Dog park fail: resource guarding goes wrong

My experience taking Loki to local dog parks has been mostly pleasant. Loki turns 1 next month, and I’ve been noticing signs of his growing intolerance towards other dogs at dog parks. More specifically,

1. He snarls/snaps if other dogs sniff his face/butt, but tolerates it if he sniffs first
2. He prefers smaller dogs or dogs his size over larger dogs, and will assert dominance against larger dogs
3. He resource guards balls, toys, and especially sticks on the ground

The breaking point came today when I took Loki to our usual dog park. The moment he entered the park, he was unusually snappy towards dogs venturing into his space. In normal circumstances, other dogs take the hint and leave Loki alone when he snaps…but not this time. A persistant pitbull decided he didn’t like Loki’s snappy behavior and quickly pinned him down. No dogs were hurt, but I had to wedge myself between two snarling dogs to scoop Loki away from the pitbull.

Pitbull’s owner quickly called her dog away, and we waited a while before letting Loki down. He played with a smaller dog until he found something similar to this:

20130710_172657Loki: Back off ya’ll, this is MY stick

The problem is, I don’t know how to train him to stop resource guarding stuff around the dog park. I can easily take a ball or frisbee away…but a stick? A stick as big as this?! Reaaalllyyy?

Here is a video of him guarding against a friendlier dog, who simply backs off when Loki snaps.

A couple curious dogs come by to check out his stick. As usual, Loki gets snappy and the dogs back off…until Mr. Pitbull rejoins the crowd. No amount of distraction would take Loki away from his prized possession. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by dogs going berzerk from the brawl between Loki and pitbull. It was the first time I actually felt scared at a dog park, trying to manage a dog capable of easily biting my fingers off. Despite pitbull’s apparent size advantage, Loki had the nerve to lunge forward against him. As one lady put it, “hes a TRUE shiba!”

I was lucky that Andrew was nearby, who quickly picked Loki up by the harness and separated him from the pack. That was the last straw. We left the dog park with no injuries, but its clear after this incident that something has to change.

I’ve been debating all night with Andrew about this incident, unable to conclude which dog was more at fault. Was it Loki for being snappy over his resources? Was it the pitbull for responding aggressively to his snappy behavior? I don’t think there is a clear cut answer. I’ve read on shiba forums that many owners face the same dilemma.

Has anyone had success training their dog to stop resource guarding? Or are we doomed to avoid small dog parks all together?


7 thoughts on “Dog park fail: resource guarding goes wrong

  1. M.C.

    You’ve done a good job describing the situation, and the videos are helpful too! My response is going to be brief in compariosn. But knowing the local dog parks, and knowing our experience with our resource guardy male Shiba, I found that the best solution for us was just to stop going to the small, fenced-in parks altogether. =( It just became too stressful, and ultimately, unfair to other dogs.

    We stick to the large parks, where we are able to keep moving and there aren’t really opportunities to stand around and guard things. That has been the best solution so far, and luckily, there are many such options in the area. The main thing I have to watch for is that *I* am occasionally a resource worth guarding! To that end, it’s important to be able to read body behavior very carefully — your dog’s and the other’s. And also to just say no and leave the scene if you anticipate that a situation may be a problem. I never let Bowdu get hemmed in by a ring of young dogs, for example, as things can get out of control in a snap.

    1. lokishiba Post author

      Agreed. I was a bit hopeful that Loki, being a puppy, would retain his puppy playfulness…but the shiba in him is starting to emerge!! Heh. I’ve never considered that humans can be considered a resource either, I’ll defin. look for that next time I go to the park!

  2. Jenn

    Hi, we have a male shiba puppy. He is going to be 6 months and we have had the same problem with him at the dog park. He gets very posessive with any toy in the park, even if is a toy that he takes from another dog while playing. Last week a female dog pinned him down after his snappy behavior and thank God nothing happened. But his shiba attitude was to act like nothing had happened and continue to be snappy so we removed him from the situation. We moved him to another area where there were smaller and less dogs and his attitude changed. I don’t know if there is a way to teach him not to guard toys but if he is in the park we try not to let him have toys around when there are many dogs so we can prevent any of this happening. Good luck with Loki, he is beautiful.

    1. lokishiba Post author

      eeps!! Your shiba sounds too similar to Loki 😦 One thing that I am experimenting with is to teach Loki to ‘leave it’ on command. Progress is still small right now, but hopefully one day I can get him to leave prized possessions at the park!

  3. Wendybird

    You have to get him to move away from the resource, removing the resource does nothing to address the underlying issue which is that he needs to learn how to give it up. You don’t have to be mean about it, just correct him (verbally or with a light shove) then block with your body until he gets bored and finds something more interesting to do. Shouldn’t take long at such a young age.

    I have an adult mutt who came to me with a resource guarding problem. Basically I have to address it in each new situation and place until she learns guarding gets her knocked off the resource and it becomes mine. Once it’s done she visibly relaxes for the rest of our time in that place. And like with your Shiba the main issue is, she’s small, so she if she starts a fight she’ll lose.

  4. meghan

    I see this is an old post but I’m having the same problem with my lab/basset mix Moose! She used to love the park and now she’s started to be snappy like your dog Loki. Especially the snarls/snaps if other dogs sniff his face/butt, but tolerates it if he sniffs first. even sometimes if her sniffing ritual is respected she will still get snappy if they go to sniff her face. Have you had any luck since this was posted?

    1. lokishiba Post author

      Hi Meghan,

      I actually have. We stopped going that particular dog park (it was rather small) and started taking Loki to a much larger dog park…and we’ve had no problems ever since! I think the lack of space made Loki feel more defensive, since he didn’t have anywhere to run. Have you tried taking Moose to a larger dog park?


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