How I Whoopsied and What I’ve Learned

If you prefer to listen to this blog post, click here.


I need to be honest.  We hit the rescue roulette jackpot when Opie came into our lives.  Don’t get me wrong, he was a 1-year old adolescent, and we still have the gnawed baseboards to prove it… but he’s lively, playful, a clear communicator, and cute to boot. He tells us when he’s uncomfortable and he brings us toys that he wants to destroy when we leave them out.  He’s a great pup with predictable behavior and predictable emotions and predictable values.


Or so we thought he was completely predictable.

Opie loves to unwrap presents.  He’s got the fervor of a toddler at a birthday party with the artistry of a ribbon dancer during his big number. It’s fun to watch and thus we have certainly reinforced the behavior with our praise of enjoyment.  It’s a behavior that we don’t mind seeing and have put cues on when he’s allowed to dig in and when he needs to leave it alone.  He knows to leave the presents alone under the tree and he gets invited to partake in the celebration of discovery when the time is right.

Until last Christmas.  Looking back, it’s completely clear and was 100% predictable, but in the moment it seemed like it happened out of nowhere–completely unexpected.  My family celebrates Christmas.  My immediate family (and their 2 small pups) were over at our house and we were sitting around opening presents in the front room. Opie was enjoying his job of shredding the opened wrapping and tissue paper near my adult brother while alternating with trying to help my brother take out the next sheet of tissue.  My mom’s younger pup was sniffing around and nosing into the presents as well and then the thingThe split freeze. My stomach flip. The not well-timed recall. The growl-whale eye-air snap combo… and ding ding ding, everyone to their corners, please.  

I felt terrible.  I felt guilt. I felt my heart pounding.  We did not expect the wrapping paper to be such a high value for Opie.  We did not expect there to be any issues between the two dogs because they have always gotten along before. We had never seen Opie resource guard anything. The whole scenario was a bit shocking for us.  Luckily, nothing serious happened, Opie had a well-placed air snap and Chloe heard the message loud and clear; however, it gave me the opportunity to reflect and evaluate what we could change to help our animals find success.

Environment factors that may have affected the behavior:

  • Masked people over at our house
  • 2 small dogs at the house who Opie needs to practice self control with
  • Less rest during the day
  • Exciting unwrapping game
  • More exciting unwrapping
  • More exciting unwrapping without a cue
  • Some exciting shredding prompts so he stops unwrapping the things he shouldn’t
  • More exciting shredding without a cue

When you list out the triggers that could have contributed to his eustress/distress it’s painfully obvious that he was hitting threshold long before the resource guarding; we should have sent our Opie Dog to his calming location with a delicious peanut butter-green bean-shredded cheese frozen project… but now we know better. We’ve seen more.  We’ve forgiven ourselves for missing the signs and we’ve created a plan for this year that combines management, relaxation, and prevention.  

Dogs are wonderful and they tell us a lot of things, but sometimes it can feel unexpected.  It can feel overwhelming and alarming for us, but usually, a little reflection from the dog’s perspective can help you see solutions for the future.

Oh, Opie Dog, don’t you worry, you’ll get your chance to wow us with your skills sans opposable thumbs… but just not when you’re turned up to 11.


Now what?

  • If your pup presents unexpected behavior, wonderful, you have a dog.
  • Think about all of the other things that happened over that day that may have contributed to that behavior.
  • Take note of what happened and brainstorm with your team how we can help the dog be successful in the future.

Happy Training,