Supporting Insanity – Precious Resources

This post is part of a series where struggling pet owners submit pleas for help to the expertise of blogland. Everyone’s experiences are unique. If you have any suggestions, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments. What you think common sense may be revolutionary for someone else. You never know what may resonate with someone and keep a beloved pet out of the shelter. My hope is that together we can help good people, and good animals, feel a little less alone.

I have very little personal experience with this particular behaviour problem. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to offer this person very much in the way of practical advice. It can be very hard bringing a new dog into the home and I have nothing but heartfelt sympathy to offer anyone dealing with this tough situation.

Dear Dog Bloggers:

Five years ago I rescued the love of my life from the city pound. His name is Jack* and he is the textbook definition of an Am Staff. He has the hugest head and a really clumsy body and I knew I had to have him as soon as I saw him. He had been laying on the floor in his kennel with his head between his paws. He looked like he knew he was the least likely dog in the place to find a home. My husband at the time was not as thrilled with him as I was and we spent hours arguing about my decision to bring him home. I could just tell that Jack needed me.

Until now everything with Jack has been great. He has been my best friend and he saw me through my divorce. He is a giant couch potato and loves to cuddle with me on the floor and watch cartoons. He loves kids and I have never worried about him with other dogs. Jack is pretty much the perfect dog and I don’t think I would have survived the last few years without him.

About a month and a half ago, I adopted another Am Staff from a rescue in my city. His name is Mario and he is much younger than Jack, probably not much more than a year old. The rescue required Jack and Mario to meet first before I was approved to bring him home. During that first meeting they got along great! Jack doesn’t have as much energy but he really perked up around Mario. They looked like instant best friends. Mario is a lot more work than Jack ever was. He can be so hyper and he is really bad on the leash. But the rescue gave me some advice and I am working with him. Around the house he always gives over to Jack. He recognizes his senior status and they still seem to get along.

The reason I am writing has more to do with Jack’s behaviour than Mario’s. He’s never lived with a dog before and he picked up this scary habit of guarding everything in the entire house that he thinks is his. He growls every time Mario comes near him if he has a bone. He growls if Mario starts playing with a ball on the other side of the room. I have to feed them in completely separate rooms behind closed doors because I am terrified Jack’s growling would turn into something even more violent. A few days ago Jack and I were hanging out on the floor and Mario walked over to lay at my other side and Jack jumped up, stood in front of me, and growled to warn Mario away.

Mario always backs down immediately but I still worry something really awful could happen. What if they get into a fight when I am not home? I have no idea how to handle this. When Jack growls over a toy or a bone, I will take it away and give him a time-out in his crate. But I read that this might be making it worse. It might cause him to resent Mario even more. I just don’t know what else to do. I can’t just let him growl and I can’t let poor Mario spend his life hiding in a corner! When we are outside the house together everything is fine. It’s only inside that Jack gets all defensive over his things. Do you think he will get over this on his own?

Please help! I am so scared if I ask the rescue for help that they will take Mario away. I love him too much already to have that happen. And I could never, ever give Jack up.  I am really at a loss.

Now it is your turn, pet lovers. If you have any suggestions for Jack and Mario’s human, please share them below. The more support, the better! Thank you very much for helping me help others.

*Names have been changed

If you have a question you would like answered, fill out the contact form and I will post it up as soon as I can. All submissions will remain anonymous.

15 thoughts on “Supporting Insanity – Precious Resources

  1. I’ve never heard of a rescue that would take a dog out of a good home because the person is having an issue. I hope you’re just scared and mistaken.

    Most rescues want to do everything they can to keep dogs in good homes and not take them back. So I’d call them.

    They probably have lots of experienced people who can help you and may be able to refer you to a behaviorist who can help you.

    I strongly urge you to get outside help. You’re obviously tense. The dogs can’t be terribly happy either. And it doesn’t help Am Staffs as a breed if Mario decides not to back down one day and you have a loud, scary, noisy kerfuffle or worse, a serious fight.

