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Discussion Starter #1
Apologies for the harsh title, I wasn't sure how to concisely convey my thoughts on this matter! Met with a trainer last week and our 2nd session is tomorrow. She hasn't really dealt with this issue yet but I will be sure to bring it up tomorrow. My 10 month old minipoo has begun resource guarding his toys- only sometimes...when he feels like it...( I'm the one who was asking for advice a few weeks ago about this.)

I have done everything I thought I was supposed to- a make him work for his food, I go out the door first, I play with him with his toys and pet him while he plays, watching his body language to see that he is totally calm. He often brings his toys over to lie next to me while he plays with them. We've done a moderate amount of obedience, and he is very good at impulse control. I do not think that I have overtly taught him that he is the boss. And then a switch flips, if he really wants something. It happened today for the third time and he growled at my husband.

I am very good at following through with a plan, but it is very hard to know what pan is right. I'm not supposed to scold the dog for growling but I'm not supposed to accept that kind of behavior, I'm not supposed to just take away things from the dog but I don't want to reward him for resource guarding. I'm frustrated! The puppy knows how to drop things for a treat, he just doesn't want to. He's not scared, or overcoming trauma from having to fend for himself on the streets, or from being in a shelter during some critical developmental period, and he certainly knows that 99.99% of the time nothing gets taken away from him to begin with, and that if it does there is a great treat that comes instead. So when he growls about his toys I think he's just being a jerk! It doesn't matter that we've done all this positive reinforcement training because the problem isn't that he really feels he needs to protect himself and his resources, the problem is that he is being a snot.

I feel like backing off when he growls and trying to trade up for whatever he has is rewarding his poor behavior. So do you ever respond to a dog's behavior not by being nice but by being harsh, like raising your voice or gripping the scruff of their necks? Less the attitude of, "Look, we're all friends here," and more the attitude of, "Heck no you're not going to be that way with me!"

I'm not trying to get myself crucified here, so please don't slam me- I'm just honestly asking because this is frustrating, scary, and not at all what I was expecting. None of my childhood dogs ever did this. On that note, I guess, I'm looking specifically for thoughts from others who have been through this rather than people whose dogs have never shown these behaviors to begin with. Thanks.
 

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Is it a serious, threatening growl or is it a "I'm a bratty puppy pushing my boundaries" growl?

If it's a serious growl I wouldn't take any crap from him, I would immediately pick him up by the scruff of his neck and deposit him in his crate for a time out. No yelling, no stern talking to, just pick him up and put him in the crate. When he gets let out of his crate there are no toys available until you give them. Toys are to be played with only when you are playing with him, they belong to you, not to him. If he loses interest or leaves, the toys get put away until next play session that you initiate. Any growls land him back in his crate immediately.

If it is a bratty puppy growl I would keep doing the trades. If he doesn't want to trade, then turn your back or leave the room and ignore him for a few minutes. No long, drawn-out sessions of trying to get him to give up the toy, just offer the high-value trade and if he's not interested, he gets ignored for a bit. He gets no attention or interactions for being a bratty puppy. It's a phase he's going through and he'll grow out of it, just be consistent.
 

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This sounds super frustrating, and I don't blame you for being upset and confused since you have gotten a lot of conflicting advice. I come from a positive reinforcement training perspective, so even though your boy is being a little sh*t, I would not use violent methods like scruffing. Ever. Here is a great article by Patricia McConnell on the steps to reducing resource guarding aggression.

https://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/resource-guarding-treatment-and-prevention

If you are committed to using +R, you will see results. It's not always the easiest way, but I feel it's the best way.
 

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I would also like to know what kind of growl it is. Some puppies are just very communicative and growl as part of play. My puppy will often grab a toy and dance around growling at me trying to get me to play tug with him. It's just a play emotion for him. Sometimes he'll play with toys by himself and will also growl at them.

If it is a serious growl I would be much more concerned. I think further obedience training could help because it will further your bond and communication between you. I would specifically look at leadership exercises that will help to teach him to look to you for direction, and that complying with what you want will get him what he wants. I think it is very likely he is pushing boundaries. He needs to learn that you are firm, and that if you want something it is going to have to happen. That doesn't mean that you have to be physically harsh to teach this.
 

