Resource Guarding – Brooklyn’s Story 7

This week’s blog is a tribute to the compassion, commitment, and efforts of one shelter worker and two positive trainers.

Brooklyn is a four-month-old Shepherd/Rottie mix pup who arrived at the Humane Society of Washington County at the tender age of 6 weeks. Since pups can’t be made available for adoption until they are at least eight weeks old, Candida, one of the shelter staff, offered to foster her.

Candida realized in very short order that this sweet-faced, innocent-looking pup had some difficult behaviors that would preclude her from adoption. She had a very low tolerance for frustration, would snarl and snap angrily at attempts to restrain her, and offered very intense, fierce resource guarding behavior. All at the age of 6 week. Phew!

One of our trainers, Lori Kobayashi, was assisting me with assessments the day I met Brooklyn. We did the pup’s assessment and indeed, she was unable to pass the handling and resource guarding sections of the protocol. Things were looking grim for Brooklyn, until Lori offered to work with Candida and Brooklyn for a week, to see how she progressed with appropriate behavior modification interventions.

When we assessed Brooklyn the following week she had made significant progress, especially with her guarding behavior, but she was still not an adoption candidate, and Candida couldn’t continue fostering her. Things were looking grim for Brooklyn.  In the intervening week, however, Lori had convinced another of our trainers, Katie Ervin, to take Brooklyn on as a longer term foster if necessary. There was still hope for her after all.

Katie worked diligently with Brooklyn, and documented her work, reporting to me each week on their progress with detailed written reports. In addition to the behavior modification program, Katie signed the pup up for a 7-week Peaceable Paws Puppy Good Manners class and worked on her basic training.

A week ago Tuesday (3/16/10) Katie brought Brooklyn back to the shelter for her final assessment. She watched nervously through the observation window of the assessment room as I worked the pup through our assessment protocol.

Brooklyn was still quite tense with the handling procedures: Check teeth 5 times, touch, tug, push and pinch on various parts of her body, and the safe vet-tech hug. Tense – but there was no sign of the alarming snapping and snarling she exhibited in her first assessment. Katie’s training work was clearly evident as Brooklyn responded to commonly used cues and easily offered new behaviors in the training part of the protocol.

Finally we got to the resource guarding piece of the procedure. We all held our breaths as I approached Brooklyn with her head buried in the bowl. Brooklyn wagged her tail, glanced up and me, and happily continued to eating with no sign of tension as I touched her, petted her, stuck my hand in the bowl, pushed on her face, and finally took the bowl away. I took a deep breath, and handed Brooklyn the high-value pig ear. Again, a total absence of tension as I took it away from her four times in succession, and finally traded her for a large chunk of tasty chicken.

She had passed!!!

Immediately following the conclusion of the assessment Katie filled out her adoption papers and took Brooklyn back home with her.

Our small shelter doesn’t have a behavior department. Yet. Opportunities to repair behaviorally damaged dogs like Brooklyn are still very limited. However, with Brooklyn, Katie, Lori and Candida as shining examples of what can be done to reduce euthanasia numbers one dog at a time, we’ve moved a step forward.

With Brooklyn’s story in hand, I proposed we create a behavioral foster care program for dogs, like Brooklyn, who can become good canine citizens with a reasonable investment of resources. The program is still in the planning stages, but we are hoping to soon be able to offer more opportunities to rehabilitate some of our shelter dogs who show promise, but need an extra boost to be considered good adoption candidates.

Wish us luck!

Lori and Bugsy, her foster/rescue Boston Terrier – a fine guarder of resources in his own right!

Katie and Harley, a hound mix she previously adopted from HSWC.

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