A blur of golden coloured cocker spaniel launched itself off the sofa as I entered. It was an exuberant and noisy welcome from Digby!
Digby has bitten all members of his family, causing wounds that required medical attention. He growls and snaps if anyone attempts to take away an item he wants to keep; if anyone approaches him when he is on the sofa and at night when on the owner’s bed.
Dogs like Digby are called ‘resource guarders’. Resource guarding is a normal behaviour which can become maladaptive; it stems from an underlying anxiety that something the dog values is going to be taken away from him.
I explained to his owners, that we needed to help Digby learn to have a positive association with people approaching him, bending down to him and even taking things from him. The training exercises for this take time to implement and it was critical that the owners did not put Digby in position where he felt the need to resource guard for their well-being, and for Digby’s safety. If Digby bit an adult or child severely, the consequences could be very severe for him.
When I returned to see Digby, the expected blur of cocker spaniel dashed up to me, but as I braced myself for him to cannon into me, he planted his backside firmly on the floor and waited politely for me to bend down to say hello. His owners happily reported that they had not been bitten (phew!!) and that Digby was beginning to relax with people moving around him.
Digby and his owners still have a long way to go and they will always need to be vigilant around Digby, but I feel confident that Digby will learn that people are predictive of good things – rather than beings who just take things from him that he wants to keep.
If your dog shows any aggressive behaviour towards people, other dogs or other animals, please use the services of a reputable and qualified Animal Behaviourist. Do not resort to punishment or aversive techniques or tools to try and correct the behaviour as these will most likely exacerbate the problem.