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I think forceful methods risk pushing him into protecting what he has even more forcefully, and teaching him to snap or bite. I have used mild corrections - when Poppy decided my lap was hers and warned the other animals off, she found herself immediately lifted off and on the floor and was only invited back if she was prepared to share - she got lots of praise and petting for accepting sharing, however grudgingly. But for toys and other stuff I relied on trading up and then giving back the original object - the second part is the really important bit.

Given your pup's age I would suspect adolescent testing of the boundaries. Time was it an accepted thing that if a dog had a bone or other high value object he would be left alone to enjoy it, and given space if he needed it. We now consider many normal canine behaviours to be "problems", to be trained out. That means months and months of careful, consistent swaps and returns to build confidence and new habits - or once guarding has started the approach described by Trisha McConnell. Note that far from "rewarding growling" you need to take care not to push the dog to that point - the aim is to change how he feels about humans approaching his treasure. But it also means sometimes leaving the dog in peace with what he is happily playing with - I would react very badly if every time I was settled with a book someone teased me to swap it, even for chocolate or a glass of wine!
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks everyone, and I appreciate your tones of support and helpfulness. So the growl is a real growl, like the one that would next become a snap of teeth. I had read Patricia's Connell's post and thought she had good things to say. What felt hard about doing her method is that this is so rarely an issue with my pup that it would be hard to simulate the situation. Because like I said he is fine most of the time, but I'll look at it again, and talk to the trainer today.
 

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Is it a particular toy that he protects? What has happened in the hours before - an especially long and tiring day, perhaps, waiting for food, anything out of the usual in routine, visitors, change in routine? It is worth trying to spot the pattern. For example, I know Poppy gets grumpy when she is tired, and finds visiting and visitors exhausting; knowing the pattern I can make sure she has quiet times to recover before she gets to the grumbly stage.
 

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If it’s a particular toy, i’d Remove it till he can play nice. This sounds like an adolescent trying to push boundaries. I don’t know if this the right thing to do but it worked for us. Milo was guarding chews a while back. So what I did was, I held the treat while he chews it. But I had high value treat in the other hand. I showed it to him, he stops chewing and I praise with treats. We repeat this maybe a week consistently. It worked, from then on.

If the crate is your dog’s safe space,you might want to rethink your time out spot. I do positive reinforcement as well.
 

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I don't think he's consciously trying to push boundaries, as I don't think dogs utilize that kind of cognition. This is absolutely normal behavior for a dog, even a puppy as they're growing up. Dogs (and other animals) wouldn't have survived long enough to breed, reproduce and perpetuate the species (which is the instinct of all animals) if they didn't guard their resources, such as food or their mate or anything important to them. They don't know that toys aren't really necessary for survival. lol. Now that that is out of the way, you can fix this. But DON'T use harsh methods or fear, intimidation or even scruffing or putting in the crate. (you don't want to associate the crate with punishment anyhow or that'll ruin his fondness for and usefulness of a crate) Punishment is very likely to escalate the problem. This is one of the things that causes aggression in dogs and it can become very serious. It may shut the dog down for a time, he may bury it for a time, but it will not change his outlook on the matter and at some point, he may explode.

If this is a high value toy or toys, for a time, they must be removed and put away until later when this is sorted out. There is a method to work through this. I don't know if you read that or not. You said you gave a treat but it wasn't enough. He didn't want to give up the toy. That tells me your treat wasn't good enough...the toy meant more to him than the treat.

So you need to start with a few short sessions a day where you take a toy that is liked by him, but not something he's over-the-moon ga ga with...not something super high value. And you play the trading game with something a better, but not the very best or the most high value. It can be a treat or another toy he likes better. The idea is to start practicing with something that's not going to ruin his day to swap you for something that is better. Back and forth, play the game...lots of fun, squeaky, happy voice and goofy play. As long as he's willingly giving up the toy or other somewhat valued object, you can next move onto a slightly more valued object to trade for a better thing...moving up the heirarchy of value over time. When he gives you something into your hand, add a cue, "give." When you want him to drop it, "use a cue for that." Differentiate the two. He can learn both. Both are useful down the road.

