Resource Guarding 

Most dogs will automatically guard their food or other items which they consider valuable. Dogs don’t understand polite rules of ownership: if a dog sees something he fancies lying around, he cannot see any reason why he should not help himself. So, dogs will tell each other, usually by means of freezing, staring, growling or snarling, if an object or food item belongs to them and is not up for grabs.

 

This sort of behaviour amongst dogs in a household is not a problem, as long as none of the dogs start fights or does damage to the other dogs while guarding objects nor guards anything and everything (including the owner) to the point where all the other dogs are clearly walking on eggshells around them! However, for the safety of our dogs and ourselves it is very important that they do not guard objects from us and that we can take anything away from them at any time if the need arises.

This does not mean that we should bully our dogs with an “I’m the boss and all things are mine” attitude. While this sort of mentality is popular in some dog circles, it does nothing to improve the relationship between dogs and their owners and often makes dogs even more likely to react aggressively around food and other objects of value (toys and treats).

The best way to prevent a dog from being possessive of his “stuff” is to teach him that we are not in competition with him and that he can in fact trust us completely with everything that he values. We can do this by always making it worthwhile for our dogs to give up objects, because when they do really good things happen!

 

Here are some practical examples of how to do this in various situations:

 

 

Food-bowl exercises:

  1. Instead of dishing up all of your puppy’s food, dish up only a quarter of the food and keep the rest in a container in your hands.

  2. Wait near the bowl until your puppy is finished eating and then add another handful of food to the bowl. Your puppy will see your hand coming and find that instead of taking his food away, the hand is actually bringing more food. Repeat this until all the food is finished.

  3. Follow the same procedure next time, but start adding more food to the bowl just before your pup has finished what is already in the bowl so that your pup gets used to hands approaching his actual food and not just an empty bowl.

  4. On the next occasion practise walking away from the bowl and coming back to add more food to it. In this way your puppy will also welcome people approaching him and his bowl while he is eating.

  5. Once these exercises are no problem at all, you can begin approaching your puppy at random times while he is eating and adding a tasty treat to the bowl (make sure what you are adding is better than what your pup already has in the bowl).

 

Teaching your puppy to give up toys, chews and bones when asked to do so:

  1. Find a quiet room where there are no other dogs or distractions and give your puppy a toy, chew or bone to chew or play with for a couple of minutes.

  2. Offer your puppy a really special treat (cheese or biltong), wait for him to drop the chew and then give him the treat. Let him pick the chew up again when he has finished the treat. Repeat this several times and leave it at that for the first session.

  3. Next session, go through the same procedure,  but this time pick the chew up after it has been dropped and as you give your puppy the treat. Praise him like mad, let him eat the treat and then give him the toy, chew or bone back again immediately.

  4. Practice this exercise over and over again, until your puppy happily gives you the toy, chew or bone because he knows that he will get a treat and will get the toy, chew or bone back again.

  5. Introduce a gentle word or phrase like “Give it to mum!” when asking your pup to give up whatever he has. This should not be a battle, so it is not necessary to shout or use a demanding voice.

General tips:

  1. Always give your puppy back his toy, chew or bone once he has given it to you. This is the greatest reward for him and he will see no reason not to give it up if he knows he will get it back again.

  2. If your puppy grabs something he should not have, follow the same procedure, but replace the inappropriate object with an appropriate one. Then make a mental note to be more careful about what you leave lying around in the future!

  3. When it is time to put toys away after a game, distract your puppy and remove the toy surreptitiously when his attention is elsewhere. This way you do not “punish” him for willingly giving up his toy by taking it away from him.

 

Resource guarding is one of the easiest things to “cure” when it comes to dogs guarding things from their owners. Only a few sessions can change a dog’s behaviour dramatically, so if your puppy is a resource guarder, start these exercises today!

Kommetjie Canine College

Kommetjie

Cape Town

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