Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book review: Mine! A practical guide to resource guarding in dogs

Mine! A practical guide to resource guarding in dogs (by Jean Donaldson)

Jean Donaldson, if you didn’t know, is the director of the SF SPCA’s Dog Training Academy and has written a number of excellent books that address the kinds of behaviors that often land dogs in animal shelters. This book is not new, but it’s a gem and the used copies cost almost as much as the new ones—that’s dramatic market value!

The book is indeed valuable. It takes an objective look at all the various forms of resource guarding (including body handling issues) from a behaviorist perspective. Written for the professional dog trainer (not the common dog owner), the book is heavy on technical jargon but in her defense she defines every term she uses. But it’s not a light read. I’ve got two clients currently reading it, and am asking them to highlight any areas that are confusing to them so we can go over those together. I expect a lot of highlighting. But I still recommend the book because it’s very systematic and provides clear, achievable protocols for helping a dog become more reliable in situations that would normally elicit a very reactive response.

One of the most difficult parts of the equation, of course, is the denial or lack of commitment and compliance from the owner. One of the reasons I have some clients read this book is to break them out of the mind-set that they can find a quick fix to this kind of problem. The books talks a lot about managing the environment between training sessions (to prevent a dog from going over its threshold and becoming reactive), which is something that some owners seem reluctant to do. They don't want to reduce the dog's freedom, they just want the problem to go away. Denial. I can't help them until they break through that.

Jean covers all the basics of desensitization, counter-conditioning, developing a conditioned emotional response (CER), and teaching the dog an incompatible behavior to perform instead of the guarding response. She does not cover the basics of operant conditioning (and refers repeatedly to Karen Pryor’s book, Don’t Shoot the Dog) but she does a nice job of explaining the crucial nuances in the subtle timing of the presentation of the cue and the reward, and its subsequent impact on the guarding behavior. Getting this wrong can really derail your results.

I love the book, and I’m a big fan of Jean’s. Next I’ll compare it to Pat McConnell’s book on the same subject, Feisty Fido, which is written more to the average dog owner.

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