Does anyone have any strong recommendations for training programs or protocols, that have proven success, for dogs who are moderate to severe resource guarders with a bite history?
I am looking for something for my small team to implement to work with dogs, who are currently living in our shelter. I have Jean Donaldson's Mine and have looked at the resources on the Center for Shelter Dogs website. Interested in hearing if folks have had success with either of these or any other outlined programs.
Are you referring to food guarding? The ASPCA just published a report on this in which they say that free feeding was successful. That's a liberal paraphrasing. However they did not mention bite history, and in any case I would always separate dogs for feeding for the safety of all.
To piggyback on the previous comment, our shelter found free-feeding to be quite successful in decreasing resource guarding behavior. Staff were warned and careful, but in general this was an easy step that did not take a lot of staff time.
Of course I would recommend Center for Shelter Dogs' program - since I work there! ;-) Jean Donaldson of course. Honestly most of the usual ones like those, based on desensitization and counter-conditioning, are fairly similar and can be adapted to your situation. Many also include teaching "drop" and regularly reinforcing that. But I do think you have to think through how well those programs can be implemented in a shelter environment. I know a lot of shelters work on these programs first before putting the dog on the adoption floor but some research, including CSD's, suggest that many of these dogs won't go on to exhibit the behavior in the home, so it may not be worth delaying a dog's adoption to do behavior modification first. Do it while the dog is on the floor. If you think you can effectively implement the program. That's why the ASPCA's research of free-feeding is so intriguing - it's so much easier to implement than the traditional CC & desensitization, esp in a shelter setting. Now a lot of the research has been done with mild to moderate guarding, we don't know how dogs who are considered severe guarders do later in the home, compared to mild/moderate, or how they respond to behavior modification or free-feeding. I think there's a general sense that a dog who displays more aggressive behavior or generalizes to more than just the food bowl or food item may be more severe and more difficult to modify - but I don't know of a lot of research into that yet. But experienced trainers and behaviorists probably have a lot to say about that!
I think one of the most important parts of addressing this problem is to avoid triggering and putting the dog in a position that he finds as a confrontation. Given the already high level of stress in shelters, I generally recommend managing this to avoid him feeling like he has to guard rather than using resources to try to treat it. I would place most of these dogs as available for adoption with full disclosure and a few caveats. I'd rather have an owner manage at home and if they wanted to do something, set up classical counter conditioning for the food bowl and a trade up for other high value resources the dog gets. A motivated shelter could set these same exercises up, but IMHO, I think often there are more pressing issues to spend time and resources on than to set up treatment for a problem that could very well not be a problem in the home.
Again, caveat that this is for dogs that show mild to moderate guarding of food, toys, treats, other inanimate objects. This does not include spaces, people, etc. I view that as a part of a bigger problem. And, dogs leaving the bowl or item to go after the person is what I consider severe.
I agree with Sara, I think avoiding trigger situations where the behavior is practiced is helpful and necessary in a stressful environment like the shelter. If the dog has a propensity to display the behavior, stress can exacerbate the likelihood or severity of the response (or even where it shows up).
I do like working dogs on training plans while they're at the shelter (it's enriching, helps us learn more about the behavior, puts the dog on our radar for support, and hopefully sets them up to have other ideas about guarding in the future). When I was at Animal Humane, we used a shortened "Mine" protocol that we had a fair amount of success with - with dogs that were food guarders. If the dogs were guarding other stuff, including toys, high value chews, we didn't have nearly as much success. That doesn't mean that the dog shouldn't go up for adoption with disclosures (another conversation about counseling and adopters in your community), but I think having an idea of how sticky the behavior is, the severity, the contexts that it appears is all helpful for placement. IMO, that information doesn't come from one assessment; that's where working with the dog really benefits your counseling.
And yes, while not all dogs that demonstrate resource guarding in the shelter are reported by the adopter to show the behavior in the home, it is more likely to occur if it pops up in the shelter. And as Seana mentioned, we have no idea about how severity is related to the likelihood of occurrence in the home. This is a very important piece of the puzzle, IMO.
As for research about the effects of free-feeding, this paper - Lyle, J., Kapla, S., da Silva, S. P., & Maxwell, M. E. (2017). Persistence of food guarding across conditions of free and scheduled feeding in shelter dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 191, 49-58 - suggests otherwise and reports while dogs in free-feeding and scheduled feeding conditions decreased in their food-related aggression over time, there were no differences between groups when compared. I haven't dug deep into it, but I've attached it here.
Good luck - and please let us know how this works out!