So, when he's getting onto the game, you can even toss it a little ways and make a retrieve game...just a short distance...couple of feet at first. Gradually find a toy or other object he likes quite well, moving up in value as you go. And also find a treat or other item that is also better than the thing you were using before and better than the thing you're trading him for. If something isn't working, it's most likely because your swap isn't good enough, isn't better enough than what he has. So it does take some creativity and imagination and a real plan...systematically carried out.

Don't play the game so long that he gets tired of it. Stop while he's still having fun and wanting more. End on a good note. End with a really stupendous treat and put away anything that is too valuable to him. You can work up to those things during a couple week's time.

When you approach him when he has something you must get (like something dangerous or too valuable to you) and you're not sure how he's going to react, bring along a high value treat so you can quickly swap. Never yank something from him (unless it's an emergency) or be rough. This causes dogs to become aggressive. I can't tell you how many dogs I've worked with where something like this was done. Force, harshness coming from the idea that as humans, we must show the dog who's boss. Big mistake. It is not how dogs work.

You won't always have to trade him for something better. Once he's fine with this and willing, happy to give you something because historically he's always gotten something super duper for trading and EVEN has oftentimes gotten the thing back to boot...you can ask him to drop it or give and praise him lavishly. Still give him a treat intermittently and you can phase it out even more but I still give something to my dogs when they willingly drop or give the item I don't want them to have but it's quite spaced out by this time. If you never ever reward this, the behavior will probably regress.

If you don't feel you're making headway or you're getting too frustrated, call on a behaviorist (not just any ole trainer) to help you. It may only take a couple sessions to get onto it.

I'd even carry this further...even if he's not worried about coming near his food, I'd practice once, maybe twice a meal (not more...don't want to harass the pup) walking by and dropping something like a small piece of Porterhouse steak or a fine piece of rib eye into his bowl. (lol) Ask others in the family to do the same...children as long as he's safe. He can learn that none of his valuable resources are going to be taken and in fact, when people come near his stuff, fantastic things happen.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
I don't think he's consciously trying to push boundaries, as I don't think dogs utilize that kind of cognition. This is absolutely normal behavior for a dog, even a puppy as they're growing up. Dogs (and other animals) wouldn't have survived long enough to breed, reproduce and perpetuate the species (which is the instinct of all animals) if they didn't guard their resources, such as food or their mate or anything important to them. They don't know that toys aren't really necessary for survival. lol. Now that that is out of the way, you can fix this. But DON'T use harsh methods or fear, intimidation or even scruffing or putting in the crate. (you don't want to associate the crate with punishment anyhow or that'll ruin his fondness for and usefulness of a crate) Punishment is very likely to escalate the problem. This is one of the things that causes aggression in dogs and it can become very serious. It may shut the dog down for a time, he may bury it for a time, but it will not change his outlook on the matter and at some point, he may explode.

If this is a high value toy or toys, for a time, they must be removed and put away until later when this is sorted out. There is a method to work through this. I don't know if you read that or not. You said you gave a treat but it wasn't enough. He didn't want to give up the toy. That tells me your treat wasn't good enough...the toy meant more to him than the treat.

So you need to start with a few short sessions a day where you take a toy that is liked by him, but not something he's over-the-moon ga ga with...not something super high value. And you play the trading game with something a better, but not the very best or the most high value. It can be a treat or another toy he likes better. The idea is to start practicing with something that's not going to ruin his day to swap you for something that is better. Back and forth, play the game...lots of fun, squeaky, happy voice and goofy play. As long as he's willingly giving up the toy or other somewhat valued object, you can next move onto a slightly more valued object to trade for a better thing...moving up the heirarchy of value over time. When he gives you something into your hand, add a cue, "give." When you want him to drop it, "use a cue for that." Differentiate the two. He can learn both. Both are useful down the road.

So, when he's getting onto the game, you can even toss it a little ways and make a retrieve game...just a short distance...couple of feet at first. Gradually find a toy or other object he likes quite well, moving up in value as you go. And also find a treat or other item that is also better than the thing you were using before and better than the thing you're trading him for. If something isn't working, it's most likely because your swap isn't good enough, isn't better enough than what he has. So it does take some creativity and imagination and a real plan...systematically carried out.

Don't play the game so long that he gets tired of it. Stop while he's still having fun and wanting more. End on a good note. End with a really stupendous treat and put away anything that is too valuable to him. You can work up to those things during a couple week's time.