    You’ve already had a great idea by contacting Kristine for help. Take the next step and find someone near your home who can help you resolve this–for Jack, Mario’s and your own sake.

    And good luck. I hope you’ll follow up with Kristine in the future to tell us how you resolved things.

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  2. I am not a trainer or a behaviorist … not by a long shot. But about three years ago, a family member was going through a hard time and the upshot of it was that I took his three dogs in as long term fosters while he was in the process of divorcing from his wife, moving to a new place, and settling in. They ended up being with me for several months, and one of the dogs had a serious resource guarding problem, which I knew about going in. In his previous pack, he was the smallest of the dogs by a good margin, but in this new integrated pack, he was quite a big larger than either of my two, so I was understandably concerned. But aside from one incident early on, when he unearthed a bullystick from under the couch that had eluded my sweep of the house and then snapped at Phoebe when she came close to him, things were ok, mainly due to rigorous management of the environment, though I did work with him a little bit, and he did improve. (I found Mine! by Jean Donaldson an invaluable tool!)

    In the short term – management, management, management, both of the dogs and their environment. The more things she can do with them as a pack – such as focused walking – the better. Unlike what certain TV trainers would like you to believe, exercise is not a cure-all, but I do think its potential to take the rough edges off of most “bad behavior” is underrated, and certainly there are few dogs or people these days who couldn’t use a little more exercise.

    Long term, to be very honest, I think she’s going to need the help of a qualified behaviorist.

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  3. Jack may just be trying to assert his dominance, or it may be something more. I worry that as Mario grows up, you may in fact have a dog fight. But it could be that the two dogs will work out their pecking order. I don’t buy into allowing a dog to growl unchecked as a great thing. If it isn’t improving you may need to seek the assistance of a good trainer to work with you and your dogs in your home. Internet advice is not always helpful to resolve these kinds of problems.

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  4. We’ve had this issue with our foster Ginger and my dog Turk. Like some other people have said, manage the situation! Don’t leave bones or toys out that could cause a fight and definitely crate them if you are not home so you don’t have to worry that they will fight. Continue to feed them separately….then, enlist the help of a trainer or behaviorist that can work with you and your dogs to get over this issue. When I went to my trainer, I found out it was not as hard to deal with as I’d thought. Your heart is obviously in the right place so now it’s up to you to set your dogs up for success by managing the situation and getting the help of a professional!

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  5. I agree with all the previous comments about managing the environment. Do you do things like feed Jack first (even though they’re being fed separately)? Having 3 dogs myself, I usually select toys that encourage multi-dog play, like longer tug o’ war toys meant for 2 dogs to play with. At the same time that you’re teaching Jack to share, you also have to teach Mario to respect Jack when he has a toy or chew. When we first got our new puppy, one of my girls did growl at him a few times when she had a toy or chew. First, I taught the puppy to walk away by physically removing him from the room when she did this. Then I returned and removed the chew/toy from her. I am very careful when selecting toys/chews for them – they all get one each whenever I bring home new bones/chews and I don’t bring home the types of toys that she was getting possessive over (in this case, it was a stuffed toy).

    Good luck!

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  6. I agree 100% with those above who have suggested seeking in-person professional help from a local trainer. It might cost some money, but I think having someone come over for an in-home, private session will be invaluable. They will be able to assess the dogs in the environment where you’re having the problem, and may be able to see things and solutions we can’t otherwise get through a verbal description. I’m sure the rescue will be able to recommend someone.

    Tucker’s Mom, above, also makes the excellent point that ensuring they are getting enough excerise can take the “rough edges” off some undesired behaviours (a great way to put it!). Not to mention, it gives Jack and Mario some extra bonding time with one another on neutral turf outside of the house.

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  7. Again, I agree with everyone.

    I am not a behavorialist or a trainer; heck I can’t even get my own dog to behave, but still I offer advice. 😉

    I was thinking (since this is what we are currently working with) is clicker training. You would need someone to help you with this, but I would go about it like this you on the floor with Jack, clicker in one hand and treats in the other, toy in front of him. Have Mario on leash a good distance away. As long as Jack isn’t reacting, click and treat. Keep Mario at this distance for about 5 minutes all the while clicking and treating. Then have them take a step closer to Jack; no reaction? Click and treat.

