Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lauchie, The Hoarder Collie

No, I am not talking about people who can never accumulate enough stuff, and never throw anything away, and eventually drown in junk and filth. The ones you see on reality TV; Hoarders TV exposes for ratings.
In reality, I don’t watch much reality TV: No Dog Whisperer, no “dumb-and-proud-of-it” hick show, and no crazy junk and animal hoarders in my living room - unless I need a reality check when I obsess over my home being a tad too messy. One episode convinces me that I don’t have to feel guilty about spending the afternoon in the sun joined by a glass of wine and a book when I ought to tidy up.
I am talking about canine hoarders; dogs that collect every scattered toy and whatever else they find on the ground and deem valuable, put it on their bed or in their crate, and often guard the accumulated booty against cohabitating fur animals, and sometimes also against the hairless kind.

The root of resource hoarding and guarding is resource insecurity. Always. And almost always humans are to blame: owners and breeders who either stole the dog's possession in the name of misunderstood dominance, or raised him in resource deprivation - didn’t provide what the pooch needed and thereby forced him to compete for the little that was available. In the latter case, both the dog who regularly lost out but also the one who was successful in defending his possessions can become a hoarder and aggressive guarder in the next home.

My friend Ann’s new Border collie pup Lauchie reminded me recently that even pups from a really good breeder can have quirks. Here he is.

And this is our last foster dog Reggae, also conscientiously bred, also a hoarder at a very young age.

But let’s talk about the collie – it is fresh in my mind.
Little Lauchie is from England. His first eight weeks of life were how it should be for every puppy born, and there was no reasonable expectation that he'd be unsure about anything, including resources. And yet he seems to be and collects, as Ann likes to name the behavior because it sounds a lot nicer than hoarding.
Although Lauchie isn’t aggressively guarding his stash, it is still an issue his momma wants to address. For starters, he is still just a baby and things could change as he matures, but also because he evades coming when called when he is in possession of a toy.  Or when he returns, he does so without it.
Running away with a treasure between the teeth can be a puppy thing, but Ann felt that it wasn't the fun factor of playing catch-me-if-you-can that drove the behavior, but the worry that he’d lose his bounty.
Lauchie is smart and sweet and social and shows all the behaviors of a carefully bred and raised pup. He is attentive and keen to be with his person, at the breeder the litter had everything they needed, and he has now always accessible toys aplenty. He gets to play many games, and comes just fine when he doesn’t carry something. So, why the out-of-character behavior when it comes to toys? It initially had us stumped. Funny, Ann’s dogs have a habit of making my brain hurt – and I mean that in a most affectionate way.

The best explanation we could come up with is has to do with Lauchie’s thoughtfulness. Yes, you read that right and yes I am anthropomorphizing but I don’t care. Besides, it is the best word to describe his personality that, by the way, consistently presented itself very early on. Lauchie is not slow-witted or fearful, but watches, and processes, and then acts. He has natural impulse control, and with so many dogs getting into trouble because they lack it, I wouldn’t exactly say that that is a problem, but it might mean that he lost out against his siblings who all were quicker on the draw. I think we are on to something because Lauchie is also very food driven, which corroborates that his littermates might have gotten more than their fair share in that aspect as well.

There are two ways to address hoarding: either one needs to convince the dog that resources never run out, and that it's more fun to bring toys than hoard them, or one must eliminate free access to toys completely and also control what else happens to lie around within the dog’s reach. I like the former better for following reasons: Free access to a toy box alleviates anxiety and boredom, micromanaging the dog and resources for a lifetime is a cumbersome thing to do, and common sense dictates that resource overflow is the fasted way to instill resource security.
That said, with some hoarders free resource access can make things worse, as was the case with another friend’s rescue German shepherd. She had a number of anxieties, and was overwhelmed with too many toys and bones and the task to collect all of it, was constantly searching and pacing, and permanently tense trying to guard the treasures on her bed against the other dog. Life in paradise initially made her more anxious, and taking a more structured approach to resources was necessary. She is fine now, by the way, thanks to patience and the unfailing provision of everything she needed and wanted.

Since little Lauchie is neither anxiously pacing nor aggressively defending his collections, there is no pressing need to withhold free access. Instead, Ann exploits Lauchie’s brain and love to learn and interact – traits found in many dogs not just Border collies – and teaches him to identify individual toys by name, and then bring the one she asks for in exchange for a play session. It is a game that stimulates any pooch’s mind and body, but with a hoarder the added benefit is that toys are going to be perceived in a different way: Because it directly involves the human, it puts value on the person and not just the toy. Eventually, the dog will bring specific objects to solicit interaction with his person, which will become more rewarding than playing keep-away alone.
In addition, it creates a hierarchy of toys and games, meaning that the dog will have a preference he didn’t have before. When some object are of high value, naturally all others are meh and hopefully not worthy of hoarding any longer.
Like with any behavior we want changed, new habits can take time, and until then it is important that the undesired old ones aren't rehearsed. To prevent Lauchie from running away with a toy, Ann taught him “retrieve the named toy” in the bathroom first, a very small space that didn’t give the pup any option other than to share his toy with his momma. The idea is to orchestrate rewarding experiences, and then gradually expand outward to bigger spaces.
I have no doubt that it'll do.


