Tuesday, 11 November 2014

How NOT to deal with resource guarding!

As of a few minutes ago, I discovered that a friend who shared this video from Facebook, has been 'locked down' by Facebook and the video removed.

The original footage and copyright belong to Nat Geo and Cesar Millan (I presume) I make no claim to own this video.

I reproduce it here under the UK copyright legislation 'fair dealing - using the work of others' as specified here:

"Criticism or review
Quoting parts of a work for the purpose of criticism or review is permitted provided that:

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The video has been annotated for the purposes of education and discussion so please, have at the comments section here and share this blog anywhere you like.

In this video, Cesar is attempting to demonstrate and address Holly's food guarding and aggression.

It is important to note that a dog is aggressive over food when they fear they will lose that food. Food is a super valuable resource to your dog, to any dog, in fact to any living being, because without food, we'd die.

It is not remotely abnormal for a dog to want to keep its food to itself - however in a home situation its not appropriate to have a dog who is so fearful that food will be taken, that they feel they must defend it by being aggressive.

So the answer is to remove the FEAR - to change the dogs emotional response in the situations they currently interpret as 'you need to be on guard here, you might lose this resource', from fear to joy!

And it is super simple to do - you put down a bowl with just a few pieces of low value food in it, you step back as far as the dog needs you to so they feel comfortable (lets say a couple of metres at least) and once they have finished that food you step foward a foot or two, and you toss in some HIGH value food.

Whoa! Person approaching food bowl = GOOD THINGS!

This is really low risk, the food in the bowl was low value, the dog has finished eating it before the person approaches, and the person only steps a few feet closer and throws the high value food the rest of the way, so the chances of a dogs fear being triggered in this example are really really low!

Repeat this routine over the course of a few days and your dog will start to look up as he finishes his food, hoping the human will step  nearer and hand over more yummies!

Once that happens you can put more food in the bowl initially or you can step a little closer to start with (but don't do both, we want to make this EASY).

Gradually we teach the dog that no one is going to take their food, that approaching humans bring MORE food and are a good thing.

Of course sometimes we do need to take something from a dog - but you know we NEVER need to take away a bowl of food WE gave the dog in the first place. How many times did you accidentally give your dog a bowl of poisoned dog food or a ticking bomb? Oh thats right, you've never done that, and you never will!

If you wanted to take your dogs food bowl to put more in there, just wait until he is done! If you gave him the wrong meal well thats unlikely to cause a problem and if you gave him a meal with someone elses medication in it, again its unlikely to do any harm as a one off, call your vet if you are worried.

The times we do need to take things from a dog, we can teach that skill in advance - its pretty much known as a 'retrieve' - just teach your dog that bringing you stuff he has and giving it to you is HIGHLY rewarding behaviour. Teaching a dog to swap is pretty easy, start out with low value things, hand them to him, then offer him a high value treat - he's going to drop that thing and yay, he gets his reward. Work your way up to higher value items, and treats he can't see immediately (so, hidden in your pocket, treats you have to get up and get for him) so that you fade out the 'bribery' element.

If your dog picks up something dangerous, there is never ever any way that chasing, confronting, or forcing him to give it back will make the situation safer.

If you chase or confront your dog, these are the likely outcomes:

  •   He runs away
  •   He tries to chew it harder
  •   He tries to swallow it
  •   He guards it from you and bites you 

    In no way are any of these options safer, no matter what item he has, than you walking AWAY from him and sneakily doing something you KNOW will attract his attention, such as picking up his lead and offering him a walk, getting the car keys and offering him a ride in the car, making a sandwich and eating it noisily - you know your dog, you know what floats his boat. Offer that and DO IT, do not lie, because you will only lie to him once!

    This is what you do in an emergency situation, it is not how to train a dog to leave, drop or give things up, but it is important to know that there is no emergency worth you confronting your dog and teaching him to use aggression.

    To cut a long story short - there is never any need to do what Cesar does in the video.

    No behaviourist worth their salt needs to confront a dog as Cesar does, to the point where they get bitten. As a working behaviour consultant myself, frankly I wouldn't need to do any of the things in this video at all - if the owner tells me the dog is food aggressive then I will start with the cure straight away, I don't need to SEE the dog guarding food to know what the potential outcome might be, and none of what  Cesar does in the video is involved in the cure.

    Whats more, addressing the problem the way I do, means that if for some reason the owner was wrong and the dog is NOT food aggressive, well all we have done is waste some time, we will have done NO HARM.

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