    If Jack responds to the clicker training, you should be able to eventually get Mario close to Jack without a reaction.

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  8. Pretty much every trainer I’ve ever spoken to or heard from on resource guarding among dogs says what others here have said: its a situation for management, not so much for training.

    Although I have worked on treating the testy dog like crazy when he’s working on a chew and the other approaches…with some possible signs of slight progress.
    http://peacefuldog.blogspot.com/2011/04/teaching-old-dog-new-thought-patterns.html

    Separate toys, separate food; if there are toys they can have without being separated, then an extra toy or two should be left out so dogs can switch toys without coveting a toy that’s already taken.

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  9. You absolutely should consult a behaviorist (not a trainer). You also need to pick up everything (toys, food, etc.) that might instigate that guarding behavior. Food and treats should be given to them separately. Unfortunately, when it comes to dogs guarding things from other dogs, sometimes the best/only option is management (ie not leaving things out), but a behaviorist can help you take the edge off of the worst of it at the very least.

    I have three dogs, and while none of them exhibit the same guarding behavior you describe, one of them has shown a tendency to resource guard with the other dogs from time to time. It’s not a big deal for us, but we’ve also managed (there’s that word again) it really well from the beginning. If you let it get worse, it will only get harder and harder to fix. Also, I really really hope you’re not leaving them alone together during the day. One or both of them should be crated when you’re not around. Even if they got along perfectly I would say it’s too soon to leave them together unattended, let alone with the issues they have now.

    And one more thing I haven’t seen mentioned yet: do not “correct”/punish/scold your dog when he growls/snaps/whatever. It’s obviously unwanted behavior, but if you teach Jack not to make those warning signals he’ll stop doing them and then bite “out of nowhere.” A lot of people inadvertently make that mistake so I wanted to make sure it was mentioned (it doesn’t sound like you’re doing that though). Instead just remove the the problem (treat, toy, etc.) and/or take the dog out of the room for the time being.

    And ask the rescue for help! They really do want to help you if they can. They might be able to recommend someone who can help you! I promise you aren’t the only one who’s ever had this problem. I volunteer for a rescue group and I don’t think we’ve ever taken back a dog when we hear a situation like this – we REALLY want to help!

    And don’t give up! I can tell you really care about your dogs and want to find a solution to this. Just keep working at it and I know you will! Lots of luck!

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  10. I’m not sure if I have anything new to contribute, because you have already gotten some great advice. You are going to be able to work through this situation and come up with a solution that is comfortable for everybody. You may not ever completely get Jack over his resource guarding tendencies, but you will figure out how to manage your house with minimal drama and maximum love. I do want to reinforce a few things that others have said, namely:

    -Seek help from an experienced trainer/behaviorist. Not from a sit/stay/heel type trainer, but the kind that has a lot of experience dealing with behavioral issues. This is not a training concern, but rather an issue involving your dog’s emotional states. Interview a few people, and choose one who you feel has a solid understanding and plenty of practice working with dog-dog resource guarding.
    -Don’t leave your dogs alone together. Even though they get along fine, you never know when something could cause a misunderstanding or some tension. You always want to be able to supervise any excitement. Even moreso now. I have a dog of my own and foster other dogs — some for long periods — and I would never leave two alone together, even if they get along perfectly. This is a classic case of “better safe than sorry.”

    I’m not sure if anybody has mentioned this, but dog-dog resource guarding is TOTALLY NORMAL. Not all dogs do it and it’s not great behavior or anything, but it does not mean that there is anything wrong with Jack — he is just sending strong signals to Mario that he intends to control the resources that he holds dear. You can manage this, as others have said, but you may never be able to make it completely go away. But that’s ok, tons of people successfully manage resource guarders — including myself.

    Best of luck, and let us know how it goes!

