Foster Dog with guarding and growling behaviour
January 14, 2017 1:24 AM   Subscribe

I have another foster dog whose circumstances mean I would rather foster her long-term. She's sweet, and generally well-behaved and walks well with my dog. However, she has some pretty extreme guarding behaviour with her bed, bowl and toys. Moreover, she tends to steal my dog's toys and make them hers by dropping them in her dog bed. My dog is calm about it all, but right now I don't dare leave them alone in the same space. Any ideas to work on guarding?

This is Hattie. I've had her for a few days now. Her story is heartbreaking. Her family of 6 years abandoned her because she was jealous of the baby. By all accounts, since the baby came she has been locked in the laundry room and neglected. She's a good 5 kilos overweight and desperate for affection.

I have been getting short-term fosters to see how Huggy, my dog, would do with a second dog. I got her through a rescue in April, and she's now relaxed enough to be interested in being social with other dogs so I've taken Hattie on as a longer-term foster.

I've built Hattie a little den in the guest room and let her retreat there. I've kept a leash on both of them, and have been wearing Hattie with me much of the time as I arrange things around the house. Outside, or in the main rooms, Hattie is relaxed and affectionate-- trying to get on my lap. However, in "her" room, she get growly at both Huggy and myself. No snapping, just growling. She sits in the doorway and growls at poor Huggy when she walks by. She growls at me when I pick up her bowl. It's clearly guarding behaviour. I've been responding to it with ah-ah-ah and that does seem to calm her down, but I obviously can't leave them in the same room together alone until this resolves a bit.

I do have a call in to the Rescue's Trainer, so hopefully she'll get back to me on Monday. In the meantime tho, do you have any tips for dealing with this? What's she's just gone through is very traumatic, so is it possible it's a way of grieving? I'm inclined to suspect not, but that it is more linked to the baby in her old house since this seems like the kind of behaviour which got her kicked out in the first place.

Her health is good, though she has to lose the weight. They had apparently stopped giving her normal feeding times, and had instead kept dog food down all the time for her to graze.

She also seems very dominant. As noted above, she's been doing little raiding forays out of "her" room to scoop up one of Huggy's toys and run back and drop it in her bed. Huggy has way too many toys and only cares about a few of them anyhow, so I haven't been taking them back. But I'm not sure if that's the right thing to do?

I walk them together 3 times a day, for a minimum of 3 hours total. (Between her weight and Huggy's arthritis, they can't do more than 2 hours at a stretch in any case.)

Huggy's been trying to play bow to her when we go outside, and I really think she'd like a bigger pack. And I feel so badly for the silly little thing-- it must be heartbreaking to lose everything you've ever known. At the very least, I'd like to keep her until the group finds her a forever home. I can't think that a lot more moves are a good idea. If she can relax on the guarding, I might even consider adopting her myself.

Any advice?

(And Huggy thanks you for all the good advice we've gotten so far. Since my first post about her, she's lost 4 kilos, tripled the distance she is able to walk, and seems to have discovered her joy in life.)
posted by frumiousb to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and before anyone asks, crating isn't done here and is forbidden by the Rescue Organisation.
posted by frumiousb at 2:27 AM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've owned many dogs and fostered many dogs and what you describe is a big old dog fight waiting to happen. Her "crawling in your lap" is her trying to claim you. She's going to escalate to driving huggy away or hurting her and quickly. You need to lay down some ground rules like now. No growling, no guarding, no climbing on you, no side eyeing huffy or threatening her and no toys period until you sort this out. Take them all away. Don't leave them alone together. Watch some YouTube videos on dog body language to make sure you're picking up on any escalation.

And you sound really, really judgemental of her old owners. If she was threatening the baby I'd have rehomed her too. Some dogs are better in a single dog house with no small kids, period. A lot of adult female dogs won't accept new adult dog friends. It's not "trauma", it's just how they are.

If huggy wants a friend, get her one who doesn't want to murder her and usurp her place. A younger adult male dog is probably ideal.
posted by fshgrl at 3:01 AM on January 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I won't thread-sit. All I know about the old owners is what I was told by the agency. She had originally been adopted through them, and were pretty angry about the state she was in-- no exercise, heavily overweight. At the very least it seems to have gone on for quite a few months. She also apparently lived happily with another dog up until a year before the baby came when the dog died. But I'm sorry if I sound judgemental. The dog is not in great shape. It's hard not to be sad for that.
posted by frumiousb at 3:14 AM on January 14, 2017 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Keep them separated, and keep all toys put away unless you're specifically playing with one dog or the other. Make sure you don't feed them within line of sight of each other. As a fosterer you want to be minimising any potential for conflict.

I get that you'd like a second dog and that's great, but your duty at the moment to the foster dog is to foster her and get her a bit more ready for her forever home. It's not to try and mould her into being suitable for your home and situation specifically. I think wanting her to be a friend for your first dog is getting in your way. It's clear that right now she's not a good fit as a second pack member. That's fine- and it's also fine if she resource guards around other dogs in her space, it just means she'll need to be an only dog in her new home.

Can you tolerate managing two dogs who need to be separated for the time it takes to re-home her? If not, I'd consider rescinding your offer to foster her. If you're unable to accept that they won't be "friends" and keep trying to force them to be, there could well be fights between them, which would not be good in terms of the foster's prospects for being rehomed (or for your dog ever accepting other dogs into the home)- and she would be better off in a different foster home.

