Sunday, April 10, 2016

Look for Dealing with Resource Guarding in Service Dogs Part 2

Part 2 Dealing with Resource Guarding in Service Dogs 


Resource Guarding Appears "Out of the Blue"

Even among carefully selected and raised service dogs, resource guarding may appear in a dog that has never previously demonstrated it.

If the resource guarding behavior is 'appearing out of the blue' at around 6 mos to 16 mos, you may be dealing with a fear period or adolescent hormones. The larger the breed, the later adolescence sets in and the longer it lasts.

Resource Guarding is most commonly species specific. This means that he will typically only guard against other dogs, not humans or vice versa. Just because your dog resource guards again other dogs doesn't not mean he will do it against people Just because he resource guards against people, does not mean he will do it against other dogs. The most important thing is that he is safe in public. If he is not, remove him from public access training or work immediately.

If your dog resource guards in both situations, it may be an indicator of his underlying temperament. Look at other aspects of his life. Does he show fear or mistrust in other ways? Where does he lack confidence? Is he a bully? Bully dogs are typically fearful dogs that were not properly socialized. They may have had a buddy who was too over the topic for them and they adapted by becoming pushing themselves. Just like in humans, bullying is an indicator of lack of control and fear.

Resource guarding could also be a result his training history.  Even if you think you are not using confrontation-based training methods, your dog may see it differently.
Each dog has his own tolerance level for force and emotional pressure and each copes with it differently.  This is a common reason I see for the mistrust seen in resource guarding. In past situations, you may have inadvertently used emotional or physical force and your dog has legitimate reason not to trust you. Confrontational methods may lead to resource guarding as the dog learns he cannot trust you with things that are important to him. Unfortunately using violence in training, often gets violence in return.

An altercation with another dog over his toys or food may affect future interactions with that specific dog or be generalized to react when the next strange dog that approaches when he has a toy. Generalizing to other dogs is more common in dogs that have had limited or poor dog to dog socialization during the critical socialization period when he was 5 to 12 weeks old. This is because they have very few positive interactions to draw from to overcome one negative interaction. Science tells us that negative experiences have much more influence than positive experiences as a survival mechanism.

Consult a positive dog training professional or veterinary behaviorist for their help and assessment. Look long and hard at his over all behaviors. Is he fearful? How is he responding to training? You do not want your service dog to be a liability to you in public. If he has underlying fears or mistrust, he may not be a good service dog candidate and may need to be removed from training as a service dog.

What you want to do is avoid a confrontation with your dog at all costs. Putting in that situation allows him to practice the unwanted behavior. Practice makes perfect. If you back away when he does react, he is reinforced for growling (or worse). If you force him to give up his item, he learns he can't trust you and it further undermines his trust in you.

1. Observe Your Dog
Watch for situations that trigger the resource guarding behaviors.
What exactly are the things the dog guards?
Against who does he guard them?
What specific behaviors do you see and when do they occur?
Early warnings are the dog asking for distance. He might look away, turn his eyes  away (called whale eye) or turn his head away as you approach. He might do a big yawn. He might lick nose tip. This one most people miss as it happens so quickly. He may paw the object or move closer to it. Watch your dog when he is with his food dish or higher value toys.
The end stage behaviors are the dog freezing (get still) and his eyes get 'hard" and glaring. If the dog is doing this, the dog has escalated his behavior from the early signs and you may hear growls. This is the dog telling you (or the other dog) that he is willing to escalate his behavior further to air snapping or biting to protect the resource. If the dog has been punished for growling previously, he may just freeze and then bite. Punishment to a dog might just be you verbally chastising him "Don't you do that." in a lowered tone.
What age was the dog when you first noticed it?

2. Once you have determined the things your dog resource guards against and what he doesn't, start with thing that are lower value that those. In a situation such as on his dog bed where he has resource guarded in the past, give your dog a lower value toy or treat that he has ever shown RG for. If needed start with an object that the dog has not interacted with before like a piece of wooden dowel or a plastic tube. Starting this process with a lower value item teaches the dog how to play the game and what he can expect later.

