Episode 15 Muttz with Mannerz Canine Academy Podcast

Corey McCusker  00:04
Hello dog lovers, and welcome to Muttz with Mannerz™, Canine Academy Podcast, where we’ll share dog training tips and educational information to help you raise your pup, young or old, so they can be a loving part of your family and your community for life. I’m your host, Corey McCusker, Canine Coach, and today I’m thrilled to have with me Karen Baxter, dog trainer and behaviour consultant. Let me tell you a bit about our guest today, Karen. Karen Baxter has loved dogs all her life and feels privileged that she has the ideal job following her lifelong passion, working with dogs. Beginning her professional career with dogs over 20 years ago, Karen brings an experience and joy to her work that can be felt by each dog and dog owner that she works with, regardless of the size or breed of the dog. Karen’s training philosophy is, one size does not fit all. And true to the Unified Canine difference, she tailors her training protocols and or treatment plans to the needs of the dog and the lifestyle and goals of the dog’s owner. Her positive and fair techniques are designed to bring out enthusiasm in each dog so they can learn to love training, which results in building stronger relationships with their humans based on trust. Karen has participated in various training programs over several years preparing her career in dog training. She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, having passed the Knowledge Assessment Examination through the Certification Council for Professional Pet Dog Trainers. She is a graduate of the Animal Behaviour College Certified Dog Training Program. And Karen has also studied and completed training on the practical application of behaviour adjustment training for fearful, anxious and aggressive dogs. And aggressive dog conflict resolution with Behaviourist and author Cheryl Smith. Her most recent accomplishments including completing the Master Aggression Course with world-renowned behaviour consultant and expert on dog aggression, Michael Shikashio, and she is currently completing her diploma in Canine Behaviourology with a specialty in working with aggressive dogs. Karen has also worked with local animal shelters and rescue organizations to assist in the care and rehabilitation of rescue dogs who are suffering from trauma and stress related behaviour issues. Her continuing education and experience have ensured Karen has developed expertise in dog psychological issues manifesting themselves as anxiety or aggression. Karen’s training specialty includes Rally Obedience, Agility, working dogs tracking, scent work and puppy foundations. She is a member of the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants, the Agility Association of Canada, the Canadian Association for Professional Dog Trainers, and is certified in pet first aid and CPR. Karen lives in York Region with her dogs, most of which compete in obedience, agility and Rally Obedience. Her dogs have reached master levels in all sports. Welcome, Karen, what a bio. You’re an amazing person. And I’m thrilled to have you here today on our podcast.

Karen Baxter  03:18
Hi, Corey. Thanks for having me.

Corey McCusker  03:20
So, Karen, we met a while back because I had opened my new facility and I was looking for colleagues and resources that could help support some of my clients if I wasn’t able to. And you had been recommended to me, we connected, we could talk forever. And you’re, you’ve just got a wealth of knowledge and I have referred you many clients. I have attended with my new pup, Skye, who had a little bit of I’m going to say noise anxiousness and some leash nervousness that we attended one of your clinics. So you’ve been a great resource and help for Muttz with Mannerz™. And we did a podcast a while ago where we just talked about your history and how a behaviour consult differs from a dog trainer. And you mentioned in that podcast, the top three reasons people reach out to you. And they were separation anxiety, leash reactivity, and resource guarding. I get so many calls about those things, but a lot of the times it’s mainly the resource guarding and today I want to touch on that. So we want to talk to you today about the resource guarding and what is it? How it happens? And maybe providing some tips on how to help owners understand and deal with it. So, Karen, can you share with us a bit about resource guarding? 

Karen Baxter  04:48
Absolutely let’s start with defining what it is. So resource guarding is pretty much – the way, the best way to put it is – when an organism, and I say organism because it’s not dog specific. This is any living creature pretty much – including humans – protects something that has perceived value. So even though we might not think it’s valuable, it could be valuable to that other organism. Right? And they’re protecting it from a perceived threat. So, you know, I say perceived, because your intention when you’re walking towards your dog may not be to take their stuff, but if the dog feels you are, that’s a perceived threat. So basic definition is – an organism that protects perceived valuable resources from perceived threats. So it’s a natural defense mechanism. It’s part of our base biological survival mechanisms, right? So on its own, it is not a behaviour that is problematic. Generally, it’s only when it goes too far, or it’s doesn’t fit the situation that it’s actually problematic. If that makes sense.

