TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. - We have two dogs; a 4-year-old German Shepherd named Harry and a 2-year-old terrier mix named Rascal. We've been married for one year. My husband rescued Harry when he was 1-year-old (before we met) and I've had Rascal since he was a puppy. Harry is a scary resource guarder. Rascal has learned to stay away from him whenever he is eating or has a bone, but Harry has attacked him and drawn blood. He also growls at me if I come anywhere near him when he is eating or has something special. I just found out that I'm pregnant and the thought of having this dog around a baby really scares me. Please let us know what you think we should do?
- Prospective Parents
The situation you describe is very concerning. I've addressed dog-on-dog resource guarding in this column before (July 31, 2012, sierrasun.com), but not dog-on-human guarding. Harry does both which makes it especially problematic.
Resources can be anything at all that a dog deems important. Some common high-value items are bones, pig ears and toys, but some dogs will guard their bed, your bed, their crate or a personal item of yours like a shoe. Resource guarding is a normal survival skill that allows smaller, weaker and lower-status dogs to keep possession of a highly valued object and it is not uncommon in dogs who come from bad situations or have had to fend for themselves. Since Harry was rescued, you don't know what happened before your husband adopted him.
In my earlier columns about dog-on-dog resource guarding, I recommended using management to control the situation. This will be impossible with an infant. Once your baby starts to crawl at around 9 months of age, you will not be able to manage all interactions 100 percent of the time, which will place your baby at great risk. We know Harry is capable of drawing blood to defend his stuff because he's done it to Rascal. I have no doubt he would also bite a baby who is innocently reaching for something. Babies have extremely soft bones and skin and one bite can do immense damage.
I recommend you re-home Harry before the baby is born. I know this will be hard, but your child's safety must come first. You didn't mention much else about Harry, but if resource guarding is his only major issue, you should be able to find an adult only, one-dog home who would love to have him. You can contact a rescue organization in your area or look up German Shepherd breed rescue.
- Carla Brown, CPDT is a certified professional dog trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org