PugHearts of Houston Blog

Pug Rehabilitation – behavior modification

Tuesday, 2 August 2011 14:43 by karenr

I have shared with you how I assembled my pack of pugs/pug mixes, but once I learned how to be a good pack leader, I began fostering for Pughearts.  I’d like to share some of my techniques and successes in addressing pug behavioral issues.  This can often be a longer process than healing the physical results of neglect and abuse.

For the most part, pugs have wonderful dispositions.  Bred as companion animals, with a generally trusting nature, pugs really love their humans, and usually get along well with other 4-legged members of a family.  In rescue, however, you sometimes get a dog who who has issues with fear aggression, dominance, resource guarding, or socialization as a result of abuse or neglect in their past life.   

What is resource guarding?

Does your dog growl at you when you approach his food bowl? Is your pug possessive about toys and rawhides? Does he snap at you when you even step near him when he’s got a bone? Does your dog bare her teeth when you approach the couch?   The goal of rehab is to keep your pug in the blissful state of loving your approach to his food bowl or other prized possessions.  Something to understand is that resource guarding is an absolutely normal dog behavior. However, it’s not something we humans appreciate. Fortunately, resource guarding is also a behavior that we can change.jojo2

Meet JoJo.

JoJo was surrendered to Pughearts by his owner, who was left with him and two breeding females as a result of a divorce.  On the phone, he threatened to shoot the dogs if we didn’t come get them right away.  Upon arrival, we discovered three sick, very skinny dogs, living in a small rocky enclosure with no food bowls.  If the dogs ever were fed, apparently a small amount of kibble was thrown on the ground, and the dogs were left to fight over it.

You might think that pugs are about as far from the ancestral wolf as you can get.  But all predators come programmed to guard resources that are crucial to their survival.  Food was definitely in short supply at JoJo’s home and the two females were even skinnier than he was.  Broken toothed, scarred and skinny JoJo was still top dog in the pack, and it was beneficial to his survival to look after his food against other  members of his group.

Resource Guarding Myths

According to Jean Donaldson in her book Mine! A Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs, there are several myths we need to dispel:

  • Myth #1: Resource guarding is abnormal behavior.
  • Myth #2: Because resource guarding is driven largely by genetics, it can’t be changed.
  • Myth #3: Resource guarding can be cured by making a dog realize that resources are abundant.
  • Myth #4: Resource guarding is a symptom of “dominance” or “pushiness.”
  • Myth #5: Resource guarding is the result of “spoiling” a dog.

IMG_1222So how do you take a chewie away from a growling dog?  Simple. Make him understand that the approach of a human to his food, toys, chewies, space, etc. is a Good Thing. The process is called classical conditioning.  You probably have heard about clicker training.   Just as the clicker is associated with treats a dog’s mind, the approach of a human hand, face, or other body part to the resource he’s guarding should mean better food is on its way.

jojo3Details on how to do this are readily available in print (like the book I mentioned earlier), or online, such as the following article: Food Aggression.  I read these and everything else I could get ahold of, implemented a training regimen, and JoJo responded beautifully.  To maintain his progress I continue to feed him separately from the rest of the pack, make sure he sits calmly before getting his food, and several times a month I approach him while he’s eating,  pick up the bowl, and plop in a handful of treats before setting it back down. I do the same with toys or chewies.   We also practice “give” or “drop-it”, replacing the surrendered object with something else.


JoJo Rehabilitated

JoJo is neither aggressive nor truly dominant.  He readily submits to Cupid, my alpha bitch, and will play wrestle with hands or toys using gentle bite discipline.  He usually goes out of his way to avoid invading the space of the other dogs in the pack.  That said, he does consider his humans worthy of protection.  He is accepting of strangers if he’s properly introduced, but woe be it to the unwary meter reader who enters the yard unannounced!  In stressful situations such as adoption events, he’s somewhat clingy, and may snap at other dogs who get too close.  He also has been known to snap at children even after being introduced, so a home with little ones would not be the best fit for him.  He will need reinforcement of what he’s learned for the rest of his life, but he has so much to give to some special family.

nick and jojoRehabilitated From a hard life where no one took proper care of him, JoJo is now sharing his love and taking care of others.  We fostered a male pug with medical issues and a seizure disorder for a couple of months, and JoJo took it as his job to see that Nick was happy.  He would share his dog bed with Nick, and would come get us if there was something wrong:  alerting us in advance of an imminent seizure and giving him kisses in the aftermath.

cold jojoJoJo is now heartworm negative, healthy, and happy.  He has the softest coat, and loves to snuggle on the couch, or to share my pillow on the big bed.   Because he may require reinforcement training to keep him from backsliding on his resource guarding, he would probably do better as an only dog, or as a member of a pack with a more experienced (2-legged) leader and no small children.   He was a bit overwhelmed during a home visit with a family who had two large dogs.

JoJo has been waiting nine months for his forever home.   While he’s my best companion while I’m out in the studio painting, I would love for him to share his lessons with a new family!

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