Q: I am looking for behavioral modification for our 15-month old goldendoodle. Some of our ongoing issues are resource guarding (mostly food related). We have gotten training for this before and we find the trade-for-higher-value approach makes him more cautious and guarding. Maybe it is the poodle in him but we find he has lots of attitude and gets all snarly and barky with us when we do something he doesn’t like, like take him away from the window when he is barking excessively. Lastly, he loves people and is quite well socialized but this often results in very jumpy behavior. We have a baby on the way and I am concerned about some of these behaviors and would like this resolved. I hope you can help us!
A: Congratulations on your pregnancy and thank you for reaching out to us about your goldendoodle. For sure, you will want these issues addressed before the birth of your child. In this response, I will touch on our approach, the breed of your dog, and preparing for your baby.
Before anything, note that we do not work on behavior modification. In fact, we believe many dogs have issues in part because we have focused on their behavior rather than its root causes. You’ve seen this for yourself with the trade-for-higher-value training that only made your dog more possessive over his resources. Often, behavioral issues are not about the behavior per se but are symptoms of issues with our way of life, which we have control over and focus on.
In your message, you mention the “poodle in him” as a potential explanation for behavior. While breed is a very powerful contributor to behavior, dogs do not act according to breed alone. Rather, each dog is a unique representation of their breed and reflect their situation, or way of life, just as much.
When dogs are “out of control” in the many ways you seem to be experiencing, this reflects that there is perhaps a lack of order and predictability in our life. When people have a baby, they try to follow a schedule because that is securing for a baby. We don’t do this with our dogs for some reason and your doodle might be expressing to you, through his resource guarding, that perhaps he lacked a foundation of structure and safety.
In preparing for your baby and in wanting to address your dog’s issues, set your dog on a schedule where you alternate crate time with exercise and stimulation. Set boundaries around the home, imagining that the baby has already arrived. When it comes to resource guarding specifically, I adopt a different approach entirely. I let my new way of life heal the dog from the inside out and in the meanwhile, I steer clear of any conflicts or efforts to trade with my dog. My job is to take away tension around anything he possesses and I do that, not by trying to trade him, but by leaving him and his things alone.
For more pointers on dealing with behavioral issues, access the free PDF Let’s Fix This: Ten steps you can take right now to address just about any behavioral issue.