Dogs Protective of Toys and Food: How to Cure Resource Guarding in Dogs

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A must read for owners of resource guarders

Why are Some Dogs Resource Guarders?

The world at times seems to be split in two distinct categories of dogs: one one side there are dogs who can care less if you take their food or toys away, while on the other hand there are some dogs who have no problems in showing all their pearly whites accompanied by a deep guttural growl if you get an inch closer to their valuable items. As different as these reactions are, it is important to consider that resource guarding is quite a natural behavior in dogs.

Among dogs indeed resource guarding is very common. Simply watch a dog grab a bone and watch its reactions when other dogs come close by. Very likely, a quite threatening display may ensue involving freezing, tensing of the body, direct eye contact, snarling, growling and even biting if the other dog has the courage to get too close. This display increases considerably the closer the other dog gets. This aggressive display generally works quite well, indeed, most dogs will avoid a confrontation and respect the angry dog's space by moving away.

As much as greedy, possessive, or straightforward cruel, this display may appear, as humans, we may often display such same reactions in similar scenarios. Let's say you are at a train station and you notice somebody suspicious come around near you and try to attempt to steal your wallet. What would you do? Very like you would scream, try to threaten the person away or even attack the person to stop him from getting your hard earned money. As humans, we are very strong resource guarders, indeed we protect our valuables by keeping them in safes, vaults or banks, and when threatened to lose them, we often feel compelled to attack the intruder attempting to deprive us from such valuables!

In the dog world, money, jewelry or antiques have little value. Their most cherished items remain food, toys, mates, and favorite sleeping spots. Each dog has its own preferences over what is considered ''valuable''. For some it may be something as small as a candy wrapper, while for others it may be the carcass of a dead animal found in the yard.

Food guarding is the most common form of resource guarding in canines and it derives from a survival instinct. Indeed, if canines in the wild would not protect their food from other animals and dogs, they would risk not eating enough, considerably lowering their chances for survival. Despite being domesticated, this instinct still remains in today's dogs. Of course, when manifested towards the owner, it may cause feelings of fear, mistrust, and disappointment. ''How can you do this me? I feed you and this is what I get back?'' is something owners of resource guarders often think.

Truth is, there are some types of dogs predisposed to resource guarding more than others. Genetics, breed, age, lifestyle, feeding routines, level of training, and last but not least, the relationship with the owner, are all factors that may cause a dog to be more or less a resource guarder.

How a Resource Guarder is Made

There is belief that a dog may start resource guarding naturally, if it is predisposed to do so. All we need to do, is think of how a very young puppy starts resource guarding a particular nipple. It is not uncommon for a puppy to prefer nursing on a particular nipple and discourage all the other puppies from nursing from that very same nipple. However, in a relationship with humans, a dog may also start resource guarding because of negative experiences. This paves the path to a nice ''nature/nurture'' debate. Are dogs born to resource guard or do they learn to, through experience? It may likely be a combination of both.

A breeder, for instance, may elicit resource guarding in puppies by not supplying enough food bowls. The puppies will likely start fighting their way towards the food bowl and it may get nasty. A good breeder, should supply enough food bowls to discourage resource guarding at such a young age. Indeed, this is what most reputable breeders do.

In a home setting, dog owners often encourage resource guarding by taking valuable items away from the dog. The dog may be eating something perhaps not edible, and the dog owner may just grab it away. In the dog world this is the equivalent of STEALING YOUR WALLET. It is rude, and something another dog would rarely do.

Another way dog owners may encourage resource guarding is by bothering when the dog is eating. These dog owners are often concerned the dog may become a resource guarder, therefore they practice petting the dog while it eats and taking stuff away just to ''test'' the dog and keep it ''up to date''. They do not understand that this actually encourages resource guarding in the first place. See my hub ''How to Make a Dog Food Aggressive''.

How to Reduce and Stop Resource Guarding

Resource guarding is often plain and simple lack of trust. The dog is convinced that you want to take away the dog's food/toy/valuable item. There are several effective strategies to convince the dog otherwise. One of the most effective is to actually show the dog that instead of taking away something, you are adding to it. We will see these methods in detail.