  1. Interesting post Silvia. I know of a dog that hoards just about anything and everything, stashing her prized objects in her bed. Her owner thinks it is a special "cute" quality, but I have suspected it to be a form of stress. You mentioned "insecurity" as the root of hoarding and I can see that this really fits with this particular dog. She tends to get fed at very irregular hours (sometimes they even forget to feed her at all). When I think about it there is little regular routine in her life.

  2. Yes Yes old Raggae she had almost the whole house.. A very good article. Thanks again for keeping us so informed in all aspects of the doggie world and how to deal with them. Your number one fan ;@)

  3. Yes, sadly the dog is likely distressed by the lack of routine, especially resource routine, Marjorie. Hoarding can look cute. With our foster Reggae it did - I mean a 10-week-old pup collecting is cute. Lauchie's mom by coincidence initially also thought it was cute and said she "missed the iceberg" completely, until he refused to come with a toy. That kinda made it clear that he has trust issues.

  4. Interesting that you mentioned that he refused to come for a toy. This particular dog refuses to come for her owner to put the leash on for a walk. Actually, she refuses to do a great deal for her. Unfortunately, this dogs person is convinced there is nothing she needs to learn about dogs.

  5. aww, what a gorgeous baby.
    I think it's especially interesting about the influence litter-mates may have had around the behaviour. Very interesting article

  6. Indeed Marjorie and sad. Dogs are very honest about how much they like the person they live with.

    Irene, he is. And yes, coincidentally and recently I have come across a number of cases where littermates had an influence in a way that is easily overlooked. I like breeder that, once they supplement or feed, ensure that all pups have access. I checked a litter of pups once where food was everywhere and freely given, and another were food was scheduled and rationed, and one pup bullied the others away from the food and the breeder did not notice. Sure enough, the bully is still a good hog and a bully. And then I assessed a litter recently where feeding was scheduled and rationed, but every pup shared and got enough. No bullies. It was beautiful to watch.

  7. Oh resource guarding, so tricky. My younger guy had it bad when I adopted him, and still likes to collect things, but no longer has a heart attack if I wander near him when he has a new toy. Now he will grab something out of his crate (his safe area) and come over and chew it next to me when I come in the room. I don't think anything could have made me happier the first time he did that seeing as he actually broke through the skin biting me a couple of hours after he was adopted when he was guarding the futon from my other dog.
    There's no way to know if his littermates had anything to do with it, but I do know that for part of his life before the age of four months he was kennelled outside with a bunch of grown German Shepherds, which I suspect has something to do with it.
    I have done the abundant resource thing, and I periodically swap out toys for ones he hasn't seen in a while so he stays used to the idea that new stuff will show up all the time. I also took time to have him next to me while I play with my other dog with a toy, and gave him a treat every time he looked at the other dog with the toy without reacting. I kept the sessions short so he never broke and went after the other dog, so he learned pretty quick that if the other guy got a toy, it was actually ok. Otherwise I've done my best to not interfere with how they negotiate resources.
    He likes to stash stuff either on my bed or in his crate, and I periodically walk in, give him a treat and leave. Occasionally he grabs a shoe or flip flop and stashes it in his crate, and instead of reaching in to grab it I call him out of the crate and ask for a sit stay, remove the shoe, and then we go to the kitchen to celebrate with whatever treat I can grab the quickest.
    The other day the older dog walked away from his food dish (which, well, I can't even remember him doing that before) and my younger guy tried to steal his dinner. Normally they don't even try and approach one another when eating, and I make sure they're fed in different areas so they have lots of room to finish their meal in peace, but the older dog likes to take his time, so he's never finished first, and that day the older dog just happened to get distracted, and the little guy moved in. The older dog reacted by immediately putting his nose back in the bowl and the younger dog just backed off. No snarling or fighting, just a perfect understanding of whose dish was whose. I think I cried a little bit.

  8. Thank you for sharing Mufaasa's mom. I would think too that the adult dogs had something to do with the resource guarding, albeit not all adult dogs bully puppies. But the way they were kept suggests that they, perhaps, had anxieties as well.
    What lucky dogs to live with someone who approached resource aggression so mindfully, instead of being confrontational. Of course you are also surrounded by great trainers.

  9. Haha, yes indeed! I won't lie, there were a few panic messages in the first few days to the lovely ladies at Sublime, but clearly they gave me good advice!