“When people come to the door Squirt, my two-year-old, longhaired Chihuahua mix becomes aggressive. He also reacts badly when someone hugs me or shakes my hand. And, he goes ballistic when the mailman drops the mail through the mail drop on our front door. The mail is starting to have bite marks. LOL! This is getting worse – can you help?”
This is a direct quote from an inquiry I received about a week ago from a new client. What the client left out of her note was even more troubling. During a recent mail delivery, Squirt bit her father as he was trying to pick the dog up to stop the onslaught.
Some Behaviors Are Hard-wired!
And, while I don’t hear this every day – this kind of story is not at all uncommon. As a rule, many dogs are not equipped to deal with the “comings and goings” of our busy lives as humans. They are often completely overwhelmed with the simple things that are a normal everyday part of our lives. People coming and going, mail and packages being delivered, expressions of affection can put dogs on edge and cause them to behave very badly. In fact, dogs are hard-wired to respond to prompts like mail delivery, doorbells and people walking by. So, what’s to be done? Read on and you will find out!
Resource Guarding is a Common Issue!
First of all, let’s name the issue! What Squirt and many dogs do naturally is called “resource guarding”. While dogs have evolved into domesticity beautifully, there are certain behaviors that harken them back to being back in the wild and resource guarding is one of those. A resource to a dog can be anything that dog sees as a high value. It can be food, chew toys, their owner, a space like a couch or a bed or their front door or fence.
My dog Dolce loves chews (like bully sticks) and will aggress if approached by another dog while chewing one. One of our favorite daycare dogs, Lukey, guards the gates and will charge when a dog comes in through the gate. We lovingly call him the “school monitor” and take great care to make sure Lukey is away from the gates when dogs come in and out. We also work with Lukey to help him understand his job is not to guard the gates, but to move away from them at all times.
With this in mind, we began a six-session private training program of de-sensitizing and counter-conditioning with Squirt. And, to help his owner develop skills, we enrolled them in our Advanced Meet & Greet class for reactive dogs.
Identify Triggers, Then Address Them
We started our work by identifying the things that “trigger” Squirt’s behaviors. This allowed me to see and better understand the intensity and focus of his behaviors. Each dog presents a unique set of triggers and steps must be made to address each one. Slowly we started to redirect his attention from the door to us and from the metal door “knocker” trigger than created intense reactivity. Over and over, with perfect timing we starting to help Squirt to understand his job was no longer to bark, charge and attack the door. Pretty soon he was not barking or responding to the door knock, but looking to me for a reward. Then the really interesting work began – the mail slot.
Tune in next week to hear more about our interesting journey with Squirt.