Resource Guarding: School Budget

What does the school budget have in common with an aggressive dog? Two words: “resource guarding.”

In the dog world, resource guarding is a problematic behavior in which a dog uses aggression to guard possessions. Dogs have long lists of desirable, protection-worthy stuff including—but not limited to–food, toys, comfy beds and favorite people. Some dogs feel so strongly about their possessions that they growl and bare their teeth. Some even bite.

It’s my job to help people to understand this behavior and what, if anything can be done to stop it.

Which brings me to the school budgets currently being shaped throughout the country and voted on in many communities. For a moment, step into my dog-centric world and imagine that the public is a dog pack. In no way do I mean this in a derogatory way—I love dogs, individually and in groups. I mean “dog pack” in the nicest possible metaphorical way.

So back to the dog pack. When times are good and resources are plentiful, few individuals complain or act snappy or covetous.  Conversely, lean times bring out the aforementioned resource guarding behavior. In dogs, it’s the meatiest bone or the cushiest bed. In people, it’s their savings or their children’s educational experience. While there has been no growling or biting up to this point, I have seen much defensive and reactive behavior. Otherwise civilized people cross-conventional social boundaries, going toe-to-toe with friends and strangers alike.

Many people blame the school board for creating this predicament but it’s important to remember that the residents who make up the school board and volunteer their time to are voted into their posts in a general election. They serve and act on behalf of the community. To hold them accountable for the cuts and sacrifices that need to be made during these recessionary times is as unproductive and ill-advised as the dog who bites his owner for fear the owner will steal his food.

Just as a dog owner cannot give in to their dog’s every whim (Of course I’ll serve you filet mignon every day and let you sleep on my new duvet!), the board’s final decisions cannot meet the desires of every citizen. But the board does try to balance the needs of its constituents with the financial resources available to them.

When dogs’ resource guard, I try to get to the root of the reaction: Was this dog starved or mistreated at some point in his life? Does he live in a home that inadvertently supports domination, his caregivers afraid or unwilling to interfere?

In either case, I begin to realign the dog’s past perceptions with his current reality. Using a variety of training and behavior modification tools, I reassure the dog that he is not at risk for abuse or starvation, nor is he the dominant leader of the pack. In most cases, my clients find that a structured and compassionate training program that includes clickers, treats and correction collars is enough to curb these aggressive tendencies.

Parallels to the current school board debates? In a similar effort I am trying to realign my past perceptions with the current reality (i.e. school board evil…bite the board).    Simply put, I’ve become aware that if a community does not work with the school board, dialoging and settling on workable changes to the status quo, then the budget proposal may be voted down. If the board’s budget is voted down the budget—metaphorically speaking—gets sent to the pound. Forced to operate under strict guidelines of a State Contingency Budget, the board is required to follow a prefabricated budget that outlines how moneys are spent and limits the creative arts.  That said, it the yearly budgets aren’t passed and the school system fails its children, all of us—those with kids and those without—we all suffer. Property values decline when school systems are striped and people end up like a dog who, after biting his owner, is cast out with nothing but an empty dish.