When you approach him when he has something you must get (like something dangerous or too valuable to you) and you're not sure how he's going to react, bring along a high value treat so you can quickly swap. Never yank something from him (unless it's an emergency) or be rough. This causes dogs to become aggressive. I can't tell you how many dogs I've worked with where something like this was done. Force, harshness coming from the idea that as humans, we must show the dog who's boss. Big mistake. It is not how dogs work.

This sounds like a good plan, I'll print this off and share it with the trainer. I have to find better treats, which isn't so easy because he is turning down jerky! We live off grid with an ice house and have meat only when we cook it and then eat it over the next day or two, so I do not have a way to easily have chicken or steak on hand...I've read about freeze-dried liver, or maybe it's a matter of switching it up more- dried berried, then jerky, then liver, then unsweetened banana chips (which is what the trainer brought) then back to jerky.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
I'll add this session from yesterday and would be interested to hear if people think I'm on the right track: Yesterday he successfully dropped a high value toy for a treat. He did it twice in a row, then refused to drop it anymore. In this case it was the toy on the end of the flirt pole, and it doesn't seem to matter which toy we tie on, it's the fact that it is attached to the flirt pole that matters. I gave it back to him each time after the treat and then, when he refused to drop it again for a treat right next to his nose, I called him to come a few feet away to me for a treat. He did that and ran right back to the toy, hunched over like he was certainly nervous I would take it. I did that few times and it did seem that I was able to get his attention more on me and less on the toy. After a bit I called him to me for a treat and then kept him with me while asking and treating for a few tricks. Then, when he was still aware of the flirt pole toy but definitely not totally focused on it, I gave him a chew toy with a little peanut butter and he actually left the flirt pole toy and went over to his rug to lick the peanut butter, and I picked up the flirt pole and put it away. This took maybe ten minutes start to finish? It felt like a great success to me! But it's so easy to forget and just reach for something without doing the whole lead-up.
 

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I had a similar situation with my Pointer years ago. Dear Stanley was a mush of a dog that never hurt a fly but was afraid of his own shadow. In his later years he developed resource guarding - especially with bones. My first instinct also was to be a little pissed because he never went through any drama or bullying - we were really a team so why react like that towards me. Then I tried to see this from his point of view (I was in charge and he was simply afraid of losing his very high value item). I immediately began on working to make him understand that I would accept his growls but I would also want him to accept that I was not going to take his bone. So I would approach him while in possession of his bone but back off if he growled and leave him alone. But then would come back to replay this again (not in an annoying non-stop way - but a couple of times each time he had a bone). Slowly I got him to understand I was not going to take his things and I would get him to accept that I could be in the room doing my thing and get him to relax (easy to tell because he would anxiously stop chewing when tense and restart chewing when chill). After a few weeks he would get so chill he would actually move closer to me with his bone and chew next to me. All in all what we had was a combination of a misunderstanding and a stand off over this specific item (the marrow bones). I have to add that I did not think this warranted more harsh or dramatic measures because Stan was a very submissive dog to begin with, so much so that this was almost out of character. I would never let Louie the Poodle get away with this because he wants to rule the house and world at large anyway so giving in to that would make him an even bigger bully (he is almost one expect I don't allow it to happen). In this case it was a timid dog showing a little bit of character - so I thought it was worth it to work in accepting it. This issue really needs a case by case evaluation because it so much depends on the personality of the dog as a whole.
 

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Okay, you have gotten lots of good suggestions so I won't rehash those. But here are a few random thoughts. First your session yesterday sounds good and pretty successful so that could be a very good strategy to build on. Next I like PBG's overall plan and think it will be good for you to use time with the trainer to implement and build on it.


Try not to use too many different methods so as to avoid confusing your pup about the "rules." I go to lots of workshops and such but pick people whose methods I know I like. One place recently hosted a very well know trainer who is R+ only. While I rely mostly on R+ I do use some other strategies and really don't want to pay money to get yelled at for using a method I think is perfectly reasonable as long as it is used in proper context so I skip him.



Last thing, I think some dogs are just a bit growly. Javelin growls probably at least once a day. I always look at what is happening when he does so and most of the time is is over something like not wanting to move out of somebody else's way and a protest not a threat so I don't respond with anything other than something like tough luck buddy. In the long run it only matters to me if he sounds seriously like he is thinking about being reactive if the other dog or person doesn't let him stay where he is (which is pretty rare).
 
