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Territory/Resource Guarding: Training protocol?

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My little terrier mix ("border collie mix") Cricket is a pretty easy dog. She meets and greets people well, mostly plays well with other dogs, and stays with me off-leash with near 100% predictability.


HOWEVER: I live alone. There aren't a lot of people coming and going in and out of my house. And lately, when people enter the house or move unexpectedly in the house, she is darting forward and nipping at their heels.


This isn't a fear issue, from what I can tell. She does this to people she sees all the time outside the house, and people who have been outside, walking with us. She'll accept treats and give kisses to people in my house once they are seated and she is used to their presence. She also meets strangers in other people's homes with a wagging tail. She calms well in her crate - even sleeps - when visitors are in my house. So, I'm figuring that it's a resource guarding/territory guarding behavior. (I do remember that with my old reactive dog, Buddy, the threshold situations were always most tense.)


Cricket is home without me while I'm at work, and she will bark at the mailman or doorbell. She definitely has chosen the mantle of "watchdog," though she's not obsessive about it and is easily redirected.


I've been pretty successful stopping Cricket from barking at other dogs on leash by correcting her, putting her in a "sit," and treating for calm behavior. She seems to understand the expectations... though that is a work in progress.


The nipping thing has only happened three times (and maybe there've only been three occasions where she and I were situated correctly to trigger it), but obviously I don't want it to continue. This last time, I had her on leash and corrected her strongly when she moved forward. (Strong tug and loud "NO!") She honestly seemed surprised by my correction: kind of like, "Why would you correct me for THAT, lady?" It might be that she simply needs to be told it's not acceptable. Problem is, I don't know how to "tell" her that since there aren't many people coming and going.


I would love to find a way to teach a new and appropriate behavior when visitors are entering or leaving. Does anyone know of a protocol for this specific thing? I do have a neighbor and sister who would likely be willing to enter my front door repeatedly while I keep Cricket on a leash and practice.


I will likely call my trainer when I have some time off this summer. (Right now lots of issues with my elderly parents, so not a lot of time for this dog stuff!)


Thanks in advance!

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You are working with her to get her to sit nicely and be calm, so continue that. I would, however, recommend that you approach this training with positive reinforcement rather than corrections. Corrections like jerking on the leash are unnecessary and often counter-productive. Instead, use many very small treats and a lot of praise when she is calm and sitting. If she leaves the sit, don't correct her or jerk her leash, just redirect her to the sit and immediately treat and praise her for it. Check out clicker training videos on YouTube for inspiration and techniques on this training.


With the barking at other dogs, use the "look at that" game, which you will find in a great book called "Control Unleashed", and which you can also find online.


Next, I would say that you need to work with her on being equally calm when people come to the house. Deliberately invite people over, or get a friend to come to help you, so that you can work on this. Have the person come in and sit down while you have the dog on a leash and in a calm sit. Treat massively (very tiny bits of something she really loves) while she is calm. Watch the dog very, very closely for any signs of tension leading up to a lunge. If she breaks the sit or lunges for the person, don't yell or jerk her, just pick her up calmly without saying anything and put her in her crate in another room and leave her there for 5 minutes. then she can come back out and you do the whole thing again. Over and over. While she is calm and sitting she gets treats.


After you have done this many times you can try allowing the dog to approach the person, still on leash. Keep the leash short enough that you have control. Watch the dog very closely. As soon as you see those signs, pick the dog up and pop her into the crate again.


another thing to be aware of in your observation of the dog is what the person is doing. Is it a tall person? Wearing a hat? Did the person reach out to the dog or to the table next to the couch? Did the person cough or sneeze? It is possible, although not certain, that you could find a specific trigger, and then you could work with that.


This will take time and a lot of effort since you don't normally have people to the house. But it will be worth it. You cannot have a dog who bites people; this can end very badly, needless to say. And if you put in the work now you will avoid having a dog who cannot be trusted to meet new people.


If all this seems overwhelming, I suggest you enlist the help of a good qualified positive reinforcement trainer.

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Gibbs is very wary of new people entering his home. I have a male neighbor who rushed in to pet him and got a pretty serious snap as a result. It's classic fearful reactivity. After he snapped, Gibbs looked at me, quivering and cowering.


And I am fully aware it's my fault for not 'correcting' my neighbor in time.


Now when someone new comes over, Gibbs goes in my bedroom w/the door closed before I let the new-to-him person in. And he gets a small cookie and a "good boy" before I close the door. After the new person has been in place for a few minutes, I let him out. He approaches calmly for a sniff, then goes to lay down. Another cookie and a mild 'good boy.'


If the visitor is someone who doesn't come around often, (tradespeople, a cop who stopped in to take a report about suspected animal cruelty), I simply put him in the bedroom for the duration.


In more open situations, where he has freedom to move away from The Big Scary Stranger, he does much better.


With most visitors this is all it takes - maybe a couple repetitions. Women he gets used to very quickly. Men it takes a bit longer. And oddly enough, if I let a new-to-him person take him for a brief on-leash walk, he relaxes very quickly. Go figure.


YMMV, but I think correcting Cricket might be working against you.


Ruth and Gibbs

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