Resource guarding is a very common type of aggressive behavior that often results in a bite! Not all dogs care to guard possessions, but some dogs turn into Gollum from “The Hobbit,” and that possession becomes “My Precious!”
“Resources” are items that have value to a dog….food, water, toys, bones, people…etc. The dog doesn’t want to lose them for fear that he will go hungry, thirsty, have nothing to play with, or no one to keep them safe. As a result, they resort to growling, snapping and even biting to protect what they believe is rightfully theirs.
This behavior can get started by well meaning owners who take their puppy’s food bowl or toys away to show them who is the boss. This can actually make the behavior worse, rather than making it better! In my opinion, your dog should never, ever have to fear that you will take his food or toys away from him!
So what’s an owner to do?
For Dogs Who Don’t Already Guard Resources….
You can easily help teach your dog not to guard food and toys in a very stress free manner! While your dog is eating, drop little tidbits of high value food into his bowl. You can use little shreds of fresh chicken, beef or even cheese. Don’t touch his bowl or him initially, but let him learn that when you approach him while he’s eating, it’s always because you want to give him something and that it’s always something really tasty! Over time, you can add in quickly running your hand down your dog’s back after you leave his extra tidbit for him and then leave him alone! Do not wallow all over your dog while he’s eating! That’s completely unfair to him! I think all creatures, human or animals, simply want to eat in peace. In my opinion, that’s just called respect, and I think your dog will appreciate your allowing him that boundary.
When you need to take something from a dog….contraband, a chew bone or toy, etc., trade your dog for something that you know has equal or higher value. This might be another toy that your dog likes better, or a treat in many cases. In order for the dog to take the new item that you are offering, he has to spit out what he has in his mouth first. As you offer the replacement, ask your dog to “Drop It.” After he spits out the first item, you can quickly pick it up or kick it away to safely pick up. If he’s unwilling to trade you, chances are, he thinks what he has is better than what you’re offering to him. You’ll need to be sure you’re offering something of equal or higher value in your dog’s opinion.
Grabbing things from your dog is just rude, and that’s why they often want to snap, growl or bite! None of us want a dog who will guard his possessions! However, so many people make things waaaaay worse by “trying” to make it better!! By trading your dog something else that he wants, he won’t even miss the first thing he’s giving up….provided that the replacement that you are offering is equal or higher value than what he has. Most dogs will do an easy trade, and it’s seamless and non-confrontational!
Think About What Sorts of Chew Toys You Give Your Dogs….
At my house, it’s man-made toys only. Many dogs will get ugly over rawhides, pig ears, chew hooves, antlers, bully sticks, etc. The common denominator is that all of those items were once part of a living, breathing, animal, and some dogs treat those items as if they are his “kill.” Wild animals who are carnivores often chew the bones of the animals they consume, and even our domesticated dogs have an innate desire to chew bones. However, to some dogs, I think that as they chew whatever that natural chew is, they dream of how they killed that animal and that hidden “beast” comes out in them. Sadly, children are often the targets of a dog’s aggression where resource guarding is concerned, so this is very very dangerous behavior!! It’s also an area of frequent dog-on-dog aggression with multiple dogs in a household. I always recommend only man-made toys for my clients. I rarely encounter aggressive resource guarding issues with those types of items.
Teach Your Dog the Command Leave It…
“Leave It” is one of the most useful commands you can teach your dog! It has such universal applications, and I find myself using it daily with Rugby! It generally means leave something alone…and that something can be a jogger or another dog on a walk, a squirrel in the back yard, or food which might have been dropped in the kitchen.
When I teach this command, I start with the dog on a loose leash. I have a handful of kibble or treats. I make sure I’m working on a floor surface that has a rug available for my dog to comfortably sit or down when he signals to me.
I gently drop a bite of food behind me and slightly off to the side as I say, “Drop It!” Naturally, your dog will try to quickly pounce on that bite of food. Without saying a word, I simply block the dog’s ability to get to the food by stepping in front of him. He will continue to try various things to get to the food, which is fine. He’s problem solving. Stay quiet and let him work. As much as you can, keep your leash loose.
At some point, he’s going to give up. When he’s signalling that he gives up, he will sit or lay down, (either one is acceptable) and he will also look up at you. He must sit or down, and also look at you. Most dogs sit first, and then look up. At the moment that he does both of those things, you’ll mark his behavior by saying, “Yesssss!” in a happy, excited voice! You’ll give him a bite of food from your hand, plus the original bite of food that you dropped on the floor. Be sure he stays sitting, or wait for him to sit in order to get the food from your hand.
Don’t allow him to grab the bite off the floor himself. He needs to get that bite from your hand only. Remember that most of the time when you’re telling your dog to “Leave It,” he’s honestly not going to be allowed to have whatever it is that he wants. So be sure you let him know that any time he hears “Leave It” the only way he can actually have the item is when you hand it to him.
Over time what you’ll likely see, is that your dog will stop trying to get the food, remain sitting or laying down, and simply watch you drop it and then look up at you. If he doesn’t go after the food, I stay put. I don’t block the food unless the dog tries to get it. After a few repetitions, the dog will figure out the rules of your game! You’re teaching him that giving up quickly, easily, and asking you, “Now what?” will earn him a better reward than by following his doggie impulse to grab that bite no matter what! Impulse control is a very important skill to teach your dog, and this is a fun game and great way to do it!
Keep in mind that dogs don’t generalize quickly, so it will take him a long time to understand that “Leave It” with a bite of food on the floor is going to be very different than “Leave It” when he’d rather chase that squirrel that he sees on a walk with you! Just teach it the way I’ve described, and start using the phrase, “Leave it” in everyday language with your dog. Over time, he will sort things out, and it will make sense to him.
My Dog is Already a Resource Guarder! What Do I Do?
I have a short and sweet suggestion: Hire professional help in trying to work through the issue! Once your dog is already aggressive, I don’t recommend doing ANY of the things I’ve suggested in order to prevent the problem behavior…UNLESS you are directed to do so by a professional dog trainer! When a dog is guarding something, trying to offer a trade may very well result in a dog bite!
Aggressive behavior modification should always be directed by a seasoned, experienced professional! When I work through these issues with dogs, I have a protocol to follow, and getting things out of order can make things worse and not better, so please seek professional help with ANY active aggression from your dog!