The language barrier that exists between us humans and our canine companions is such that when dogs snap, or bite, it is often described as “something out of the blue”. However, dogs are zen masters of communication and body language, so the signs and signals are all there. The reason people end up on the receiving end of a snap, or a bite, is that they’ve misread, or missed entirely, the signals the dog was displaying.
Resource guarding in general is quite common in dogs as their way of simply saying, “No, this is mine!” But if a dog is guarding his food, or her toy, and (for whatever reason) you simply need to take it away – then there is likely to be some issues. Knowing what to look for is the first step in helping to modify this behaviour, before it becomes a serious issue. There are some key things to look for.
Some dogs always eat fast – it’s just them. If you have a Lab or a Beagle (without being breed-ist about it!) you probably know what I mean. However, these dogs probably eat fast, regardless of situation. But for dogs that feel threatened when people, or other dogs approach will noticeably increase their speed, and maybe position their bodies differently to try and block access to their food bowl.
THE HARD FREEZE
If the ‘intruder’ continues to close in on your dog’s food bowl, the next step is likely to your dog freezing on the spot. Your dog’s snout may still be in the bowl, but he won’t be eating. He will be glancing at the approaching target with what is called a ‘hard eye’. This is a warning shot, essentially saying, “I’m not messing about here.”
If the body block, the freeze and the hard stare don’t work, then the dog will escalate to a low, deep growl, which usually includes a lip curl. It’s worth noting at this point that dogs aren’t stupid – and would generally prefer to avoid confrontation. They know it’s costly in terms of energy expenditure and its risky business. Hopefully a well-intentioned threat of violence will suffice. The lip curl and low growl is that, well-intentioned threat. Additionally, the level of the lip curl will give you an insight into the dogs mentality. Dogs that only very slightly curl the lip, maybe just showing the side of a front canine, are dogs that are seriously confident about their abilities if this has to continue. The dogs that are baring ALL their teeth, with the lips pulled right back, are the ones that are perhaps more unsure, and likely to back down if things escalate. The full teeth display is almost a sign of “I seriously hope this works, as it’s all I have.”
If all warning signs have so far gone unheeded, the next level on offer for a dog is an air snap. This is usually the point where folks start to back out. The dog may partly lunge, snapping his teeth together a few times in your direction. I’ve often heard people saying they didn’t get bitten, because they “moved their hand away too quickly for the dog”. Rubbish. Dog reactions are five to seven times faster than ours. If the dog wanted to bite you at this point, he would have done. He just didn’t want to, he only wanted to warn you. This air snap may be repetitive and also coincide with further growling, or even barking.
If at this stage, either the person, or other animal, still hasn’t got the picture, then the dog may offer what’s called a bite hold. This isn’t a bite per se, it’s not intended to puncture or cause damage, it’s literally a hold. It’s akin to someone putting their hands on you really firmly as if to say, “Enough is enough.”
And lastly, the actual bite. But, darn it, you can’t say you weren’t warned! It’s also worth mentioning here that the time it takes for dogs to go through these stages depend on numerous factors. Not least of which is the dog’s own temperament. You all know people that have very ‘short fuses’ when it comes to anything confrontational, dogs can be the same. Equally, some dogs are very tolerant – it’s not breed-specific, it’s purely down to the individual dog.
So, as you can see, there is a lot of information that our dogs will give us when guarding particular items, be it toys, or food. And whilst growling on its own may be impolite to you, it is also a key piece of information. The dog is clearly saying, he’s uncomfortable with something. Identify what is causing the dog to feel that way, and that’s the bit we work on re-conditioning.
If you would like some more information on canine training, or behavioural issues, then please contact us on 091 654 1960, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or check our website www.k9pointacademy.com. CPA is accredited with the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), as an American Kennel Club (AKC) Evaluator and a Professional Member of the IACP.