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Preventing Resource Guarding

Resource Guarding in Dogs How To Prevent it

With dogs resource guarding is a common issue. As a dog trainer and behaviourist, I can quite easily say that around 50% of dog owners experience resource guarding from their own dog in one way or another. This can be quite difficult, especially when it comes to the bond between the owner and their dog, for the health of the dog (if there is guarding going on and they won’t give up something that’s harmful) and also for the owner’s safety at times (if the dog behaves with snapping or biting when the object is taken from them.

What causes Resource Guarding in Dogs?

It is really important to try and prevent resource guarding tendencies early on in puppy hood. We want to teach the dog a mindset of wealth rather than a mindset of poverty.

Sadly, when we get our puppy (at the earliest 8 weeks of age), your dog has already had the option to learn that only insistently holding on to possessions will improve the chances of keeping them. The dogs litter mates did not ask politely to share items that they all wanted – instead, young puppies already grab toys and bones from one other, play keep-away, growl and pretty much get a head-start in practising their skills at resource-guarding.

On the whole, resource guarding is created by the dog’s earliest experiences around items that are valuable to the dog (such as food and toys) and sometimes other dogs: The dog learns that unless they defends it, they’ll loses it!

Why do puppies exhibit resource guarding?

For us to understand why resource guarding is so common in dogs and why they defend their possessions so intensely, we need to look at how the dog see valuables to start with.

In your dog’s eyes, they don’t own anything apart from what they have next to them at that exact second. Dogs don’t see objects as being “theirs” except when an item is actually in their actual possession.

Some dogs will like and look for certain places, toys, items to chew etc, a dog who is socially well-balanced will not guard some thing as being theirs that isn’t their sat that exact moment.

This applies regardless of their position within a group of dogs.

Here’s an example, an older dog is relaxing and chewing on a bone. The dog stop chewing and gets up, a young puppy goes and takes the bone and starts having chew on it. The bone is now out of bounds to the other dog. The dog might sit and watch the puppy and the dog might appear to want the bone, but if the dog is a socially well-adjusted adult dog then they will not go over to the puppy and steal it (even though the older dog is physically superior and could with out a doubt get the bone with no issues).

So this means that once your dog has for example a bone, it can become very precious to them. They have no idea that they can have it again later, or that they have other over a dozen other chew toys that are knocking about the house.
Your dog only knows that they own that one bone and that’s the one in front of them.

It’s crucial that we understand and respect exactly how valuable an article can be for a dog when we are dealing with resource guarding.

Try to see whatever your dog has through your dogs eyes: Truly this is the only item that the dog owns in the whole world.

If you can try and appreciate the rarity that comes with this notion that your dog has for possessions, then it will be easier for you to be mindful as well as being cautious when it comes to helping your dog actually letting go of it.

How to deal with your puppy if it growls at you.

Great news, tendencies to resource guard can be stopped or amended with the right approach. It should be one of every dog owners priorities to taking the correct route to keeping resource guarding at bay.

Personally i recommend that you make this your number one training priority to over come this behaviour, if your dog is showing signs of resource guarding.

Sadly, with guarding tendencies aggressive behaviour can soon follow suit. With a puppy that growls whenever you try and take something from them, they can quickly grow up to be an adult dog that will show extreme guarding behaviour around any food bowl, toy or chew item.

It is crucial that you never punish a dog for growling at you. Growling is the dogs way of telling you they are feeling very uncomfortable. If you do punish that growl, the next step your dog might decide to take could possibly be a bite.

If your puppy or adult dog growls at you over resources, address this as quickly as possible before it becomes a very big problem!

Please note: If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unable to deal with your dog’s resource guarding behaviour in a safe way, then please invest in a professional dog trainer or behaviourist who will do in person training. Signals from the dogs body language can easily be missed and drive the dog further into resource guarding because of invading the dogs space too much. Because there’s potential fore scalation with resource guarding, an animal behaviourist might be required to help with certain cases on an individual basis.

Can a dog grow out of resource guarding?

The simple answer is no, dogs don’t just “grow out of resource guarding”. But, there is the likelihood that the resource guarding will escalate over a period of time!

If your dog is showing signs of resource guarding, you will need to work on this on a daily basis to deal with this behaviour, or it will only get more intense.

The more the dogs patience is pushed, then the more deep rooted the resource guarding will be. It is important that you deal with this slowly and thoughtfully and you teach your dog that they don’t have to be fearful of you around there resources.

How to train a dog who has resource guarding behaviour.

I’m not a fan of the sometimes practised style of training the dog to swap by offering an alter native item and then to straight away grab for the item they have, sometimes this is done before the dog has even accepted the swap item.

Every time this method of training is used the dog gets more and more cautious until the dog finally stops taking the trade and just growls and moves away with the article as soon as we try and approach them.

Alternatively, when I need to remove the dogs valuable item, I’ll make sure that they think it is a great idea to trade the item first and forgets about how valuable their possession was. This method isn’t the quickest way to retrieve the item back from your dog, but is definitely the safest. When working on your dog’s resource guarding behaviour, remember that you are not just trying to get back an object that the dog has in their possession at that exact second.

The truth is, you’re creating a prolonged state of mind in your dog. If your dog isn’t happy at the fact that you taken away their possession away today, then this will certainly reflect in the way your dog reacts tomorrow. The dog will get a lot more defensive when it comes to any object sin their immediate surroundings over time. If there is an immediate danger or risk of death to your dog, then do not take a possession away quickly. Obviously if your dog has taken a bar of dark chocolate off the kitchen worktop, then you need to retrieve it back as quick as you can. But in a lot of cases, whatever your dog has in its possession does not have to be taken from them straight away in that exact second. If you just take a few minutes rather than jumping straight in, you can reduce the amount of guarding and any aggression your dog will exhibit by quite a lot.