If there are children or mentally incapacitated adults involved, make sure they are not involved in the process and removed form the room while you train. This helps to give the dog one less thing to worry about and keeps them safe until it is time to bring them into the process.

Prepare your treats: choose medium value treats (commercial treats are fine like Rollover or Zukes) and make sure that the treats are hidden in a pocket or treat pouch out of sight before you bring them out.

Start by giving to dog the item, then back outside the dog's personal space for a few seconds. Now take a small step into your dog's space and toss a treat right near his mouth and take a step back.  Repeat for several sets of 10 repetitions until your dog is looking eagerly up at you anticipating that your moving towards him (while he has the item) means more treats are coming.

When that happens, you can decrease your distance from your dog by stepping a little closer in, toss the treat and pick up the toy, the drop it again.  Step away.  Once you can get closer you can lean in, drop the treat and lean out.  Repeat several times until again the dog is looking forward to your approach and you taking the time away.

Next step is to step in, toss a treat, and while he is eating take the toy away, toss another treat and step away.  This step teaches the dog that even when the toy is removed, something good will come in its place.

3. Next, increase in the value of the item, and repeat the process but use high value food treats (any kind of REAL meat, not commercially made treats-cooked beef, pork, chicken, lamb, turkey-I use heart, tongue or roast) instead. Make sure that the treats are hidden in a pocket or treat pouch out of sight before they appear.

Since you know the dog resource guards this object, you will need to add more distance away from the dog to start and progress forward much more slowly. Wait for body language that tells you he is looking forward to you moving towards him with the treat. It may take several sessions to be able to progress to where you can get close enough to touch the item. Taking it away may be many more. If it seems to e taking too long, or your dog's behavior is getting worse, not better, then consult a qualified positive trainer or veterinarian behaviorist for help. 

Take each step slowly and do many repetitions.

Repeat the 3 step process process with many different high value items.

Now repeat the process right from the start of step 3 in many different locations. You want to make sure the dog has generalized the behavior (can do it) in many different locations and situations. Always err on the side of caution. Protect children and the public when possible. Remember that you are ultimately liable for the behavior of your dog.

Periodically in your training review the process to make sure the behavior stays fresh in your dogs mind. This step is called maintenance so your dog can remember how to do it eve years after he learned it. This will help to keep you and the public safe.


Happy training!


Dealing with Resource Guarding in Service Dogs Part 1

The first time your service dog growls at you when you try to take something away from him, you feel shocked and affronted. Your first impulse may be to strike out.
"But this is my SERVICE DOG! He should be able to trusted in any situation."

Well, I have news for you: dogs are dogs, just like people are people. If someone tries to take something away from you that you feel is yours and is valuable to you, then you will defend your right to keep it. At the very least, you would verbally warn them that what they are doing may lead to confrontation. If someone walked up, even a family member, and just grabbed your cell phone from your hands, you would be upset, wouldn't you? You'd certainly voice your complaint. That is what your dog is doing. He is saying "This is mine, I value it highly and I don't trust you to not take it away from me." The only thing wrong with this behavior in dogs is how humans interpret the situation.

Resource Guarding is a Normal Behavior for Dogs
Resource Guarding  is a normal behavior for dogs, though not a desirable in a service dog since in public, despite laws that protect your dog from being interfered with while working, the reality is that people don't think before interacting with service dogs and they don't read patches on vests etc. People of all ages may try to take things way and they may let their dogs approach your dog when he is working.

Possession is 9/10 of the Law
Among dogs, possession is nine tenths of the law. What this means is that if a high value object (food or toy) is in the personal space of a dog, (whether or not the object is in his mouth) that object is considered his. It would be rude if another dog or person came over and removed it without invitation or permission. In many cases a fight would start.

While some dogs will allow another dog to take it, it is because they know the other dog wants the object more than they do and to keep the peace, they will not fight for it.  These are usually highly socialized dogs who spend time with other functionally socialized dogs.

