Resource guarding can be a serious problem for some dogs. (Resource guarding is when a dog displays aggressive behavior when another dog or a person tries to take something away from the dog, such as a toy or bone.) This spring, several of my friends at UNT used Constructional Aggression Treatment (CAT) to successfully treat Rocky, a Labrador retriever who would display aggressive behavior (snapping, growling, biting) if another dog tried to take one of his toys or even approach him when he was chewing on a toy. The owner could not leave toys out when there were other dogs present and always had to be extremely cautious when Rocky was around other dogs.
What is Constructional Aggression Treatment (CAT)?
I’ve written a bit in the past about using CAT with fearful horses. Fearful behaviors and aggressive behaviors are often very similar–the animal behaves in some way to increase the distance between his self and the unwanted animal or object. So, an aggressive dog lunges or bites to increase the distance between it and something else, just as a fearful animal runs away to increase the distance between it and something else.
With Constructional Aggression Treatment, we give the animal what he wants (distance from something) whenever the animal displays any signs of friendly, relaxed, or calm behavior. We start small, accepting any small signs of better behavior and later on build up more and more friendly behavior.
Treating Resource Guarding using CAT
So, for Rocky, the trainer and another dog would approach Rocky while he was chewing on a tennis ball. As soon as Rocky showed any signs of more relaxed or friendly behavior, the trainer and other dog would leave, which is exactly what Rocky wanted. Before beginning the training, Rocky could use aggression (snapping, biting, etc.) to get the other dog to go away. Now, only friendly or relaxed behaviors would make the other dog go away.
Not only did Rocky figure out the new conditions, but he started trying to interact with the other dog and actually started to play with the other dog and share his toys!! This is what CAT calls “switch over,” where the animal switches from wanting something to go away to wanting interaction.
With a bit more training, Rocky’s new behavior quickly generalized to other dogs as well. Last I heard, Rocky is living with a new dog, who just joined the household. He will pick up a toy, take it to the new dog and ask him to play. Now that’s successful training, if you ask me! Check out the video below, which shows clips from the training process.
**Side note: Please be extremely careful when working with aggressive or fearful animals! Work at a level where the animal does not feel stressed or frustrated. Also, take precautions to insure that people and animals do not get injured. For instance, with an aggressive dog, keep the dog on a leash. Or, with a very fearful or aggressive horse, start by working with a fence between you and the horse. **