I posted a status update the yesterday in response to the controversy surrounding this video showing Cesar Milan, The Dog Whisperer, confronting a resource guarding lab named Holly. My status update was:
Isn’t provoking a dog into defending itself proof that the method is flawed from the start?
I don’t really want to make this post about Cesar; I want to make it about the method of provoking a confrontation in order to claim ownership.
In my mind there are only two possible outcomes to any scenario where we purposely provoke aggression and conflict in a dog that is guarding a resource.
- If you’re unable to get the dog to back down and cede ownership to you, then the dog has learned their behavior is an effective technique for keeping whatever they want and you have just increased the chances of being bitten and the likelihood of the behavior expanding to other items.
- If you’re able to get the dog to back down, you haven’t earned respect or higher status; you’ve just shown your dog that you can be dangerous, unpredictable, and possibly bi-polar, clearly someone who is not to be trusted or relaxed around. This again can lead to the dog behaving fear aggressive because it views your presence as a source of anxiety.
I feel that either outcome supports the idea related in my status update; provocation is flawed regardless of outcome.
Resource guarding has a threshold. Below the threshold various techniques can be used to increase the dog’s tolerance to the point where the threshold no longer exists and the fear and aggression disappear. Working above threshold by using confrontation and aggression against a dog can only result in a fight in which the winner will be trusted less by the loser. There is no noble victory here or a warrior’s respect after combat, only the feelings of bullying and being bullied.
Combating resource guarding can be accomplished without resorting to confrontation. A couple of excellent resources on dealing with resource guarding are:
Resource Guarding by Grisha Stewart
Mine A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs by Jean Donaldson
To learn more about working with aggression under threshold, I recommend checking out Grisha Stewart’s blog on the BAT (Behavioral Adjustment Training) technique at http://ahimsadogtraining.com/blog/category/bat-posts/. She also has a book on BAT titled Behavior Adjustment Training: BAT for Fear, Frustration, and Aggression in Dogs that I highly recommend.
Cheers and happy training,