Does your dog growl and snap when someone goes near them when they are eating? Or playing with a toy? These are all examples of resource guarding. It doesn’t have to be an object, dogs can also show it with a person such as their owner (some may call it “jealousy”) or a location such as a bed or couch. This behavior is very dangerous and it’s our responsibility as dog owners to manage it for everyone’s safety, including the dog’s. If your dog finds a large cooked bone in the trash but you are unable to take it away from them the dog can get incredibly sick or possibly die. And remember, a dog bite is incredibly serious. No matter whose fault it was, if your dog bites a person it can result in your dog being reported and euthanized.
Resource guarding is natural in animals, especially with high value things because these animals would survive better in the wild but the behavior is unacceptable in a domestic setting. For example, some people believe raw food makes their dogs aggressive because they start to growl or snap while eating it. This is a myth, these dogs are resource guarding because the raw food is high value to them. Is your dog too protective of something? Here are some tips to break the habit!
First, find the trigger. Is your dog food aggressive or toy aggressive? Remember anything can be seen as valuable to your dog! Is he guarding against humans, dogs, or both? Most dogs won’t show the behavior until they have full possession of the item. For example, holding a chew while your dog is chewing on it is okay but once they gain full control over it, they become dangerously possessive. Remember to set your dog up for success. For dogs with food aggression, don’t practice training sessions while your dog is hungry and trying to eat dinner. It’s also best to keep your dog on a leash during training sessions for your own safety and to give you better control.
Redirect or Lure:An easy method is to redirect their attention off of their resource. Provide them with something even more high value with a trade. If your dog guards a chew, offer or lure him away with a higher value chew or treat. Remember to mark and reward the behavior you want (physically and mentally leaving the first chew). Timing is crucial or you may mistakenly reward his guarding behavior instead! You can also ask for some behaviors before the reward such as sit, eye contact, etc. When your dog takes the new treat, remove the original chew and return it to them.
Counter Conditioning: In moderate to severe cases such as your dog growling even if you try to walk by them, you can counter condition their feelings towards someone approach them by making it a positive experience. Casually pass by while tossing high value rewards such as pieces of cheese or boiled chicken. The goal is for your dog to think: I like it when you come near me. With puppies, you can prevent resource guarding by adding small handfuls of food to their bowl so they learn: I like it when your hand comes near my bowl!
“Out” or “Leave It” command: It’s important for the dog to physically AND mentally move away from the object it’s guarding so your dog must learn an Out command. First, have your dog in a sit and stay with a leash. For dogs that guard their food bowl for example, present the food bowl on the floor. Your dog should wait for permission without us having to ask for them to wait. Then, give your dog permission with a release command like “OK” or “Release” to eat. Give the command “Out”, apply leash pressure (training tools such as an e-collar are very effective and much safer for these cases). Increase pressure until the dog backs away completely. If your dog tries to go for the food, correct them to let them know the behavior is unacceptable. The goal is to reset their eating protocol, the dog must learn to eat and stop eating on our command. This option is also helpful for dogs that guard when other dogs around.
Create the right environment: Feed your dog in a location where it can’t be disturbed such as a crate or pen. For dogs that are toy aggressive especially around other dogs, don’t keep toys lying around. Many toy aggressive dogs and dogs that don’t understand social cues will frequent dog parks which is a recipe for disaster. Boundaries and barriers are extremely important.
If your dog has an outburst during training, take a step back. Training and reprogramming unwanted behaviors requires many successful repetitions. Remember to be patient and calm! Be open to different training options and tools, resource guarding can be a serious and life-threatening issue! If you or your dog’s safety is in danger, working with a behaviorist who has had experience with dogs with food aggression is a good idea. Eventually, a dog that understands how to share will improve the harmony in your household.