Resource guarding is a natural instinct, but can lead to bites and attacks. Acupressure is one way to evoke a sense of calm and trust in dogs who feel a need to guard food and toys.
If you’ve ever witnessed a dog growl or snap at people or other animals when they approach his food bowl, then you’re seen a case of resource guarding in action. Dogs are hardwired to protect what they value, such as food, toys and their families. It makes sense, since their wild counterparts have to ferociously defend their turf, food and mates in order to survive. Wolves are competing for scarce resources, while domesticated dogs are not, but that instinct is still deeply embedded in even the most docile pooch.
Recognizing the signs of resource guarding is important for everyone’s safety, including both the human and animal members of your family. Children are most at risk when a dog is guarding his favorite toy, because they may not understand how the dog is communicating his escalating aggression.
Usually, a dog provides a progressive display of signals that he’s not going to share his treasured item. It can start with a wary look, then a well-directed growl and raised hackles. If these warnings are unheeded, he might lift his lip or show his teeth, then snap or lunge. If these aggressive cues still don’t stop the perceived threat, and the value of the guarded item is high, an attack or bite will most likely follow.
Start young, if possible
Canine behaviorists and trainers offer sound operant-conditioning techniques for extinguishing resource guarding.
• It is much easier to train a puppy than an older dog to give up a valued resource. With a puppy, you can repeatedly take away the food bowl and immediately offer an even more highly valued treat, or put more food in his bowl and give it back. Your puppy will quickly understand that having something he wants taken away means you’ll be giving him something even better. This positive-reinforcement approach results in a puppy that knows sharing is good.
• Desensitizing an older dog may be more challenging, but it can be done. It takes time, perseverance and consistency to defuse resource guarding when a dog has experienced positive results with this behavior in the past. It’s wise to work with a professional canine behaviorist or trainer who has experience working with resource guarding. Even with vigilant desensitizing, some of these dogs cannot become predictably safe. A professional is the best person to assess your situation. He or she will know if the program is working sufficiently, or if you are going to need to introduce consistent management techniques to keep everyone safe.
Acupressure is an effective tool
There’s another element you can add to the training mix to help the process go more smoothly. Many professional trainers successfully use canine acupressure to assist in calming and building trust. By building the bond of trust between you and your dog, while also helping him feel more content, you can reduce his resistance to learning while increasing his ability to focus on the benefits of not being overly protective of his food, stick or ball.
Acupressure is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine and has effectively worked for thousands of years on animals. Using clinical observation, Chinese medicine doctors have for centuries been refining their knowledge of how to support the health and well-being of human and animal life. They have provided us with a treasure trove of information about how to make sure blood and vital energy, called chi, flow harmoniously through the body.
When chi and blood flow smoothly and unimpeded, the body is balanced and all the organs and tissues are being properly nourished. The chi and blood traverse throughout the body within pathways or channels called meridians. Specific “pools” of energy along the meridians enhance the fl ow of chi and blood and remove any blockages that form. These “pools” are called “acupoints.”
Acupoints are the “tools” of acupressure. When you hold an acupoint, you are working with the internal activity of the body. With your fingers, you can directly affect the fl ow of chi and blood. Thanks to thousands of years of clinical observation, acupoints are known to have specific effects in encouraging the harmonious flow of chi and blood. For example, an acupoint called Heart 7 (see below) is known to have a calming effect. By placing the soft tip of your thumb on Heart 7, which is located just above the dog’s wrist in the deep groove formed by the wrist bones and tendons on the outer side of his front leg, you are helping him feel calmer.
The other acupoints shown on the chart are also known to help calm your dog and enhance the trust between you. These are the two essential elements for helping defuse resource guarding in your dog, and avoiding dangerous aggression.
Amy Snow is one of the authors of ACU-DOG: A Guide to Canine Acupressure, ACU-CAT: A Guide to Feline Acupressure, and ACU-HORSE: A Guide to Equine Acupressure. They founded Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Resources, which offers books, manuals, online training courses, DVDs, apps, meridian charts, consulting, and many more acupressure learning tools and opportunities. Email: tallgrass@animalacupressure