Q: My Yorkie, Angel, is a tiny terror. From the time he was a baby, he’d growl if we picked him up from out of his bed. This behaviour has escalated into growling and the occasional nip should anyone try to touch him while he’s in his bed. I’ve been through two trainers who have labeled him a “resource guarder” but no tips have straightened him out. Please help! — Anxious About Angel in Arlington
A:Since the behaviour is triggered when Angel is on his bed, begin the following touch and handling exercises when he is in a non-reactive location. What does he absolutely love? A particular treat? Playing with a special throw toy? We want to associate this reward with his being approached and, eventually, being picked up. We’re also going to pair a phrase with the action.
Approach Angel while he’s lying on the carpet. In a happy voice say, “Party time!” and immediately present the reward (the treat or chew toy). Gradually work into using the phrase, touching him, and then rewarding. Eventually, the touch will turn into picking him up, putting him down, then rewarding. Even if he shows no negative reaction, keep it up—the idea is to get a look of happy anticipation when you say, “Party time!”
The next step is to move to his bed but, for now, substitute a new bed for the one he guards. Start with the phrase, approach, and reward. Always work under his threshold. If you see growling or other signs of reactivity or discomfort, you’ve pushed too far too fast. Go back to where you had success and start from there. Over time, you should be able to approach and pick Angel up when he’s on the bed, with him being happy about it. Just be sure the consequence is always something wonderful.
Now use his original bed but place it in a different location; once that situation is successful, do the routine with him on the original bed in the original location. Eventually, the happy phrase can be faded out, as he will have come to associate your approach and being picked up with wonderful things.
Reactive behaviour is best treated with professional supervision, so I suggest you find another trainer to help implement this program.