Corey McCusker  05:56
Yeah, that makes sense. And so can you share some specific scenarios that maybe you have helped clients with?

Karen Baxter  06:05
Sure, absolutely. I can tell you, that the first one, it was with my own dog. So it’s really what, she was the one that inspired me to really work with dog behaviour and learn more about, specifically resource guarding. So she was a golden retriever, and she was a puppy. And as a puppy, and I’ve had many dogs before, but I never had a dog resource guard something from me. So now again, remember, it’s perceived value. So for her, it was an item. So she had a thing for cardboard. I know it might seem odd, but for her, a piece of cardboard was super valuable. And she got a hold of a piece of cardboard one day, and I approached her and I wasn’t going to take it from her because I didn’t care that she was going to rip it up, but as I approached her, she growled and curled her lips, and she was only four months old. So I immediately knew I had to work with her to resolve that issue. So I implemented a plan with her to very slowly build some trust and desensitize her having me around items, having stuff, right? So I started with like lower-value items that she didn’t care about as much. And I slowly, slowly built it up to the point that I’ll just tell you, the end result was, she could have a piece of cardboard and I could put my mouth on it right beside her. It was like she didn’t care at all that I was touching her stuff and she never resource guarded anything for me again, the rest of her life. So, that that was wonderful. Now I’m going to fast forward a few years, now I’m doing it professionally. I had somebody come to me with a Bernese Mountain Dog that was resource guarding stuff. So it was an item the dog would like pick up off the ground or pick up off the floor. So it wasn’t food, the dog was fine with food. It was items. And if the dog got a hold of that item, and they were, of course are worried because they don’t want the dog to swallow it, they would try to approach that dog. And now you’ve got a very large dog that is growling and snarling, because you’re approaching with this item. So we used the same technique that I used with Casey back when she was a puppy a few years back, and very slowly changed not only the way the dog felt about the people approaching but changed the way the people approached. So, that… and we built up trust using this desensitization technique, where they could eventually get that dog to let go of that item without even touching the dog. By doing that, we were able to prevent them from getting bitten by their own dog. Because they were, they were really worried that that’s what was going to happen. It was a serious risk. Because the dog was large and definitely was not happy if they got something, and people were going to approach. So those, that’s a really brief example with two cases where, you know, one was a puppy and one was older, we were able to fix both. It was not something we would normally think of. Most people think when they think resource guarding, they think food, right? It’s food. It’s like, nope, neither dog resource guarded food. This was items. So perceived value. 

Corey McCusker  09:20
And you know what, that’s the perceived value. It was interesting, because I had a miniature poodle, that resource guarded. I had three dogs, and it was food, normally, and it was about with the other dogs. And then the other two dogs had passed away. And it was interesting because she stopped eating. She used to be a pig – not stopped eating but never gobbling her food down and I actually talked to the vet about it and he said, ‘Well, she’s the only dog now. She doesn’t have to protect her food anymore’. But you know you said about perceived, and then the other thing I think that’s important is you talked about the building the trust, and I think that’s where your whole, well, a lot of it is even that building that trust. And then you mentioned the desensitization and the slowly. And I think that’s so important that people need to understand. It’s not a quick fix overnight. It know, you’ve got to really work on that building the trust and you know, getting the dog comfortable with things. So yeah, that’s important. So there you talked about a puppy, and then you talked about a more mature dogs. So I’m want to ask, does age or history matter? Like you’ve got a puppy or an older breed, but what about rescues? Or is it certain breeds?