Dogs, unless not properly socialized or they have been traumatized by another dog or their handlers, in general, are willing to do what it takes to keep the peace between themselves and other beings that have been socialized with. Fighting is risky and they made end up injured or dead, so that is why dogs have developed a complex communication system to avoid conflict.

Each dog has different things that are important to him (might be food, toy or even their person) and depending on the value, he may be willing to give it up to keep the peace. But every dog has his limit. If that object happens to be the human equivalent of cell phone or iPad, then he might not want to give it up as easily and may let the other dog (or person) know by growling.

Unfortunately, not all humans have learned to speak dog as a second language and may feel it is their right to take anything away from a dog, even if it is not their dog.  And even if the dog has warned them not to. Kids may run up and take an object away, or stick their hands between your service dog and a treat you are feeding him. Humans exhibit all sorts of odd behaviors in the presence of dogs. So, since you are taking your dog into public places as a service dog, you need to teach him that strangers may take valuable things away from him, and that is fine for them to do that!

Preventing Resource Guarding

Start Young
As soon as your pup comes home from the breeder at 8-9 weeks, give him a few days to settle in, then start trading items with him. To take a valued toy, move in slowly but be relaxed, gently ask for the toy, take it away and at the same time present an equivalent value toy or treat in return. Praise!

When the pup is reliably trading, you can ask for the toy, then delay presenting the other toy until after he has given you the one he has. That way, the second toy is a reward for giving up the first one, rather than a bribe.  Mark (or click) the instant the chooses to give it up, praise and give him the other toy.

Repeat the process with higher value things like bones. Using two equal value items helps at first. On the last trade of the training session, give the pup something higher value like a treat that he can consume and you keep the toy.

If he won't give up the toy willingly, the toy, switch your approach. Let him play with the toy he has and ignore him until he has dropped the toy and walked away from it. Pick up the high value toy. Next, use a lower value toy, get some high value treats and present the toy to him. Click a soft clicker and present a food or equivalent toy reward to him as soon as he drops the toy. Repeat until he's reliably dropping the toy when he hears the clicker. Now start adding your 'drop it' cue just before you click. After several sessions of this, try just saying the drop it cue, wait for the drop it, the click and reward. Now he's started to understand the cue means to drop it.
This also starts the process of the pup learning to give an object for a retrieve (so you get two benefits for one behavior).

Increase the value of the toy or bones etc. until you are able to cue drop it and your dog willingly drops it. For most dogs raw bones or a plate of human food are the highest value to them.

If your pup has come home from the breeder doing resource guarding, you need to dig into the recent history. Do the parents do this (an indication of genetics)? What type of handling did the breeder use that may have fostered this lack of trust in the pups? Were the pups handled enough in an appropriate manner? Did their kids tease the pups with food or toys? Learning he history will help you figure out the right way of approaching it and how long it might take to overcome, especially if it is an established habitat at that tender age.

Living with Other Dogs
If your dog lives with another dog, ensure that behavior around feeding times is calm. Start by feeding one in a crate or behind a baby gate, before feeding them at opposite ends of the room before moving them incrementally closer together. Both dogs need to learn the presence of another dog near his food or toys is a good thing. Treats appear when the other dog is near.  When the other dog moves away, the treats stop coming.

Teaching your dogs to take turns with other dogs for doing behaviors and getting rewarded for doing so is a great way to approach it. Make sure to generalize it to many other dogs, known and unknown to your dog.

In Public
Avoid feeding your dog in public. If you are away from home, take your dog to a private location to feed him. Put him in your car, a crate or behind a locked door. This will help to keep his stress level low and prevent strange dogs and people from approaching while he eats. 

Teach your dog to take turns while training with other dogs. That way, when food is used for training, he will know that his turn is coming and he will be able to earn his the food ad will not get anxious about it.

Choose the value of toys used in public carefully. Avoid using bones, pigs ears, stuffed Kongs etc that other dogs may find valuable unless your dog is in a location with no other dogs. If you are trying to increase duration of your dog settling in public, use hand-delivered treats instead so you can control when, how and to whom they are delivered.