Cookie dough ice cream is my favorite treat. I love it so much that you'll rarely catch me sharing it. In fact, if you tried to snag a bite of my ice cream, I might resort to desperate measures to keep it all to myself. Would you blame me? Probably not. So why do we blame dogs for wanting to keep their most favorite things to themselves?
Auggie was the most wonderful puppy. At the shelter, his adorable pointy ears hadn't quite figured out if they were going to stand up or flop over. I wasn't planning on adopting a dog the day I met him; I barely had enough money to pay for groceries. But I couldn't leave him there. If I ever believed in the whole "it was meant to be" thing, it was then. I'll never regret my decision. Okay, enough with the sappy love stuff.
At five months old, Auggie played fantastically at the dog park, learned to potty outside very quickly and loved sleeping in his kennel at night. The few things that scared him - like the ceiling fan and windshield wipers - he got used to very quickly. When we lived alone, Auggie's favorite thing to do was to put toys in my hand so we could play tug and fetch. He also enjoyed cuddling under the blankets. We have a great friendship, Auggie and I.
Auggie also had a few great fur-friends. We went camping with a malamute once. They ran through the woods together and played tug with a plush toy all afternoon. Nothing could separate the two. Another friend, Stella, very closely resembled Auggie's favorite stuffie, named Wee Wee. Stella played with Auggie at doggie daycare and they always had a blast. And I can't forget about Rosco. He was my childhood dog whom I love dearly. Those two would cuddle in the most unnatural ways.
But over the years, I noticed Auggie's social skills change. He seemed to prefer females to males and small dogs to large ones. The first time I noticed him guard a resource was when Auggie was a year old and I was sharing my apple with him and Rosco. There was a brief flash of a fight and Rosco emerged with one puncture wound. This was before I was educated as a dog trainer so of course I had no idea what happened! I separated the dogs and made sure Rosco wasn't seriously hurt. I think I was more upset than he was.
The second incident was not long after and was over a rawhide chew. My boyfriend walked over to Auggie to coax him into his kennel. He reached toward Auggie who then bit him but didn't leave any marks. We spent a few months trading his rawhide for other fantastic items until he seemed to not care if we approached him during chew time. At the time, like most of you, I didn't see resource guarding as normal dog behavior, and I didn't understand that it can begin to show in dogs as they mature no matter how well they shared things as a young puppy.
After feeling we had things under control, Valentino came along. When I adopted Valentino, I did everything right. I took them on a long walk the day I brought him home. He and Auggie ran around and played in a neutral location before I brought them to my new apartment. At my apartment, they napped together, ran around together and seemed very happy.
Until the first time I gave them peanut-butter-stuffed Kongs. That first fight was brutal. Injuries were minor, but since I felt my sensitive Valentino was "damaged" already from being abandoned in a home before living in a shelter for a couple of months, I felt so guilty. I immediately reached out to rescues to find him a new home. I felt it was unfair for Valentino to have put up with this kind of treatment and for Auggie to have to share things with another dog. After talking with a friend, I decided to give it time and go into prevention more. I learned very quickly that I couldn't have bones or toys out because the boys would fight over them. Well, Auggie would fight while Valentino cowered and took the beating. It turns out that Auggie will guard an array of items: from bones and toys to new rugs, and even bugs. Yes, bugs! The hardest part it that Auggie guards people, mostly me.
Now three years later, Auggie and Valentino have a complicated relationship. There has been an increase in fights and these days we'll see injuries like punctures and scraping. Many people ask me why I don't re-home one of them. Trust me when I say it is the most difficult decision I've ever made. I'm one of those "my dogs are my children" kind of people. It may seem selfish but I also do it to protect them. Auggie can't live with cats or children. Valentino has some separation anxiety which would likely get worse with a re-home. Not only do I have the best home for them, in my opinion, but I also understand that resource guarding is normal. So why would I send my dog off to a new home when he's acting like a normal dog?
Auggie and Valentino have taught me so much about myself and about animals. They inspired me to become a dog trainer, leading me to enroll in Jean Donaldson's Academy for Dog Trainers. As the fights between them have become more frequent, I'm so thankful for the support I received, and continue to receive, from my colleagues. Without them, I would not have had any success with these two boys.
A few months ago, I finally decided to do something about the fighting. Baby gates went up, interactive feeders were ordered and Auggie learned some new behaviors to help manage his guarding. He has learned to leave my side and go to his kennel upon Valentino's approach. He only does this if he is laying near me when Valentino approaches. We started teaching Auggie to be comfortable wearing a muzzle but found if we could keep him out of sticky situations he didn't need to wear one. Of course, humans make mistakes. We haven't managed our household perfectly, but what we are doing is definitely helping. Auggie still resource guards but we are now three months without as much as an argument (knock on wood) which is huge! The most important part about management is that it must be strict. Management fails can lead to set-backs which can result in lack of motivation and the feeling of failure. I don't know about you, but I don't like to fail.
Since nothing in behavior is guaranteed, I decided that focusing on alternative behaviors and management was the best route for my household. As a trainer, it is important to remember that each household is a little different. Some people will be okay with not eliminating resource guarding as long as fights stop, and others don't want to see a hint of aggression in their dog. The decision I made was made because it gave more immediate relief for Valentino and forced me to make positive changes in Auggie's routine, like feeding him frozen meals out of interactive feeders. Overall, the quality of my dogs' lives has increased greatly.
Living in peace with a professional resource guarder once seemed impossible but I learned that it can be done and is so rewarding.