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Canine Behavior/Resource guarding and dog reactivity


I have a 5 year old Retriever who despite this dog's breed reputation is possessive over food when other dogs come near and also reactive when dogs walk nearby at a certain distance even when no resources are around. I saw a dog behavior professional which helped me work on providing treats any time a dog came near and it seemed to work. I stopped seeing the behavior expert because to was getting too costly. I was able to walk my dog closer to dogs with him not reacting however, it seems like now we are stuck at a certain distance. The feeling I have is that his resource guarding is kicking in the closer a dog gets. In other words, when a dog comes closer it doesn't seem like he's associating that every time a dog comes close he gets a treat, it seems like instead he's trying to defend the treat. I am not sure how to proceed and any insight is appreciated, thanks!

When you reward a dog, YOU HAVE TO KNOW WHAT HE'S THINKING AND REACTING TO.  By offering a treat when another dog approaches, you may very well be rewarding your dog's fight/flight instinct (resource guarding is always fear related, as is most aggression).  He is not able to function with any "thought" process (cognition) but rather is reacting to the stimulus at hand: oncoming dog.  The certain distance you are "stuck" at is called superstitious behavior: the dog has totally misconstrued what you are attempting and has learned something totally different.  Perhaps: farther than six feet, treat, so I'm doing the right thing.  Closer all deals are off, fight/flight kicks in.

Get rid of any punishers: choker collar (or heaven forbid, worse: pronged collar).  Purchase a strong martingale collar:

When a dog pulls wearing one of these, there is no pain but rather the collar constricts (as the mouth of the dam would when she disciplines a neonate, no pain, just closing her jaws around the nape of his neck).

Now: go to your backyard or someplace where there are no other dogs (library parking lot after closing time, for instance).  Carry high value food reward (not just dog treats: bits of chicken franks or string cheese in a baggy in your pocket).  Walk the dog casually and then begin to walk him as if there is a long ladder in front of you: actually "navigate" this imaginary ladder (if you HAVE such a ladder and a backyard, use that).  As he navigates this imaginary ladder, randomly "treat" him with a soft spoken praise, "good!"  Go back to normal walking.  Now, imagine a large hoola hoop in front of you.  Stop walking, wait for dog to stop and look at you (giving "attention" video that describes it to follow):  say "come along" and begin to follow the imaginary large hoola hoop first left, then right: stop, jackpot (heavily food reward), end.  These sessions should be short but sweet and often (daily) until the dog has learned "come along" means follow the hoola hoop for high value reward.

You now have a cue ("come along") which your dog has LEARNED EQUALS REWARD.  It engages cognition BECAUSE "circling" actually changes brain waves (in YOU as well, you may inadvertently be giving body language signals to this dog that YOU are stressed).  Once cognition is involved, the dog is no longer responding to fight/flight but to his CHOICE to "follow" for reward and praise.  You can, after a couple of months (given the age of this dog we might run into response perseverance), stagger food reward which enhances learning and makes the dog's response part of long term memory.

Now you have a real tool: the "attention" of the dog and YOUR careful observation of when he BEGINS to react: not when he HAS reacted, but when he BEGINS: follow the hoola hoop ("come along").  This will be a strongly acquired conditioned response for high value reward and he should do it.  If he does not, simply STOP, turn your back, do nothing until the dog comes around to LOOK at you ("attention").  What we are doing is stopping the fight/flight, engaging cognition, calming both dog and you, and then giving the dog a "job" he can do easily for reward.  This should help to counter condition him to the approach of other dogs, at least the majority of the time, but may take a while.

NEVER punish, yell at, or in any way give any negative reaction to what he does.  This dog appears not to have been properly socialized to other dogs at a crucial stage of development.  If you have other dogs in the home (ou mention"possessive over food when other dogs come near") feed him separately.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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