Does your dog growl at you when you approach him while he is eating or chewing a bone? Does he show his teeth when you try to move him off the couch? If you answered yes, your dog may be resource guarding. Below you will find information and exercises to both prevent resource guarding and help a dog who is already resource guarding. If your dog has bit you or anyone else, I highly recommend you contact a professional to help with the behavior modification. Resource Guarding is actually a normal dog behavior, however, it’s not something we humans appreciate. Fortunately, resource guarding is also a behavior that we can change.
Please note, it is a mistake to label a dog with a resource guarding problem as ‘dominant’. It is too simplistic to think that everything a dog might do which his owners disapprove of is some kind of a bid for power, especially if it involves threat behavior. This label can also encourage owners to look for opportunities to dominate their dog when their time would be much better spent looking for opportunities to teach the dog not to guard his possessions, and to reward him for doing other things.
Here are a few of the myths about resource guarding, according to Jean Donaldson’s book “Mine! A Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs”.
- Myth #1: Resource guarding is abnormal behavior.
- Myth #2: Because resource guarding is driven largely by genetics, it can’t be changed.
- Myth #3: Resource guarding can be cured by making a dog realize that resources are abundant.
- Myth #4: Resource guarding is a symptom of “dominance” or “pushiness.”
- Myth #5: Resource guarding is the result of “spoiling” a dog.
So, if the answer is not to “dominate” your dog or provide him with an endless amount of food, then what is the answer? Simple: make your puppy or dog understand that the approach of a human to his food, toys, space, etc. is a Good Thing. The process is called classical conditioning. Just as the clicker is associated with treats in your dog’s mind, the approach of a human hand, face, or other body part to his food dish should mean better food is on its way.
The following steps should be done with all dogs, for their entire lives. Definitely practice this with young puppies. The only part that changes is how often you do these exercises, what sorts of things your dog has when you approach, and how close you can get to the dog before presenting it with the treat. Every capable member of the family should take part in these exercises, keeping safety first.
- Teach your dog to say Please. There are two reasons to do this. One is to teach your dog that humans are the source of all good things, and only by being polite and preforming commands does your dog get them from you. The second reason is for all family members to practice training with your dog, so that he listens to everyone in the family. This may or may not help with resource guarding, but it’s not a bad perk!
- Teach your dog to Drop It. Start with objects that your dog does not guard and treats that are highly valued. Then gradually work your way up to objects that he values more. Give your dog the object, a ball for example, and wait until he is holding it in his mouth. Ask for him to “drop it” and hold the treat in front of his nose. Reward and praise him for dropping the object, then give it back to him as soon as he’s done chewing. Practicing this cue, giving the resource back each time, helps the dog understand that giving away his resources to a human is a good thing, so there’s no reason to guard them.
- Teach your dog the Off cue. If your dog is guarding the furniture, teach him to jump off of it on cue. Get him up on the couch by patting on it or luring him with a treat. Don’t give the treat yet (we want to reward for “off”, not jumping on the couch). Then say “off” and lure him back onto the floor. If you use a clicker, click as soon as he heads off the couch. Give him the treat. Don’t start to teach off when your dog is all settled down on the couch. Work up to that level.
- Condition your dog to expect good things when you approach him. You will want to practice this with things your dog values, like his food or bones. Like with “drop it”, start with something your dog does not guard. Walk over, present the treat while he’s enjoying his low value bone or food, give him the treat and leave. Do this with several low value toys throughout the day. Repeat this for several days until he begins to look at you with excitement for the treat. With the low value objects, move up to touching the dog in some way (on his side for example), taking the object (often saying “drop it” first), then popping a high value treat in his mouth and returning the object. Over a period of weeks or more, gradually move up to repeating the above with higher and higher value toys or food. With high value toys/food/bones, start by just walking by your dog, out of the range that makes him growl, and dropping a treat. Move closer as the days go by. Repeat this entire process with several high value objects. After that, progress to doing this process with more people around and more distractions in the environment.
- Keep your dog from practicing resource guarding behavior. While you are working through this process, remove the toys that your dog guards from the living area, so that he can’t accidentally be triggered. If your dog guards his dinner, make sure no one approaches him while he is eating or give him his dinner in a separate room, for now. You can also feed him some of his meals by hand, having him practice and learn new commands while doing so. If your dog guards the couch, try to keep him off of it by not inviting him up and/or by making it uncomfortable to lay on (putting tin foil on the couch works for some dogs). Any approaches that you make to your dog at this time while he has a resource should be on purpose and accompanied by a treat.
Maintenance. After your dog or puppy is happily accepting any human approach to his food or toys, you are at the maintenance stage. Twice a week, at first, then once or twice per month, approach him while he’s eating, pick up the bowl, and put in a handful of treats before setting it back down. Do the same with toys or bones as well. Occasionally practice the “drop it” cue, replacing the surrendered object with something else if you really must take it away. Finally, continue the say please protocol for the rest of the dog’s life, incorporating new tricks as your dog learns them.
If you ever feel that you, your dog, or others are at risk because of your dog, please seek the services of a professional dog trainer. You can contact us at 803-210-9380 or email@example.com.
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