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My Pet World: When a dog resource guards, a behaviorist can help

Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

We have had our beloved Morkie (Maltese/Yorkie), Mimi, since she was 4 months old. She is the smartest dog we have ever had.

Mimi was mostly my responsibility until she was 8 months old. My husband was not feeling well, and since Mimi was so small and it was winter, my husband carried her around in the pocket of his robe. They became extremely attached. During this time, she witnessed our 13-year-old dog growling at me when I approached my husband in the evening to watch TV.

She is now 8 years old. A few years ago, Mimi started the same bad behavior. The only solution that our dog trainer has come up with is that Mimi can no longer sit with my husband at night if I am still awake. Both my husband and Mimi do not like it, but after a few weeks, she seemed to get it, and the behavior mostly stopped. But when my husband lets her back up in the recliner, the behavior returns.

I know she is "guarding" him, but she knows I live here and take care of and love her too. The behavior is even worse when I have to go in and wake my husband up from sleeping. She has growled, jumped off the bed and nipped me. This behavior happens every morning. Any suggestions? — Janice, Tinley Park, Illinois

Dear Janice,


Resource guarding is a behavior by which dogs protect their valuables like toys, food and sometimes people. When the behavior involves resource guarding owners against other owners, then it’s time for a trainer, animal behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist (a veterinarian who specializes in animal behavior) to help.

The dog trainer gave you good advice that Mimi shouldn’t be allowed to “guard” your husband all evening. While your husband may be flattered by this, he is the one who needs to set new expectations for acceptable behavior. That means Mimi doesn’t get to sit in his lap or by his side and she should definitely not be allowed to sleep in bed with him if she growls at you. The minute she growls at you, he should tell her “no” in a firm voice and show his displeasure by putting her on the floor and ignoring her.

We also need to change what Mimi thinks of you. Step into the doorway when he and Mimi are in the recliner and begin tossing high-value treats like pieces of cheese or chicken. Keep showering her with treats and talking nicely to her as you enter the room. If she growls at you, your husband needs to immediately say “no” and put her on the ground. These sessions should only last a few minutes at a time.

While the steps to stopping this behavior are basically the same, the timing of your actions is what is so critical. The moment she growls, your husband must respond. If a behaviorist observes the interaction, they can tweak your responses and timing much more quickly and you will be on the way to a more harmonious household.


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