The Considerate Canine: Guarding Behaviors
The Problem: Our newest Lab mix rescue will not let our female Lab mix near me without attacking her. She could care less if the male Great Danes come see when I am petting her. If I am not in the area there are no issues between the females. -Shelley Stevenson Smith
Shelley, I am sorry that you are having issues between your dogs. It is always difficult to deal with problems between our own dogs.
With that said, please understand that my suggestions are based on very limited information. It is my hope, as well as Lowcountry Dog Magazine’s, to provide sound advice to owners in need of direction. But, behavior problems are quite different from house training or jumping questions.
When I work with dogs displaying reactive or guarding behaviors, my first job is to gather a lot of information. That information covers not only the incidents, but what is happening in the rest of the house. What happened yesterday? Is the behavior consistent? Is it predictable? I hope you understand that my reply can only be in broad terms. The bottom line: it is in your best interest to seek the help of a positive reward trainer to work directly with you.
The first thing you need to do: take your dog to the vet. Have a complete examination, including blood work, to rule out any physical reason for her behavior.
Management is critical. Do not fall into the trap of believing that everything is, or will continue to be, alright if you are not present. Just because there has not been an incident does not mean that things are terrific. She could very well be practicing pushy behavior without your knowledge.
Keep the two of them separated when unsupervised. You can use crates, baby gates or any type of barrier to prevent interaction. I would also consider using a visual barrier to prevent staring.
There are a lot of reasons why dogs may choose a particular dog to focus on. It is interesting that female to female interactions can be more problematic than other gender combinations.
Here are some general training goals which will help.
Teach each dog to go to a place or mat. The simple version is to provide a place that she can go to, be calm and be rewarded for staying there. I cannot provide you with all of the steps involved in teaching the behavior, in this format. Ultimately, we want this to become something of a default behavior (she doesn’t know what to do so she goes to her mat). I would teach this to every dog in the household. It is a great behavior for every dog to learn.
Teach each dog “leave it”. In simple terms, “leave it” means that the resource, (you), is present but unavailable. Most people begin to teach “leave it”, but never progress to the point of fluency. When dogs truly understand “leave it”, they are practicing a great deal of self control, without constant reminders from us.
Reward good behavior. When your new dog is able to be calm around the lab mix, acknowledge her good choices. We tend to overlook good decisions and only focus on the bad ones. If she is around the other dog and remains calm, make sure she understands that is what you like.
Teach her a good solid sit or down stay. This means that she can respond regardless of what is going on or how far away you are. Remember that this will not happen overnight. Start by breaking this down into manageable pieces. Sit and hold the position for 5 seconds, release her. Sit and hold for 7 seconds, 10 seconds, etc. until you have a nice solid sit for about 1 minute. Next begin to add some distance. Can she sit when you are 2 feet away? 4 feet? At each interval, you will need to go back and add the time element. Finally, you add in distractions, but don’t start with the dog that she focuses on.
At this point in time, if she approaches when you are engaged with the other dog and acts inappropriately, remove yourself. Simply standing up and leaving the room is fairly effective and easy to do. She gets no attention when she is pushy. Eventually, you want to be able to have her sit or go to her mat and patiently wait for your invitation to join in.
Once again, I strongly encourage you to contact a positive reward trainer to help you with this problem. You are not dealing with a minor training issue. Behaviors such as this can quickly escalate into problems that are
dangerous to both dogs and humans. A good trainer will help you with management concerns, as well as training. Be sure that you are working with someone who does not use force or strong aversives, such as shock collars or scare tactics. This type of aversive training may produce short term, even quick, results, but the long term fallout is huge. Good training will strengthen the bond between you and your dog, as well as creating an atmosphere of peace and calm in your household.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me directly.