Canine Behavior/Is this a form of resource guarding?
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 dogs are 15mo old jack russel fiest mix. My problem has developed lately with the female. I had older cats when I got the puppies at 8 weeks of age. The male pup didn't care about cats one way or other. The female has always acted submissive to them. No real problems there. When pups were 7mo old I found 2 kittens and had to take them in. She just loves the kittens and all play together nice. Now, I am not sure when problem began. Did I miss it all along until it got to this point? See, shortly after getting kittens, I had Roxy spayed. She was on sofa napping the next day. I wasn't in the room. I assumed the kitten tried to get beside her and sleep with her as they had been. This is the first time I know it happened. She snapped and growled at kitten. I came into room and moved kitten, assuming that he just tried to knead against her belly and it was still too sore from surgery. But that was last July and I didn't see her exhibit this behavior again. Just in the past few months she has been nipping and growling at kittens and her brother when she is napping. She does not do it to me or the older cats. It does not matter what bed in what room. So I do not feel like she is guarding "her" bed. She can be in the bed but not sleeping and does not exhibit aggression. She may be in my lap and enjoying a rub down session and does nip as others approach. It is only if she is sleeping or trying to. I do not know if this is still resource guarding. Did it stem from the one time after her surgery, with subtle signs I just missed until now it is full blown "I will bit you, kitten!" I believe she would if they didn't jump back. But it doesn't matter if the older cats come near her. I am baffled and do not know what corrective action I should take. She is at a point now where even if they are three feet away and may not even have had plans to come near her she will begin growling and even move just a little to them. The growl has increased in ferocity and teeth are showing. Uhm, I should add no food aggression, the kittens can eat out of her bowl. With certain chew treats she may give a low growl, but is very mild compared to the don't mess with my beauty nap behavior. As they are not interested in her chew and walk on by she keeps at her chewy.
Is this a stage I can correct with good advice or do I need to call in a behaviorist? I take in stray or abandoned cats/kittens. I am leery of adding more with her behavior escalating. Thanks for reading.
I think it is great that you give of yourself to shelters and animal causes!
Thank you for your question, Melissa. I appreciate your taking the time to read my bio. Please remember to rate your volunteer's response.
I'm glad you directed your question to me as I am a terrier expert, having lived with, worked with, and studied terriers since the 1960s. Most trainers eschew terriers, especially the larger ones, as terriers generally are very independent-minded and can be impulsive and more of a challenge to train than, say, Border Collies, usually a favorite of most trainers because of their ncredible focus and willingness to please. I have observed over many years that, primarily, terriers tend to please themselves first, and pleasing the owner is usually an after-thought, but can be cultivated with the correct, motivational training games and consistency.
I question whether your Feist mix has Jack Russell Terrier in her, as the two breeds look very similar and Feists are often mistaken for Jack Russell Terriers. Feists tend to have longer legs, shorter tails, and although rodent and rabbit hunters like Jack Russell Terriers, don't "go to ground" (go underground) to hunt them, but stay above ground during the hunt. Feists tend to be quieter and calmer in general than Jack Russells. Both were bred to hunt independently with little or no handler intervention, and this results in a dog that is of his (her) own mind and makes decisions to behave independently of their owners' wishes unless taught to do so.
So, these are the facts as I understand them, along with some questions I'd like you to answer, simply to satisfy my curiosity:
- You have had both dogs since they were eight weeks of age.
- Roxy is the female, the canine about which you are asking, and you report no problems with the male.
- Roxy was spayed shortly after you brought the kittens into your home, at seven months of age. QUESTION: Was Roxy spayed after an estrus period? If so, how long after? Was it within two months of her coming into estrus, or coming into "heat?"
- Roxy first growled at the kittens the day after her spay surgery. Since, she has continued in circumstances where it can be interpreted that Roxy may be feeling annoyed and disturbed while resting.
- While Roxy growls at the kittens under circumstances where it seems like she's being disturbed while resting, the kittens heed Roxy's warnings, so the warnings have not escalated into physical aggression toward kittens.
Here is my response. Even without your answer to my question, above, I can respond to your submission, but I am curious about the answer to my question. I have addressed that aspect without your answer, in any case.
So, here goes:
If Roxy was spayed within two months of an estrus "heat" period, the sudden change in hormone levels after spaying may have affected her personality. Within two months after a heat, hormone levels are still falling in female dogs. If a female is spayed during this period, the abrupt hormonal change can affect them temperamentally and how they behave. This behavioral respnnse is especitally apparent in females that are spayed under 12 months of age. Some signs are the spayed female showing a greater tendency to be annoyed and being more quick to react to annoyances, with an increase in intensity and magnitude of response. As well, without the progestin hormones as mediating hormones that generally affect temperament and which are known to have females behaving more calmly, many females will become more easily annoyed, quicker to react to annoyances, and the response to annoyances more intense, especially in females spayed under 12 months of age. Progestins tend to have a calming effect on the behavior of females, and if removed by spaying less than two months after a heat period, the change may be abrupt enough to effect the behavior of the female who was spayed. There are now many studies which suggest that it's a good idea to not spay females (or neuter males) until after they are 12 months of age.
As to your question regarding whether the "die was cast" (that is, did the behavior start the day after Roxy was spayed) for this behavior the day after her spay when the two kittens probably annoyed her when she was not feeling well at all, the answer is "Yes, quite possibly this may have been the event that triggered the behavior." However, the behavior might have appeared anyway. So soon after a spay surgery, Roxy was probably still feeling some of the effects of the anesthesia (lethargy, nausea, etc.) as well as pain from the surgery itself. It probably would have been a good idea to make sure that all the other animal residents in your home were kept away from her for several days to a week, as their approach probably had Roxy feeling very uncomfortable and vulnerable as well. So, not only was the feeling of being intensely annoyed triggered, and this may have turned into a habit once triggered because the behavior has been reinforced by the cats leaving Roxy alone when Roxy exhibits the behavior; but, as well, Roxy may be in the habit of exhibiiting the behavior now having done it many times over.