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  11. Agreed with all that is said, as I have a resource guarder in my home. What I got from the situation you described is that it sounds like Jack is guarding you. There was obvious tension with your ex, than when you got divorced, you and Jack had each other and he has taken on the role of protecting or guarding you. It could also be a jealousy issue and Jack doesn’t want Mario taking the limelight he has had these last few years.

    My resource guarder, Brut has went through different phases of being possessive of my husband and “my husband’s dog” Zappa. (Who have had several conflicts in the past) The worst was when my husband started walking all the dogs, one at time, that somehow tripped off this possessiveness in Brut. Zappa could barely walk in the room without getting glared and growled at by Brut. They would be fine all day but when my husband would come home, Brut would be set off. It took several months of managing and monitoring and correcting, until things began to settle down and now have been going well. But I always have to keep a watch eye on things, knowing that any changes could set off these patterns again.

    When we leave Brut and Zappa are always separated, they eat separate, and there are never toys, bones, or anything that Brut finds of high value laying around, they are only brought out for special occasions when Brut or other dogs are alone. For us too, in the house there can be more tension between them, than outside.

    It can be manage so that both dogs have a happy life. It just takes some time, practice and patience. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, it is out there for you and like Pamela said, they’d rather keep a dog in a good home than have to find another. Good luck!

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  12. I would make sure the dogs are crated when you aren’t home, to prevent that fight you wouldn’t be able to stop from ever having a chance to happen.

    For the resource guarding, something that helps keep my dogs from doing it is by having so many toys all over the house that it becomes impossible to guard all of them. Any toys that get growled over get put away, out of sight, for a while (the dogs don’t get time outs or anything though, just the toy taken away).

    Good luck!

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  13. I am not a behaviorist or trainer however have had multiple dogs at one time all same sex and currently to this day. I agree with everyone here.

    To the owner….Take a deep breath and let go of your worries. You are the one in control not the dogs. Your dogs will pickup on this in a heart beat. Confidence is a must. You must be calm yet call the shots. Do not get a trainer for this issue find a behaviorist.

    There are a couple things that I noticed right away and that these dogs have different energy levels. The young dog needs more exercise to drain his energy, training for manners, socialization so he knows how to be a dog.

    The older dog I agree appears to be teaching the young dog at this point and in socialization classes it is not uncommon to see a raised lip, see/hear a growl, to hear a sharp bark directed at another dog. This is a dog giving a correction rather than a human and it’s okay. We intervene before it moves to a fight. Over the top behavior is not okay – fighting.

    I am concerned about the guarding of you, this is not okay, we give affection not the other way around. Our home is our home, everything is yours not theirs and I know that this sounds cruel but in order to have peace and balance it is a must.

    NILF!

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  14. My guess is that this post received so few responses because so many of us don’t really know what to do in difficult situations like this one.

    A lot of people gave some really great advice above, especially in consulting a behaviorist. I also recommend touching base with Debbie Jacobs over at Fearfuldogs.com. I actually was just speaking with her about my resource guarding foster and how to work with her better. I was relieved to have Debbie confirm that I am doing all the right things.
    So, I thought I would add my two cents (that’s probably all it’s worth anyways).
    Based on your description above, it sounds like Jack is resource guarding and the resource he values highly is you… and food. I would continue feeding the dogs separately to avoid any confrontations. But when it comes to other resources that Jack is guarding – you, bones, treats, etc., I would remove them from the equation. If you’re lying on the ground next to Jack and Mario comes over and he starts to growl, get up and leave the room. If Jack is sitting next to you on the couch and Mario comes over and he growls, get up and leave the room.
    You can also try rewarding Jack and Mario when they get along. If Mario comes over and Jack doesn’t growl, give him a treat. The idea is to help Jack realize that when he guards a resource he gets nothing, in fact, the resource goes away. And, when Mario does come over and he doesn’t growl, he gets rewarded for it. That’s it.
    I still think a behaviorist is a great idea, but these are some simple things you can do to start to address the problems. Good luck!

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