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Hoping for advice - rescue dog acting defensive with family

318 Views 2 Replies 2 Participants Last post by  padawan
My german shepherd mix is a rescue from the dog meat trade in Thailand. She has anxiety/fear issues that we haven't sought professional help for, unfortunately mostly for money reasons. We've had her for three years and she's about 6 years old. When I'm in bed in my room she usually lies down on the floor next to my bed. Lately (the past few weeks), when any of my family members stops to stand in front of my doorway, she gets up very suddenly and quickly lunges a little bit toward them as if to attack them. She'll do the same if they actually enter my bedroom. I haven't noticed if she nips or bites at them. This only happens if I'm in bed so I know it's some sort of defense behavior, as I'm her official owner and the one she's closest/most loyal to. Of course, my family flinch and get a bit scared. But afterward, like when we're outside of my room, she's totally normal with them.

I think it might be triggered when they lift their arm (if the person dances or waves their arms in the doorway, she gets up), but in general I can't seem to pinpoint why she does that, what triggers it, or when it started because none of us remember it being that big a problem before. It's always happened, but it's happened a lot more consistently lately. Any tips on how to end or replace the behavior? I feel helpless because I'm just relaxing in bed on my phone or my computer and it happens so fast.
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It sounds like resource guarding behavior, which can absolutely extend beyond food and toys to people/locations in some cases.

Restricting your dog from the bedroom all together would be the easiest, quickest, and safest fix, but I understand if that's not what you want to do (and, of course, there's no guarantee she won't start guarding something else). I'd at least set up some kind of barrier, such as a baby gate, in your doorway so that there is a barrier between her and people passing by. This behavior can lead to biting, and it's just safer for everyone to have an extra precaution as you're working through this.

For the rest, you'll have to recruit your family. Watch her and figure out how close she'll allow people to get to the door without lunging at them. Load up your family with really tasty goodies (cooked chicken bits are often popular, relatively healthy, high-value treats) and have them walk by BEYOND this point, tossing the treats to her. This should be done without staring at her, fussing, or really interacting in any way. The goal is to teach her that people going by the doorway are awesome, and if done correctly, she should start tolerating people closer and closer to the door. Eventually, you could move on to people stopping at the door, approaching step by step (take it as slow as you have to to keep her calm!) and eventually moving to hanging out by your door, talking to you. Like I said, gating or setting up a pen across/around the door will make this much safer in case someone misjudges and pushes her too far, too fast.

It's a process, but resource guarding usually has a really good prognosis if you get on top of working with it! Check out this blog entry by one of the big names in dog behavior, Dr. Patricia McConnell: Resource Guarding: Treatment and Prevention - The Other End of the Leash
It focuses mainly on guarding food/toys, as that's more common, but it should give you some idea of the steps you'll need to work through.
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Definitely going to try your recommendation teaching her. Thank you for all your advice!! I really didn't even know how to start googling this issue so I figured maybe a forum might help. I didn't think of it as possibly a form of resource guarding.
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