The Story of Effie: Managing Resource Guarding
Wed, Oct 30
Mellie Test"Just keep swimming" continues to apply.
These three dogs have each nestled into a cozy burrow in my heart; they are part of my unit. I've heard others describe their dogs as inconvenient or time-consuming or exhausting or expensive, but while being responsible for another creature (or several) is a responsibility, to me it's also some sort of calling. Psychoanalyze or guffaw all you like -- I am an "animal person."
If I wanted "easy," I'd have one very small, calm dog who could be toted on an airplane or carried in a shoulder bag. That's all some people can handle. Instead, I know my capacity. And I am willing to be at capacity in order to provide for these creatures.
[caption id="attachment_948" align="alignright" width="150"] She's a good dog![/caption]
I feel lucky. Lucky to have the love of these creatures. Lucky to be able to care for them and my four year old son on my own. Lucky to have found Effie, bringing with her the amazing Abby and Sara, who have luckily provided so much moral support and advice, gratis. Lucky to continually be connected to new heart-full individuals, willing to share their resources and learnings (such as two of Abby's friends, Kikopup and Lori of La Dolce Doggie).
I'm keeping the dogs separated again during the days and while we're sleeping at night. My busted ankle in its boot should allow me to give them walks (Ronan and Stucky together, then Effie on her own) again, though they'll be short. When Ronan and Effie see each other, he tucks his tail and turns away, so I don't feel it's time to force them to mingle. All this talk about thresholds and caution...
I do want to point out that I am not punishing my dogs; I don't see them as dangerous or "bad dogs." I've received comments to the effect of, "I met your dogs and they're sweet; why do you punish them by keeping them apart?" I insist that taking things slow and being cautious does not mean I'm afraid of my dogs. Allowing them to ease into cohabitation isn't punishment. Instead, I'm taking responsible action and precaution versus haphazardly throwing them into situations and forcing them to cope when they may not be ready or properly equipped (through training, for instance).
We've all experienced overwhelm at various points in our lives, and we've all reacted badly when pushed past our tolerance limits; I'm giving the dogs space so that we can all avoid reaching overwhelm (which dramatically exacerbates reactivity).
In keeping with the space idea, it's also important to make sure the dogs have one-on-one time. Since the dogs aren't getting walked as much (due to my ankle injury), they need added exercise and individual attention. In Abby's experience, individual attention really improves the way her dogs manage themselves once back together.
Check back for more specific behavioral cautions and training suggestions from Lori of La Dolce Doggie!
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Mellie TestA couple of weeks before this latest incident, I'd asked Abby about possessiveness because Ronan seemingly increased his food guarding, and I'd notice Effie occasionally growling at Ronan while she was sitting on my lap.
Abby consulted her trainer friend (again -- thankfully!), who said that relationships surrounding resources depend on the individual dogs and their temperaments, as well as how important the resources are to them at any given time. Age, gender, size, and breed do not and should not determine which dog defers, and who controls what resources.
She said that dogs communicating (such as growling or turning away) about resources (such as a toy, or even a person's lap) is fine, and that it's a good sign if they can work out differences through communication and without conflict. Effie's growling as a warning and Ronan's deferring would be considered "without conflict" as long as Ronan always continues to defer.
Abby recommended an article about different kinds of resource-control situations in multi-dog households. "As long as the pattern repeats itself, you needn't worry. You just need to stay calmly observant and take note if the pattern changes...If you see subtle signs of increasing tension, however, or if you see Scenario 2 behavior, where Dog B is bullying Dog A into giving up the resource, you have potential trouble brewing."
Abby suggested that we implement a "go to mat" behavior to give him something else to do when he comes over to investigate while Effie is on my lap. Abby says that "go to mat" is her favorite redirection behavior for helping her manage her own dogs.
She also suggested having an "invite only" rule for laps (and perhaps couches) so that I can determine appropriate timing. When the dogs are nice and tired, for example, guarding might not be an issue, but if the dogs have been cooped up or seem agitated from something earlier during the day, things could potentially escalate, and therefore lap time may be postponed.
Here's a fabulous video for teaching go to mat (which you can do without moving around so that works out well for the time you are laid up):
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