Factors influencing the development of competitive and resource guarding behaviours in domestic dog puppies (Canis lupus familiaris)



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University of Guelph


This thesis is intended to improve understanding of risk factors for the early development of competitive and resource guarding behaviours in domestic dogs. First, competitive behaviour displayed by puppies during nursing (Beginning N=34 litters, 217 puppies, Middle N=100 litters, 580 puppies) were described including pushing littermates with paws, muzzle and displacing littermates from nipples. Factors associated with increased odds of competitive behaviour included larger litter sizes, 30-40% nursing success and receiving intervention during nursing. Next, dog breeders (N=293) were asked how they typically managed puppy experiences during nursing and with food and toys. Breeder practices varied greatly with most putting puppies in competitive situations but also intervening during these interactions. Risk factors associated with increased odds of breeder reported competitive behaviour around resources were identified including not intervening during nursing, adding food to the bowl, residing in the US, “other” category dog breeds, removing toys during play, individual preference for specific toys, and litters not playing together. Next, litters of puppies were followed (N=26 litters, 177 puppies) from birth to eight weeks of age. Litter information, videos of nursing, meal feeding and interaction with toys, breeder resource management practices and eight-week behaviour assessments were collected. This study found large within litter variation in competitive behaviour and identified factors associated with increased odds of competitive behaviour including decreased nursing success, increased latency to nurse, decreased latency to play, decreased dam age, dams with history of resource guarding, no intervention during nursing, and intervention during weaning. Lastly, 11 dogs, six months of age or younger, displaying threatening or aggressive resource guarding behaviour were followed through two months of trainer led treatment using pre- and post-treatment surveys for trainers and caretakers. The most common treatments included only allowing access to guarded items in a safe space, counterconditioning, and training operant tasks. The primary outcomes of treatment were reduction in severity of resource guarding behaviour (improvement) and loss to follow-up by the caretaker, trainer, or both. Taken together, this thesis progresses the understanding of competitive behaviours around resources early in life and identifies puppy, litter and management factors that are associated with their performance.



Resource guarding, Competition, Domestic dog, Canis lupus familiaris, Aggression, Dog behaviour, Competitive