1) No More Free Feeding

One of the biggest mistakes owners may make is free feeding the dog food. This means leaving food available all the time. Dogs fed this way learn that food does not come from the owner, it is just there and it belongs to them. It is important for owners to feed the dog and show the dog that they have control of such resources. This points out that owners are benevelont leaders, and as such, they control resources. You can read more about the nothing in life is free program here;

Nothing in life is free dog training program

2) No Free Lunch Program

Another great training method worth emphasizing for owners of resource guarders is the ''no free lunch program'' also known as ''nothing in life is free''. In this training method, dogs are not only not in charge of the food being dispensed, but they also have to obey a command in order to earn it. So a dog will get access to the food bowl only after sitting, laying down or obeying to some other command. This further emphasizes that owners not only control resources but they also control the dog's access to such resources.

3) Hand Feeding

Another great way of emphasizing that the food comes from the owner is to put the food bowl out of reach on a high table and hand feed the dog its kibble piece by piece. With this exercise the dog learns that the food comes from the owner and it belongs to the owner, therefore it is given one by one. The dog learns to depend on the owner for the food and associates the owner's presence with food. The owner therefore no longer is seen as a person ''taking away food'' but providing it repeatedly once piece at a time. Because the dog owner has ultimately access to the bowl, there is really nothing for the dog to guard.

4) The ''Free Bonus'' Method

The real best way to teach a dog to not guard its food is by using a combination of the above exercises with the '' free bonus '' method. As mentioned previously, the owner is no longer seen as a threat that takes away food but a friend that adds to it. Therefore, if the dog growls every time the dog owner walks past the food bowl, from this day every time the dog owner walks past the food bowl he or she tosses a nice piece of chicken liver.

With time, the dog will no longer be defensive, but should seek with anticipation the owner's presence. When done correctly, the dog's attitude and body language should visibly change. From tense, a dog may start exhibiting a tail wag, or may salivate or lick its lips in anticipation for the goody. To work well, initially the goody tossed by the food bowl should be far more superior to the kibble.

5) Teaching ''Drop it''

There are times, however, when a dog has an item it should not have, and the owner must be able to remove it safely. This is where the ''drop it'' command is needed. To teach the drop it command, owners should give the dog a toy, when the dog has it in the mouth, they should say ''drop it'' and show the dog a high value treat. The dog should drop the toy promptly to get the treat. As the dog gets good at it, more and more valuable items and foods are asked to be dropped. As a general rule, the food given in exchange for the item dropped must be always higher in value than the item dropped. The drop it command is the ideal way to take away items from the dog's mouth without resorting to ''rude'' behaviors that may make dogs defensive.

6) Teaching ''Leave it''

With the ''drop it'' command there should be a ''leave it'' command. The leave it command tells a dog to not take an item. Generally, the leave it command should be used before a drop it command. The leave it command says ''don't even think of taking that item you are seeing'' whereas the drop it command is saying ''drop whatever is in your mouth''. The leave it command is preventive. It prevents your dog from even attempting to resource guard since you are claiming the item as yours first.

To teach ''leave it'' you get an item your dog likely wants and you put it on the floor. The moment your dog gets ready to get it, you say ''leave it'' in a firm tone of voice and cover it with your foot. You must be stronger willed than your dog in this. Repeat until, you can say ''leave it'' and you no longer need to cover the item with your foot because the dog gets the message and gave up on it. When the dog does this, give your dog a treat (not the item on the floor). Repeat with higher value items, and upgrade the exercise by putting an item on the floor and walking with your dog past it on leash and saying ''leave it'' if the dog leaves it, it gets rewarded with a treat (never the item on the floor).

These exercises work great for resource guarders, but are also a good way to prevent a dog from becoming a resource guarder. Therefore should be incorporated in training. Even to this day, I casually toss a treat as I walk by my dogs chewing on their bones, to maintain my role as the ''provider of good things''.

Disclaimer: Please use extreme caution when dealing with dog behavior problems. Readers assume full responsibility for their actions. A dog behaviorist may be necessary for severe cases of resource guarding. Children or strangers should never approach a dog who is eating, sleeping or with a toy.

Copyright notice: You are not authorized to copy in any way any of my articles or pictures. A great deal of my articles are copied and the ones picked up by my plagiarism tool are promptly reported to DMCA. All Rights Reserved.



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Donna Sundblad profile image

Donna Sundblad 4 years ago from Georgia

What an excellent hub, with so much useful information many dog owners will find useful. You don't just let us know what resource guarding is...or that it can be a problem...you offer steps to help change it. I've voted up and shared on facebook.

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    alexadry profile image

    Adrienne Janet Farricelli (alexadry)1,689 Followers
    1,246 Articles

    Adrienne Farricelli is a former veterinary hospital assistant and now a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of dog books.



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