Don't wait for it to escalate

Canine communication is not nearly as overt or in your face as our communication tends to be. Sure we have subtlties and nuances in body language, facial expressions, micro facial expression, tone of voice and other less obvious pieces of communications but most of our communication is big and open. We communicate clearly and blatantly by talking–we share ideas, express needs, negotiate, debate, plan, and argue. There are likely details in the smaller bits of communication but the bulk of it is pretty big. Dogs are generally the opposite with their communications. They may start with something small like a lip lick or a look away and only escalate if those attempts at communicating fail.

These small signals are often not seen, understood, interpreted, or acknowledged by humans which can lead to some dangerous problems. When dogs feel their message is not being heard, they have no other way to express it than to escalate and unfortunately, in many instances this means ultimately growling, snarling, snapping, or biting.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I got a really nice clip of video of Shayne and Rio. I had been filming the pups eating their Turkey-Day Kongs when I caught a moment between Shayne and Rio.

I want you to watch the first 59 seconds of the video and then pause it. You can re-watch if you’d like but I want you to think about everything you see in terms of communication between the two dogs. What do you see? Feel fre to leave a comment on what you saw in the initial full-speed video clip. Once you’ve thought bout it go ahead and continue playing the video to check out the slowed down version.

Although an accident, I think this video is incredibly important. Not only does it show Shayne’s resource guarding behaviors and how she escalates–first a freeze with a hard stare and small tooth display, then a freeze with a harder c-shaped mouth, more tooth display and there was a low growl that I didn’t mention (because I was working with the video in silent and didn’t notice it until re-watching the raw footage for another video I’m working on), and finally she moved to physically claim the item (which is where I stepped in) but it also shows how Rio communicates to try and diffuse the situation. Rio’s behavior was critical in his escaping the situation unscathed. If he had not offered the lip licking, look-aways, turns, whale eyes, and paw lift, it could have ended very differently.

Why is all that so important, you might ask, well, besides the fact it’s good to know and helpful when dealing with dog to dog resource guarding to have a picture of the precursors that are likely happening before the escalation so you can step in if needed but imagine for a moment that Rio was a person. Rio recognized the lower levels of Shayne’s resource guarding and acted with all the appropriate doggie language to help diffuse the situation with Shayne; he prevented her from escalating into something more violent–would you know how to recognize the early signs? How about your 8 year old niece or nephew? Being able to recognize the earliest moments of resource guarding can help a person get out of the situation with out it escalating into something dangerous (while taking note that there needs to be some work on the resource guarding behavior to fix it).

Do not wait for a dog to choose to escalate their threat to a growl, snarl, snap, or bite to then listen to their threat and get out of the situation. There are a multitude of warnings prior to an escalation (assuming they haven’t been punished out) and it’s important to know and recognize these warnings to keep yourself (and others) safe. This is not to say you tolerate the resource guarding–you keep yourself and others safe by knowing the early warning signs while you contact a qualified trainer to help you resolve the guarding behavior.

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