Resource guarding (food, toys, etc.) is a common problem among dog owners. In the first post I talked about how we define resource guarding, what does it look like and what are the usual causes. Now we will discuss the options you have if your dog is a resource guarder:
- management – making everyone safe again
- emergency interventions
What can you do when your dog is already showing resource guarding behaviors? For starters, effective training won’t be possible as long as your dog constantly ends up in situations where they feel they need to guard stuff.
First of all, that means that the dog keeps practicing the unwanted behaviors. Secondly, behavior problems put a lot of stress on both dog and owner. They destroy trust and damage the relationship. Worst case, the dog and owner end up fearing each other but you can only improve the situation when everyone feels safe again. That’s what management is for.
Here is a couple of ideas:
- the dog gets to eat behind closed doors – neither the people, nor other animals can disturb them
- you have to put away all objects that your dog guards
- if the dog guards your children’s toys*, the children get to play with them only in their room (if that’s not possible or you don’t want to separate the family members, you can use play pens and baby gates)
If you have a child, read my blog posts on this topic:
- Children and dogs – a perfect match?
- Teach your child the do’s and don’ts
- Learn canine body language together
Unfortunately, you can’t predict everything and management fails. That’s why you must have a plan for emergency situations. Unnecessary conflicts can undo a lot of the training progress you made and it’s important to avoid that at all costs.
- Teach your dog to swap stuff (for example one toy for another or for food). Be prepared – have food stashed away in multiple places in the flat, so that it’s always close by.
- Use Chirag Patel’s counting game.
- If your dog guards toys, make sure they have enough of their own toys and that you play together enough.
- Teach your child to never ever take stuff out of the dog’s mouth. If there is a problem they should call you!
- Teach a reliable recall, so that you can call your dog away if something happens.
In case of resource guarding, the goal of training is to create positive associations with a person or a dog approaching while your dog has a resource. For example, if your dog guards their bowl, we would like them to look up at your hopefully when you approach, instead of growling.
The following text contains some ideas for training, it is not a complete training plan! If you struggle with resource guarding, contact a professional.
If we stick with the food bowl example, we first must determine what factors influence the dog’s behavior:
- Do they only guard a full bowl, or an empty bowl as well?
- What does resource guarding look like for your dog, how does it escalate?
- At what distance does your dog start guarding?
- Is there a difference between family members?
- So far how have you or your family members handled this situation?
Then you must create the right conditions for training:
- The appropriate distance – when the dog notices the person or the other animal, but does not react (for example stiffen, fixate).
- High value reinforcers – cooperation must pay off for the dog!
- Safety – if necessary, you can use equipment like a leash, a baby gate or a muzzle.
Find the hierarchy, starting from the easiest to the hardest level, for example:
- empty food bowl (you can start fresh with a new one)
- food bowl with a couple of pieces of kibble
- food bowl with more and more kibble
- food bowl with kibble mixed with wet food
Each level has multiple steps, such as:
- approaching the food bowl
- approaching the food bowl and moving a hand towards it without touching
- approaching the food bowl, touching the bowl for 1s
- the approach must occur from different angles and distances
- each family member who feeds the dog should complete these steps
- you should practice at various times
The above text contains some ideas for training, it is not a complete training plan! If you struggle with resource guarding, contact a professional.
If you’re interested in this topic I recommend Jean Donaldson’s book “Mine! A practical guide to resource guarding”.