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I don't think he's consciously trying to push boundaries, as I don't think dogs utilize that kind of cognition. This is absolutely normal behavior for a dog, even a puppy as they're growing up. Dogs (and other animals) wouldn't have survived long enough to breed, reproduce and perpetuate the species (which is the instinct of all animals) if they didn't guard their resources, such as food or their mate or anything important to them. They don't know that toys aren't really necessary for survival. lol. Now that that is out of the way, you can fix this. But DON'T use harsh methods or fear, intimidation or even scruffing or putting in the crate. (you don't want to associate the crate with punishment anyhow or that'll ruin his fondness for and usefulness of a crate) Punishment is very likely to escalate the problem. This is one of the things that causes aggression in dogs and it can become very serious. It may shut the dog down for a time, he may bury it for a time, but it will not change his outlook on the matter and at some point, he may explode.

If this is a high value toy or toys, for a time, they must be removed and put away until later when this is sorted out. There is a method to work through this. I don't know if you read that or not. You said you gave a treat but it wasn't enough. He didn't want to give up the toy. That tells me your treat wasn't good enough...the toy meant more to him than the treat.

So you need to start with a few short sessions a day where you take a toy that is liked by him, but not something he's over-the-moon ga ga with...not something super high value. And you play the trading game with something a better, but not the very best or the most high value. It can be a treat or another toy he likes better. The idea is to start practicing with something that's not going to ruin his day to swap you for something that is better. Back and forth, play the game...lots of fun, squeaky, happy voice and goofy play. As long as he's willingly giving up the toy or other somewhat valued object, you can next move onto a slightly more valued object to trade for a better thing...moving up the heirarchy of value over time. When he gives you something into your hand, add a cue, "give." When you want him to drop it, "use a cue for that." Differentiate the two. He can learn both. Both are useful down the road.

So, when he's getting onto the game, you can even toss it a little ways and make a retrieve game...just a short distance...couple of feet at first. Gradually find a toy or other object he likes quite well, moving up in value as you go. And also find a treat or other item that is also better than the thing you were using before and better than the thing you're trading him for. If something isn't working, it's most likely because your swap isn't good enough, isn't better enough than what he has. So it does take some creativity and imagination and a real plan...systematically carried out.

Don't play the game so long that he gets tired of it. Stop while he's still having fun and wanting more. End on a good note. End with a really stupendous treat and put away anything that is too valuable to him. You can work up to those things during a couple week's time.

When you approach him when he has something you must get (like something dangerous or too valuable to you) and you're not sure how he's going to react, bring along a high value treat so you can quickly swap. Never yank something from him (unless it's an emergency) or be rough. This causes dogs to become aggressive. I can't tell you how many dogs I've worked with where something like this was done. Force, harshness coming from the idea that as humans, we must show the dog who's boss. Big mistake. It is not how dogs work.

This sounds like a good plan, I'll print this off and share it with the trainer. I have to find better treats, which isn't so easy because he is turning down jerky! We live off grid with an ice house and have meat only when we cook it and then eat it over the next day or two, so I do not have a way to easily have chicken or steak on hand...I've read about freeze-dried liver, or maybe it's a matter of switching it up more- dried berried, then jerky, then liver, then unsweetened banana chips (which is what the trainer brought) then back to jerky.
Do your practice sessions before meal time when he's quite hungry. Increase the value of the treat if you can but don't exhaust your options because you'll want to increase the value as you go through the training method and not run out of the ability to improve them. Remember, if nothing you try to trade is better than the thing you want him to give up, then that thing needs to go away. You can bring it out later after he's come to learn that trading things, first lower value, on up to higher value proportionately is nothing more than a game, that his stuff is not threatened by your taking them. When you get something from him and give him a better thing...toy, treat, you can give him back the thing he had. Back and forth. Show him he not only gets a really good treat, but he gets to have that toy back again. Do this a little while, then you'll have to take it and put it away. I would encourage you to use certain toys for this training game and only for this purpose. Make them more novel...and give him something else for other times. IF he is guardy about everything, put everything away. Don't give him an opportunity to practice this behavior. Set him up to succeed. The more reinforcing for good behavior he gets under his belt, the quicker he'll get onto this game.