Karen Baxter  10:26
Definitely, the information is out there. And there’s definitely a genetic component in a lot of cases, not all, but there can be a genetic component. Some breeds are more likely to resource guard than others. So ironically, because everybody thinks Golden Retrievers are so friendly all the time, they’re one of the breeds that have a tendency to resource guard, because they do value things with their mouth quite a bit. So they’re a breed that tends to resource guard, like you mentioned, competition in a house, right? So if you’re bringing a dog in, and there’s already a dog in the house, the competition between the two of them for resources can cause some resource guarding. You can be perceived as competition for a dog. That’s why a dog will resource guard from you, right, you as the human, that’s also can be a factor in resource guarding. And then it can be learned, it can be a learned behaviour. And this is that trust factor again. So a really good example, we go back to my Bernese Mountain Dog example, he learned that if he picked something up, the humans were going to take it. He learned that, right? He didn’t start out that way. It just… over time, he learned, if I pick this item up, they’re going to take it from me. So then he started to resource guard. He started to show those aggressive tendencies when he had things in his mouth. So there’s a number of factors that can definitely contribute to the resource guarding. Absolutely, if you have a puppy that’s resource guarding, much easier to fix than an older dog, right. Older dog has had the history and the practice that a younger dog has not. Rescues, sometimes the resource guarding can happen immediately, because they’re a rescue. So their whole world been turned upside down and they’re really insecure. So they may feel the need to protect their resources, right, in the beginning. Some rescues, after they’ve been with their new human guardians for a while, and they’ve learned that everything is going to be safe and okay, a lot of the resource guarding can simmer down, not all but you know, depends on the dog. Every dog is an individual. So it really does depend on how that dog perceives things. So and the work that the people do, right, in helping that dog feel safe. So it can happen with any dog at any time. But there are definitely some factors that can make it more likely to happen than others and puppies are definitely easier to fix than older dogs.

Corey McCusker  12:23
Okay, great. You’ve mentioned some of the things that people would see. So they have their high-valued item, and there might be growling or snarling. And you know, that’s some of the signs that you would notice and say, ‘Okay, you know what, I think they’re guarding this thing’. So, for some owners out there, what would be some tips either, you know, preventing, managing it, can, and you said, you know, if it’s a puppy, it’s a lot easier to, you know, just work with and hopefully remove and alleviate. So what are some tips you would give to owners, if they had a dog that they saw was guarding their possessions or their food, or humans even?

Karen Baxter  13:31
Right. So depending on the level of the resource guarding, if it’s not too dangerous, or not too serious, so if it’s just started, like, let’s use a puppy as an example. So if it’s a little puppy, right, and you see, as you’re approaching the puppy who has the toy, the puppy turns its head and runs away from you, because it’s got the toy. The one thing that I like to do with puppies, is not take the stuff from them if I don’t need to. So if it’s not necessary for me to take it, I try really hard not to take it. I still want to approach the puppy, because I want the puppy to know that as I’m approaching, nothing bad’s going to happen. So I might take a yummy treat and as I’m approaching the puppy, I’m going to drop the treat on the floor. So then the puppy learns, ‘Oh, when people approach while I’ve got my toy, right, I’m going to get a treat’. But I’m not going to take the toy. I’ll let the puppy go back to the toy after they’ve taken that treat. So that’s one example. Management of anything you see specifically, a really good example of that is bones or chewies, or like Bully Sticks. Those things can be like super high value to some dogs, especially the bones. Those can be really high value to a dog. And if you see that they’re starting to growl or show stiff body language that’s like stiff or worried when other people or other dogs are around, then I always suggest management of that situation. So if you feel that it’s necessary that you’re going to have to take that bone from the dog, and the dog is resource guarding, I wouldn’t even give them a bone. I would work on the resource guarding and maybe use that as a goal to be able to give that dog a bone, but I’m not going to give them a bone if there’s a risk of somebody getting bitten. You know, I would also like if it’s something that they can have, and, you know, we just want to provide a safe place for them, I might confine them into a room where they’re separate from everybody else and the other dogs so that there’s less likelihood of them practicing the resource guarding because now they feel safe in another room. Right? Yeah, there are many tactics for alleviating resource guarding. Definitely, I would recommend getting a trainer or behaviour consultant who knows how to do that involved so that they can learn how to minimize it or, you know, there are some really good resources out there you can read on mild resource guarding and how to keep it from becoming an escalating and becoming a major issue. So . . .

Corey McCusker  16:01
Great. Is there a point Karen, that it becomes too dangerous?