If the response by Roxy is becoming more intense, then you need to protect the kittens. Roxy needs a place she can go to, a Safe Haven of sorts, which is Off Limits to the other animals and where she can rest undisturbed. First, if given this place, she cannot continue to exhibit the behavior about which you're concerned, and it will become less of a habit. Dogs are like actors in that the more they "rehearse" a behavior, the better they become at that behavior. So, you must break the cycle so Roxy ceases to be able to "rehearse" the behavior. A crate or gated area where the cats cannot get to Roxy is a good idea. You may want to designate certain times of the day consistently as Nap Times for Roxy. This way, Roxy will know that during "this" time of day she will get half an hour to an hour of undisturbed alone time, and will stop feeling the need to protect herself. She will also get some undisturbed rest, whcih she apparently needs. Try to identify the times of day Roxy seeks to rest and be alone, and follow her natural "clock," giving her the "alone" time at these times of the day. Also try to note for how long Roxy needs this time, and try to give her that amount of time to rest, undisturbed, as well.
Terriers and feists are breeds which I have observed do not have a constant, consistent flow of energy like some other non-terrier breeds. They are bred to spring into action in a lightning-fast manner, springing into top speed and energy within seconds. If you have ever seen a rodent cross the path of a terrier or feist suddenly and witnessed the terrier or feist's reaction, then you know what I mean. Having lived with and studied these dogs for so many years, my theory (which is based upon the knowledge and facts about these breeds which I have also studied) is that, for dogs who draw on this type of energy which needs to be very quickly accessible to them, it makes it necessary for the dog to also have intense rest periods when needed. In all the cases of all the terriers I have had the pleasure to live with an share my home with, they have ALL been dogs who will have a fairly intense reaction when disturbed from sleep, especially at night (at the end of the day), and after a certain hour (which seems to be evenings between 9 - 10 p.m., depending on the individual dog). I have learned to never "strong arm" my terriers when I need to rouse them to get up from sleeping at these times, as their reaction can be intense. Instead, I wake the dog gently if I need to, sweetly talk to the dog, and cajole the dog gently from, for example, the couch in the family room to his sleeping quarters (usually a crate that the dog is trained to love and be comfortable in). I have found that terriers do not do well for my other animals when allowed to sleep in my bed. If they perceive the other animal as "disturbing" them, they will usually go after that other animal. I have found, too, that this response is most intense in the evenings when the dog is likely to be most tired, after a long day. As to your asking whether the behavior you describe is resource guarding, I think not. I think it's a specific response to being disturbed when they need a restorative sleep as I explained above that terriers and feists seem to share and embody. However, the nipping you describe when Roxy is in your lap and getting a rubdown I would be more likely to perceive as resource guarding, with you as the resource giving her special attention and comfort which she wants to protect from the other animals. If Roxy were my dog, I would give her this special attention and treatment only when the other animals were not able to interfere, again because Roxy will become better at any annoying behaviors she's allowed to keep doing - so, I would remove the possibility that Roxy gets to practice the behavior of nipping at the other animals while in your lap.
As for Roxy having no reaction when the older cats come near her, this doesn't surprise me. She grew up with those cats, learned to respect them and get to know them very well when she was a small puppy, and I would gather she trusts them as their behavior is predictable to her as she's known those cats her whole life. The "newcomers," however, the kittens, are probably not interpreting Roxy's behavior as well as the older cats. Roxy knows this, and feels a need to be more corrective of their behavior, and harsher in correcting. The kittens have not learned yet that they are not to approach Roxy when she is sleeping, especially since the rules have changed since Roxy's spaying. That is, they were allowed, and maybe even welcomed, to approach Roxy while she was sleeping before the spaying; but, since the spaying and the changes it has brought to Roxy's behavior, the kittens are still figuring this out, that the rules have changed. Since they are kittens, it will probably take them a bit longer than the more experienced mature cats. That being said, I feel you also need to protect the kittens by giving Roxy a place to rest comfortably and undisturbed, especially since you say that Roxy's reaction to being disturbed is becoming more intense. Remain very aware that if you routinely take in kittens, that you will have to carefully supervise their interactions with Roxy and make sure the kittens are safe. Roxy's reaction to being disturbed while sleeping along with the fact that her reaction is becoming more intnese and occurring when the kittens are now several feet away and not even planning to disturb her indicates that the event of the kittens being nearby and the POSSIBILITY of even being disturbed is quite stressful for Roxy. If this type of stress is going to continually be heaped on her, especially by "newcomers" to whom she has to keep teaching The Rules regarding not disturbing her, she could hurt one or more of them. As well, kittens and cats have claws which can seriously hurt of maim a dog, so remain aware of that possibility as well.
Thank you for SUCH an interesting question and allowing me to stretch my terrier/feist muscles a bit. Talking about these breeds is endlessly enjoyable for me. I hope you have enjoyed the response as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you. Please remember to rate your volunteer, and no one will complain if you want to nominate her a Volunteer of the Month (which will get MY dogs a special treat!).
Madeline Friedman, M.A.
Terrier expert and canine behavior expert
Serving New York, New Jersey, and south Florida Palm Beach County
Hoboken Dog Trainer
Delray Beach Dog Trainer