Try it in different locations and contexts for added interest and to help him generalize the behavior no matter where he is. Try having another family member play the game once he begins to catch onto it. Variety is good. Don't over whelm him with too much practice, especially if you find he's not enjoying it.

Be sure to make it a fun game and not a commanding, bossy, stern thing. (not that I think you wouldn't. It's just a general thing) Dogs respond better when we respect their ways. We can get them to do our bidding by sound training. Not by force and not by over-anthropomorphizing them...something I see an awful lot of. And that gets dogs into trouble where they get the short end of the stick. :sad2:
 
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Discussion Starter #15
Thanks, everyone. Really good and helpful suggestions. I had a good meeting with the trainer a few hours ago and I think part (maybe honestly a big part) of the problem was that this dog is more of a rescue than I realized, so I bare my mistakes in the hopes it will help the next person (and dog.) He came to us at almost 6 months and we were his 4th home at that time, but since he always seemed happy to see everyone and not scared or shy I thought he was okay emotionally. I noticed a few things about his body language that I wasn't expecting, making me think he didn't want contact, but then he'd be super cuddly and always interested in meeting new people. He always took on new experiences happily, too, like walking around town with all the cars going by or going for his first canoe rides. This, combined with knowing that he was in a good home now, made me figure that whatever else was going on would heal- not get worse.

But in the last few weeks he has shown more clear signs of seeming unhappy about contact at times, and of course the growling, and being more protective when he is eating, and today he was a little freaked about walking around town. I know it sounds like something happened, but there really has been nothing that I know of and no changes in our life or in his health other than being neutered 2 months ago. The trainer said he is feeling comfortable with us and things are coming out now, even though we've had him 5 months already.

She suggested only petting him under the chin and towards his rear, staying away from his head, and letting him approach when he wants petting so that he knows he can have his space at other times. (Also playing games like those mentioned above that encourage him to be willing to drop things.) She also said (which was my big concern and something I was feeling really guilty about) that I didn't do anything wrong to make him like this and that I work very nicely with him. She said the behaviors she's seeing are totally in line with a dog that has been through some stuff and needs to gain confidence and trust. I just had no idea that it would take so long to show, and am definitely concerned with what else is going to pop up now that he's opening up more. And now I, too, have some broken trust I need to rebuild. Not what I was expecting or wanting, but the trainer was very positive about our prospects.
 

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Thanks, everyone. Really good and helpful suggestions. I had a good meeting with the trainer a few hours ago and I think part (maybe honestly a big part) of the problem was that this dog is more of a rescue than I realized, so I bare my mistakes in the hopes it will help the next person (and dog.) He came to us at almost 6 months and we were his 4th home at that time, but since he always seemed happy to see everyone and not scared or shy I thought he was okay emotionally. I noticed a few things about his body language that I wasn't expecting, making me think he didn't want contact, but then he'd be super cuddly and always interested in meeting new people. He always took on new experiences happily, too, like walking around town with all the cars going by or going for his first canoe rides. This, combined with knowing that he was in a good home now, made me figure that whatever else was going on would heal- not get worse.

But in the last few weeks he has shown more clear signs of seeming unhappy about contact at times, and of course the growling, and being more protective when he is eating, and today he was a little freaked about walking around town. I know it sounds like something happened, but there really has been nothing that I know of and no changes in our life or in his health other than being neutered 2 months ago. The trainer said he is feeling comfortable with us and things are coming out now, even though we've had him 5 months already.

She suggested only petting him under the chin and towards his rear, staying away from his head, and letting him approach when he wants petting so that he knows he can have his space at other times. (Also playing games like those mentioned above that encourage him to be willing to drop things.) She also said (which was my big concern and something I was feeling really guilty about) that I didn't do anything wrong to make him like this and that I work very nicely with him. She said the behaviors she's seeing are totally in line with a dog that has been through some stuff and needs to gain confidence and trust. I just had no idea that it would take so long to show, and am definitely concerned with what else is going to pop up now that he's opening up more. And now I, too, have some broken trust I need to rebuild. Not what I was expecting or wanting, but the trainer was very positive about our prospects.

That's the ticket for sure! I've seen that lots and lots for rescues. Don't be surprised if you keep seeing new things for a few more months. This trainer sounds like a keeper for the long haul.
 
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