Sex: Male (neutered)
Age: 3 years
Problem: Guarding doorways
Background: Louis is an all round nervous dog. Picked up off the streets when he was about a year old, he then spent two years in a shelter. There is no way of knowing more about his background.
From this picture it is obvious that Louis is not terribly relaxed. His ears are back (an almost permanent state of affairs) and whites of his eyes are visible, a sign of arousal. His stance is rigid and he is unfocused, far too worried about what is going on behind him to concentrate on what is going on in front of him.
Problem: Whether it was out of general anxiety or simply a pre-programmed genetic behavior, Louis would guard the kitchen door and not allow the two other dogs to come inside from the garden. If they tried he would growl menacingly and bare his teeth, causing them to back off, preferring to stay out in the heat to confronting him.
Resource guarding is common in dogs, and prized resources can include food, beds, owners, toys and spaces (e.g. area around the food bowl or the dog's 'kennel'). If the dog spends a lot of its time in the kitchen and it eats and sleeps there, that makes it a very prized resource worthy of defending.
Strategy: The key with Louis was to build up his confidence. We had to teach him that he didn't need to guard his kennel, because he would always have access to it and so there was no need to fight for it. We also had to make him more relaxed generally, as well as specifically in the kitchen doorway so he had a safe, alternative behaviour to resort to whenever he felt threatened into defending his space.
This is where clicker training worked its magic! We did general clicker training with Louis simply to boost his confidence. More specifically we did some training in the doorway so that he could learn to be more relaxed there. We also trained all three dogs there so he could get used to them being in 'his space'. Finally, whenever a situation arose where he looked nervous (i.e. when the other two dogs were trying to come inside) and/or started to growl, we would interrupt and get him to sit and make eye contact with us instead. This way, he had a reliable alternative or a 'safety cue' - whenever he felt threatened he could do this and he would immediately feel safe and calm. At first we rewarded him for doing this. Soon there was no need, he did it automatically.
Outcome: Louis no longer guards the kitchen door, much to the relief of the other dogs, and he loves his clicker training. Also, whenever he starts to feel nervous or unsure of something, he just sits down and waits. In so doing, he has applied this 'safe' behavior to other situations and scenarios, and uses it as a coping strategy whenever he feels under threat. What a clever boy!
Pictures show a nervous and scared Louis (left) and a relaxed, happy and confident Louis (right).