The safest way to go near a Dog who has a possession.

Example, if a dog is chewing on a slipper that I want to swap for a chew toy that is more appropriate, then you wouldn’t just give them the toy and as soon as the dog look sat it, opens their mouth and lets the slipper go and you snatch it away. Dogs are attracted to movement and the chances are that the moment of you swiftly removing the object will attract your dogs attention and you dog wants that object back. If you try to achieve it by being fast then this may work now, but you dog will soon learn that next time they need to hold on better and be more vigilant, and unfortunately you will have an even harder time trying to win against your dogs in quickness.

Alternatively, try approaching the situation like this: take a chew toy ready to have for an exchange, sit down with your dog and let the chew toy move across the floor. Make it so its a chase – just like they are attracted to the movement of the slipper, your dog will be attracted by the movement of the chew toy. When your dog lets go of the slipper and grabs the chew toy, don’t reach for the slipper straight away– But instead, keep on playing with the chew toy to make sure your dog is really motivated by it. When your dog shows adequate interest let them have it and go and reach for the slipper slowly. Don’t go wading in, don’t pussyfoot, and don’t make it a big deal. Ideally your dog likes the exchange so much that they don’t really care. If your dog comes rushing back to the slipper, stop moving it, take the chew toy and again lure them with it in a game.

The concept is to show the dog that your exchange is always going to be greater, always going to be a lot more fun, and that you won’t try to trick the dog by quickly stealing their first object(because your dog will remember that and they will certainly be a lot faster the next time!).

But what if the situation is different and you can’t take your time due to your dog having hold of something that could cause them harm and is guarding it already from you? (It might be that they have stolen a chocolate bar off the kitchen table) When it comes to a situation like this then take a handful of the tastiest treats you have or some meat from the fridge. If your dog is happy for you to go near them(is not growling, lunging or running away from you.) get close to your dog and hold the treats straight in front of their nose. It can sometimes take a few seconds for the dog to really breathe in the scent of the treats and be certain that they are really good, then to suddenly let go and take them. But again, if this does happen then it is not your first priority to jump in and snatch the dogs valuable possession– it is important that you make your dog believe that this is a fantastic trade. They get another treat, and another. Throw the other treats a little further away so that your dog starts to move away from their possession. When they leave the possession to go and get the treats you can then go and pick it up, but carry on playing your treat game. you don’t want your dog to all of a sudden realise that you’ve stopped the treats and taken away their prize possession– You can quite clearly see the look of shock on the dog’s face in these circumstances at times. So, the change between having the item, releasing the item to eat the treats and actually having the possession taken away whilst eating the treats should be an easy, no-hassle affair. Your dog will realise their own mistake and this will make them guard the possession and decline any treats in the future. You want to ignore this behaviour. The treat game can take anything from a minute or more if its required! What do you do if your dog is already walking away with his possession? Trying to catch and cornering your dog and taking the object should only be used for the circumstances when nothing else has worked, as it will certainly increase the likelihood of your dog becoming a resource guarder. Instead, try using a variation of the treat game that is mentioned above in the last section– have your treats ready and throw them at your dog, trying to get them to land as close to your dogs nose as possible. Don’t be a Scrooge and just throw one or two treats– Throw plenty of tiny cut up frankfurters or hot dog pieces The mixture of movement and scent is often enough for your dog to become inquisitive with them, keep throwing the treats and there is the likelihood your dog may let go of their possession to eat some.

This isn’t the time to dash in and take what your dog has.

If you’ve come to the stage where your dog has eaten a couple of treats, the chances are your dog will eat more. You don’t want to make your dog cautious of you by making rapid movements towards your dogs possession. Alternative, keep on throwing those treats during the game, and throw them further and further away. In the end you can steadily reach for your dogs possession without any excitement. Pick up the possession and carry on playing. I have myself experience in doing this with one of my own dogs back when she was a puppy. She would decide to take something whether it was my shoe, which she would just pull off my foot and would resource guard it as though it was the best thing in the world, for her I had to use Kong paste and smear it on something close by for her to drop the possession and go and lick the paste.

When possible, make sure that your dog does not seethe trade as one where they think that they have ended up with the disadvantage.

Remember your training goal for the long term: This is to make your dog feel comfortable around you and have them trust you.

Your dog took a jumper from the washing basket? Don’t chase them or try and take it out of their mouth. Your dog is not in any direct harm and this is a good opportunity to train your dog. Grab some tasty treats that your dog likes and carry out the training what was mentioned above.

It is so annoying when your dog steals something and doesn’t want to give it up. It is so very tempting to just totally overpower your dog and get the object back. This might work for small adult dogs and puppies. However this does not work for large and giant dogs and it certainly does not build that trust that is needed between you and your dog! It is definitely worth it just to invest a little more of your time when trying to get an item back from your dog.

Except if your dog is in real danger (like if they have stolen a bar of chocolate), let them have the object for a bit longer while you apply our concept. In the long run this will certainly pay off. You will have a dog who is content and happy to give up their possession at any time as they have learnt that to do this it is worth their while.

If your dog sees that giving up on their prize possessions is a bad idea, then the harder its going to be to persuade them otherwise.

Be proactive by taking an approach that will prevent resource guarding and don’t allow it to become an issue in the first place.

Remember that quick movement will attract your dogs attention! Make the trading for the item as calm and slowly as possible. And keep yourself safe.

Copyright 11 March 2024

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