Karen Baxter  16:08
Yeah, for sure. Absolutely there is. If a dog is snarling, lunging, like if you can’t even walk into the room, right, because they are resource guarding so badly. That is very dangerous. I actually have another story about that, where my son’s roommates had gotten a dog. They rescued a dog. When they brought it into the house, when they put the dog’s food down, the dog guarded the room, like nobody could walk into the room because the dog would charge at them. So they called my son because him being my son, they asked him to come up, right. So he came up from his apartment, and came upstairs. And as he was walking across to go to where the people were, the people were like hiding in their bedroom upstairs. As he was walking across the dog approached him and bit him…

Corey McCusker  16:58
Oh no. 

Karen Baxter  16:59
because he was walking in. Yep, bit him like, pretty badly, like punctures. So that was a situation where, because they were afraid, so that’s a really key thing. If the humans are feeling nervous at all, or even a little bit afraid of the dog, then it’s too dangerous. You should not work with that dog on your own. You need to get a professional, absolutely, for sure.

Corey McCusker  17:23
Like yourself. 

Karen Baxter  17:25
Like myself, exactly. 

Corey McCusker  17:29
And, you know, I think we’ve talked about this in our other podcasts and that too, but I think with owners, you know, we get the dog and then there’s a behaviour that comes up, and we’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, you know, what did I do? You know, did I not set up this dog for success?’ So with owners, like what’s the message you have for them if they do have a resource guard, or they noticed some behaviour that’s just not the norm or not acceptable. 

Karen Baxter  17:55
If you have any signs of a behaviour, that’s not, if you feel at all uncomfortable about it, definitely get a professional involved. So you can get some good information about how to deal with it. Research your professionals, as well. So you make sure that they have some experience in the issue that you’re dealing with. Don’t blame yourself or beat yourself up over it. You know, there’s a lot of reasons why a dog can resource guard. Definitely one of the things, be careful what you read on the internet, because there are many different philosophies about how to deal with resource guarding and the old school way of thinking was, you got to show the dog who’s boss. So you’re going to try and you’re going to try and stop them from resource guarding by just overpowering the dog and that’s quite dangerous. So not only can you get bitten, but the other thing that could happen is you might not get bitten, because you’ve managed to suppress your dog’s behaviour because they’re now afraid of the consequences from you. But then that just means the next person that comes along is the one who’s going to be at risk of getting bitten by that dog. So there’s definitely that to keep in mind as well. It’s like it’s not about overpowering, or showing the dog who’s boss. This is really an innate behaviour that’s natural for us all to experience, just your dog has, for some reason, a much stronger emotional response when somebody is near their stuff. So we want to work on changing the way that dog feels. That’s the most important thing to do.

Corey McCusker  19:29
Exactly. And I think you said, you know, the innate behaviour, this is something that you know, it’s that fight or flight, that survival or their, you know, whatever it may be, so it is, and maybe even with humans, they have it too. So . . .

Karen Baxter  19:40
Every living creature that has resources has it. Yes.

Corey McCusker  19:44
And I sure we could dig into this deeper but I think you’ve really touched and highlighted some key points and given us a good understanding in our listeners, a good understanding of the resource guarding, what to look for, and then that there is help out there. There’s people like yourself that can and that’s where it’s really research your behaviour consultants to see who is the right fit for you too. So I want to thank you, Karen, for joining us and sharing what you know about resource guarding, how you help resource guarding. And I think what you do is just so important and valuable. I know it’s valuable for me. And I think the information that you shared today is really valuable for our listeners that are listening today. So I will have you on another podcast because there are so many things that you help owners with. We will have you on for another one, maybe we’ll get into separation anxiety, or that leash reactivity. But there’s lots of fascinating topics that you help owners with. So I want to really thank you. And if you want more information about Karen and the Unified Canine Behaviour Center, please visit the website, www.unifiedK9.ca. It is going to be provided in the show notes too, and we will provide you with any resources that we can in the show notes. But I really want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule, Karen and sharing what you shared today. So thank you so much. 

Karen Baxter  21:12
My pleasure. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Corey McCusker  21:14
Thank you. And if you are interested in future podcasts or listening to the ones we’ve already done, you can visit our website www.muttzwithmannerz.com, or email us with your requested topics at info@muttzwithmannerz.com. So thanks everyone for taking the time to listen. Have a great day.

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