up a payment/donation to myself for responding to questions. I donate most of it to animal shelters & rescues. I keep a small portion for my time. The minimum donation is $25.00 on PayPal. When I see that a donation has been made, I will respond to your question. You will be prompted to make the donation before submitting your question. When you have read & rated my response fairly, which must be at the time you read it, I will refund $5.00 back to you IF YOU REQUEST that I do so in your rating comments. If I ask for more details, please respond as a "follow-up" & not as a new question. If I don't respond to your question, I will refund your donation less $5.00. DO rate me fairly at the end of our exchange. I will be pleased if you DO nominate me for volunteer of the month - why not, if I was generous in my response? I may suggest something you were not necessarily ready to hear, but I am honest in the interest of helping your dog, & that is my goal. Please keep that in mind. Please do NOT contact me privately about Allexperts questions through my e-mail or website unless I have invited you to do so. That is an invasion of my privacy - thank you for respecting it. If you would like to contact me for actual dog training & behavior consulting, you may contact me through my Web site.


Own & operate dog training & behavior consulting businesses, Hoboken Dog Trainer, and ny-njDogTrainer, in the NYC & NYC Metro areas since 2002. Work with thousands of dog owners & their dogs, & shelter & rescue dogs. Active volunteer in dog shelters and rescues (rescues being "no kill" and shelters being municipality-run urban shelters that can and do euthanize dogs). AllExperts volunteer in "Dogs, Category 701" and "Dog Training" and "Canine Behavior" since 2006. When you submit a question, please make sure it's being submitted in the appropriate category as I volunteer in two different categories. Make sure you agree to the Virtual Contract (the instructions I outline for question submissions) and agree to read and rate my response when I answer in the body of your question. I make donations to various animal non-profits based on YOUR ratings. If you don't rate my response, or rate it unfairly, you have just denied a dog rescue org or shelter a donation. Keep that in mind.

Professional Member of APDT for five years Founding Member of Animal Behavior Associates Behavior Education Network Former Board Member of IAABC, appointed by Founder Former Member of IPDTA in Canada Founding member of Behavior Education Network

Chronicle of the Dog (APDT, peer publication, numerous articles) Popular Dog Series magazine, numerous entries AOL in Tonowanda News Morris County News Vermont News Boston NOW New York A.M. Polo Trace Newsletter The Dodo AOL

Counseling Psychology, Caldwell College Animal Science, Rutgers University Master of Arts Degree Permanent New Jersey State Teaching Certification (teach public school and university level) Numerous workshops, lectures, and seminars on dog training and behavior Ongoing self-motivated study in my area of expertise

Awards and Honors
Best Canine Coach Award, 2006, Rondout Valley Instructor's Training Course Society of Illustrators, second place international competition Jellybean Photographics, second place international competition Fashion Institute of Technology "Commitment to Illustration" award

Past/Present Clients
Testimonials from a number of clients appear on my Web site at under "Reviews." My customers include: Puppy owners wanting to get their puppies off to the best start; owners of mature dogs who want their dogs to have more obedience skills; fosters and owners of rescue dogs or shelter dogs; customers with special needs who need to train or retrain their dogs; housetraining and housebreaking; owners who have behavioral issues with their dogs such as house accidents, aggression towards humans, aggression towards other animals, inattentive dogs, unmotivated dogs, overly-exuberant dogs; and, more.

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