Resource guarding isn't an easy thing to fix, especially for an inexperienced dog owner. Let that be what it is. What you should focus on working with with the rescue's trainer is the RGing towards humans, as that is something that could impact her chance of being successfully rehomed.

You're getting into emotional thinking about her- there's no point thinking "oh, the poor thing, having to move homes again", and making it more tough for you to just think of her as a foster. She's in a good situation with a rescue and a foster home, and she'll do even better in her new forever home. She'll adapt, dogs are very good at that. And she'll be happier in a home without a second dog to bother her. Being an only pet is what's most suitable for some animals, there's nothing wrong with that.

TL;DR: take the fostering seriously, and divorce it from your desire for a 2nd dog. There'll be a better fit in a shelter elsewhere. Don't force this dog into being something she can't be.
posted by mymbleth at 3:34 AM on January 14, 2017 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Oh and, here's a good article about RGing and ways to treat it to start you off :
posted by mymbleth at 3:59 AM on January 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Work on increasing the dogs sense of security regarding guarded items. Can you safely take than away from her? Work on taking the item away for a few seconds and then returning it, even the length of time slowly. Returning the item is important as that helps the dog realise the item isn't going to be taken away.. If she seems hesitant to give it up swap it for a higher value treat. Do this over and over and over again. Remove all toys until the issue calms down, the dog feeling settled and secure with time will also help with this issue.

When feeding hand feed or work on picking up and putting down the good bowl a few times during the mall if safe to do so, again the idea is to reconsider the concept that resources one taken are not gone forever so there is no need to guard. Make sure when feeding treats the boss dog gets fed first, this may not be the dog you think it is.

We have a rescue wth a fear biting and guarding biting history, that is happy to settle for passive aggressive toy roulette with his our other dog and will let people take anything from him no worries now a days. It takes time, a sense of security and the dog understanding that awesome thing it is interested in isn't going to vanish forever if it gives it up.
posted by wwax at 5:35 AM on January 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

As others have said, take all the toys away unless you are actively playing with one or the other of the dogs and implement Nothing in Life is Free for the foster. The desensitization exercises previously mentioned will be important, too.
posted by winna at 6:13 AM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding wwax's method, as it worked with my own small, possessive-bitey dog many years ago (one of those instances when he was an angel at the shelter and a monster on day 2 after I brought him home) and he turned into an absolute sweetie who shared his toys with our eventual second dog. It takes time.
posted by kimberussell at 7:09 AM on January 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

First off, you are wonderful person for such kindness towards animals. And yes, shame on the old owners for throwing the dog out to a rescue (it takes work to make sure that the living being you took responsibility for gets a chance at life because of your inability to think about the future-kids, change etc and many don't think through this before they get a pet) You will have to start from ground zero with both of them. The rescue needs a bit more love and attention because of their experiences which may have caused huge insecurities/anxieties. However too much pandering can be a problem also. Give her a chance because you have no idea whether she can or cannot be a good second dog. That will take time to decide. We have always had more than one dog at a time and although it took time, they pretty much fell into a good pattern. Here is something online that might help.
posted by metajim at 12:07 PM on January 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for your answers. wwax, special thanks because I think you helped put it in perspective and the desensitization exercises have been really helpful.

Things are slowly improving and she's reacting less and less to people in her space. She also is now eating regularly and uninterested in guarding her food bowl. Any (overt) aggression towards Huggy is disappearing and they seem okay to ignore each other when they encounter each other in the house. Mostly they don't.

To be clear, they are never alone unsupervised and have not been from the beginning. mymbleth, your advice made a ton of sense, and since then I've really put the focus on socialising her to me and for the rest just keeping the two of them separate. Regarding her desperate attempts for my attention, I've put down some very clear rules-- I don't respond to pushing for attention or hyper behaviour. Calm, quiet dogs get petted. When she's in her room, I don't bother her, but I'm tossing in treats when I go by to get her used to people not being a bad thing.

The trainer and the head of the Rescue agency have been by and I think we all recognise that she's probably never going to fit well in a multidog household. We agreed the following:

I'll walk them separately at least a couple times a week. The foster is still on her lead, but I will put her on and wear her when I'm pottering around the house. Since the main issue doesn't really seem to be things, but space, she suggested I give her back a toy as long as I can pick it up without her growling.

The Rescue group will look for a long-term foster without other dogs, but I'll keep her for the moment since Huggy doesn't seem to be at all fussed and keeping them separate isn't a big problem for me. The trainer will be coming by regularly to see how she's getting on. The sad fact is that there is a shortage of fosters right now, and this isn't a dog who could cope at all in the kennels so they judge it more important to keep her in a home than it is to have a perfect home. We're also going to get her teeth cleaned and do a health check because while it doesn't seem health issues are at the root of anything, they may be exacerbating matters.

I'm still nervous about it, since everyone agrees that guarding and jealousy are some of the most difficult issues to resolve in a dog, but I will do my best for her.

Oh, and regarding being judgy. That accusation surprised me a little and made me reflect. I spent some time looking into the case. The Rescue Agency has trainers available at a discounted rate and also classes aimed at dog/baby interaction. The owners made no effort to avail themselves of any of these. The dog hasn't been to a vet in years. It appears that for least a year, she was locked in a tiny laundry room with little affection, exercise or attention. I don't know them and never will, but this isn't how you act towards a living thing which up until that moment had been the darling of the house. I think I've decided to side with the dog.
posted by frumiousb at 2:22 PM on January 19, 2017

« Older Smoking on P & O cruises in Australia   |   Using a layover as a mini vacation in Bangkok Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.