I am a resource guarder. When I was in school, I didn’t like it when people would sit in my seat that I “claimed” was mine. Even to this day I get testy when it comes to my stuff at work. Ask my co-workers at my day-job. I don’t like people invading my space, touching my personal stuff, or sitting at my desk. It has nothing to do with them, it has everything to d o with me. I think to myself, “that is my stuff, not your stuff.” Do I growl? No but don’t tempt me.
On the subject of resource guarding, I recently had a consultation regarding a high energy, undersocialized, exuberant adolescent lab-mix. During the consultation, I asked about bite history. Apparently, the dog had a bit the oldest daughter after a disagreement regarding a bone he was chewing on. One day, the dog was on the couch with a bone and the younger brother sat on the other end of the couch. The dog growled. Thinking that the dog was inappropriate, the young lady grabbed the bone to take it away and was bitten. This is fairly common story. Actually, I’ve heard it a few times before from other families with other dogs.
My issue with dogs growling is, humans feel entitled enough to be upset or angry if a dog growls at them. If a guardian scolds a dog for growling, the dog learns it is not appropriate to growl. Growling is a dog’s way to communicate their emotional state. This is warning that we need to address then and there. They are communicating that we either need to stop what we are doing or remove the dog from the situation.
Going back to the initial story, bites never “come out of nowhere”. (VERY, VERY, VERY few exceptions. Those are the dangerous dogs that are rare.) The dog always displays some behaviors. When resource guarding something they feel is valuable, freezing and a whale eye (whites of the eye) are the most common displayed behaviors. If you aren’t educated on dog body language, miss the signs, and continue to doing what you are doing, the dog will then growl. If you continue to do what you are doing, the dog will then bite.
Now, if we remove the growl (because we punish the dog for doing that) and you aren’t educated in dog body language, the dog then bites. It may seem like the bite comes out of nowhere, when in actuality, we just missed the signed and removed the vocalization of the growl.
Jean Donaldson said it best:
“Just a generation ago if you went near a dog when he was eating and the dog growled, somebody would say, ‘Don’t go near the dog when he’s eating!, what are you crazy?’ Now the dog gets euthanized. Back then, dogs were allowed to say, NO. Dogs are not allowed to say no anymore…They can’t get freaked out, they can’t be afraid, they can never signal ‘I’d rather not.’ We don’t have any kind of nuance with regard to dogs expressing that they are uncomfortable, afraid, angry, or in pain, worried, or upset. If the dog is anything other than completely sunny and goofy every second, he goes from a nice dog to an ‘AGGRESSIVE’ dog.”
This article discusses resource guarding further. Very good read!