Behaviour Issues in Dogs: Scenario 1

From my ongoing (over 3/4 of the way through now, not much further to go!) ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology course.

Q: Write at least 1,000 words on each of two separate behaviour issues that you have observed. Your total word count for the combined case histories will be at least 2,000 words. Include any factors that you think may have contributed to the issues, and what methods you would use to help the dog and his/her carer.

A: BEHAVIOUR ISSUE #1: Resource guarding

Mojo was a sweet little chihuahua at the Refuge, who had the amusing but mildly obscene habit of humping his soft dog bed. He didn’t always do it. Most of the time he was just a cute little active chihuahua who loved jumping up into your lap for cuddles and belly rubs. He’d come to the Refuge as a surrender, and the dog bed and a few toys had come with him. The volunteer Canine Carers had been told that Mojo was a resource guarder of food and toys, and to watch themselves around him, but no one was expecting him to be so protective of his dog bed!

If anyone went near Mojo’s bed (when he was not busy humping it), they would be greeted with bared teeth and a low growl. Mojo would also roll his eyes to show the whites, and sometimes nip at the air as a warning. You wouldn’t want to get your fingers nipped by those flashing little razor blades! Once he’d warned you though, he’d act all sorry and submissive, offering his belly up to you as appeasement.

Once, another volunteer made the mistake of sitting on Mojo’s bed. Mojo was quite the whirlwind, zipping up to the volunteer and barking and growling his utter disgust at the invasion of his privacy! He literally danced circles around the poor volunteer, yipping and darting in and out around his feet, flashing his teeth, until the poor volunteer got off his bed apologetically. As soon as the volunteer was away from the bed, Mojo proceeded to have a good sniff of it, and then started humping it, as if to remove any traces of the volunteer from it, and to restore the status quo! I’d also seen Mojo get so engrossed in his little activity, that he completely ignored any visitors trying to coax him to the front of his kennel. He wasn’t interested even in tasty morsels of chicken. I’d also witnessed Mojo being so enthusiastic about the humping that he actually exhausted himself and fell asleep in mid-action!

No one was completely sure of Mojo’s background or history, or how he came to become a resource guarder. The times I spent in his kennel with him, he never demonstrated any other form of resource guarding (food or toys), apart from his beloved bed. It might have been possible that Mojo valued his bed more than his food or toys, so when push came to shove, he chose the item with the higher value in his eyes, to protect. He might have come from a home with more than one dog, and had to protect his precious bed from the other dogs in the household? Or, it might have been that food and toys were aplenty where Mojo had come from, but he’d had to share his bed with other dogs and, being small, kept getting pushed out?

Humping may be startling to watch, and also highly amusing, but it is actually quite normal behaviour for dogs. Dogs may dry hump each other to show who’s boss (or literally, “top dog”). Mojo’s humping of his bed could well have stemmed from him being so tiny that there was no way he could have physically humped any of the other dogs in his previous household … which probably means he could have been the smallest dog there, and the only thing he could use to demonstrate his authority or dominance was his poor dog bed.

Mojo wasn’t at the Refuge for long enough for me to try any behaviour modification techniques on. He was soon snapped up by a family who didn’t seem to mind his humping obsession. If I’d had the opportunity to, however, here’s what behaviour modification techniques I would have tried.

I would have first tested Mojo to see what his trigger points were. Was he food motivated? I find dogs who like their treats easier to distract and train, than dogs that either are not food motivated, or are not allowed treats for dietary reasons. If there’s nothing to motivate them to do something, why do it? If Mojo had been food motivated, I’d have tried “weaning” him off his beloved dog bed by distracting him with treats each time he went to hump the bed. Mojo would have learned to associate food treats as higher value items than his bed. In time, he would look towards his owner for treats, rather than pay attention to his bed.

If Mojo was motivated by play and toys instead of food, I’d have used those as weapons of distraction, for when he attempted to hump his bed. Each time he moved towards his bed and displayed body language indicating that he was about to start humping, I’d have tempted him with a new toy or a game of chase or tug. If his mind is off his bed and on something else, then he’s not going to treat his bed with as much importance as his new toy or game. With time and patience, he may loosen his strong association with the bed as his “security”.

Another thing I would have tried would be to remove Mojo’s bed when he’s not around, and replace it with a new bed. His old bed would no doubt be full of his own pheromones and scent, which he would have associated with a sense of safety, rather like a child’s security blanket. By removing the bed and starting with a new one, I could have observed to see if this was indeed Mojo’s Achilles’ Heel. And if it was, the fact that the bed was no longer there meant that Mojo no longer had that to rely on, and perhaps the behaviour might extinguish itself over time. Or if not, I would still have the opportunity to modify his behaviour and redirect it to something else.

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The following images were found on Pinterest, you may find them useful as handy quick guides to understanding resource guarding in dogs.

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