A dog who guards food, toys, beds or other tangible items is resource guarding. He may growl or bark, often at unpredictable times, when other dogs or people come to close to the resource. In some cases, the dog will lie close to the item and keep others from it, in other cases, a dog may lie across the room waiting for the invisible barrier around the resource to be broken and his cue to jump-up, run across the room, and correct the entity that dared approach the guarded resource.
This scenario can prove to be very dangerous for young children and adults unaware of the situation if it is allowed to progress unchecked. Plus, for the benefit of your resource guarding dog, working with him to curb this behavior will likely decrease a source of his daily stress.
Fairness is an important part of retraining this behavior. We must communicate to the dog that we are fair pack leaders. For example, once food is placed in the dog’s bowl, it will not be taken away. If the dog learns this, there is less reason to protect the bowl and it’s contents. Resource protecting of toys is addressed below.
One way to come to an understanding with the resource protecting dog about eating is through hand feeding. This exercise shows the dog you are not only the provider of food but you want him to have it. However, for most resource protecting dogs, it may be difficult at first for them to be gentle eaters from the hand. Be sure to present food to your dog by placing kibble at the joint between your pointer and index fingers held in place by your thumb. Be sure to keep your palm and fingers as flat as possible to avoid being bitten. If you find this position to cumbersome, placing the kibble in the palm of your hand is perfectly acceptable, it only limits the control you have over the kibble. Avoid the temptation to hand the food to the dog using the tips of your fingers. No matter how gentle your dog is, you are giving him the unnecessary opportunity to bite you.
Being a Leader
Remember, our job as pet owners is to be good pack leaders. Good pack leaders do not distribute resources and then ask for them back. You wouldn’t give a toddler a fantastic new toy and then take it back without expecting a temper tantrum; a dog will respond in a similar way if given resources are withdrawn.
If your dog is a resource protector of toys, you will need to assess how you play with him. If your dog believes that possessing a toy is a rare opportunity, that you routinely take toys from him, he will resist giving up his toys and prevent anyone else from possessing them.
Training your dog to trust you will return the toy to him is the subject of another article. Stay tuned for Teach the Release – Resource Guarding Part 2.
*Image by Mr.TinDC