One of the trickiest canine behaviors to live with and understand is Resource Guarding. Why is it so difficult? It is very common for guarding dogs to be lovely, sweet, fun creatures 98% of the time. Then BAM! You forget that your dog gets snarky over sticks until you have to pry one out of his gremlin mouth.
Resources can also change. When I mention this to clients and begin showing them exercises to prevent guarding the couch and bed; the response I often hear is “he’s never growled at me when I get on the couch”. Simply because he never HAS does not mean he never WILL. I have met dogs who gracefully share the bed with their humans while nastiness is limited to food. Then, one day mom and dad try to crawl into bed after a long day and there is Fido standing in the middle of the mattress barking and snarling. Yikes! I’ll say it again, resource can change. Here are a few simple tips to keep your dog in good graces and keep you safe:
It is not a “dominant” behavior. It sure looks that way but dogs can guard items because they are constantly guessing where they stand in their world. One minute they bark at their human and human gets up to feed them. Then, when out on a walk, human shouts at them for barking at another dog across the street. Hmmm, I’d be confused too.
Establish rules and stick to them. Don’t give in to your dog’s every whim in the house but instead have him or her do something (anything!) to earn their organic food, expensive toys and shared couch time. You can still spoil your dog. Just do so for good behavior; not pushy or demanding behavior. Barking, pawing and nudging are all demanding but so is staring. If you have tried this unsuccessfully, I find it works best if you make a plan. Rather than wait for your dog to jump on the couch and you chase him OFF; set aside a couple minutes a day to play the On & Off Game. Have your dog “sit” and “wait” then invite him on the couch. Happily say “off” and REWARD for jumping off. No need to treat for jumping on the couch, it is a reward all on it’s own. But, treating for jumping off the couch tells your dog that good things happen when he does just that.
Don’t bring out the big guns. It is very common when a dog is growling over a bone to want to bring out that particular item to practice “leave it” and “drop” it. However, training is practicing cues in a setting where the dog can be successful. If your dog is lunging and baring teeth over a bone; it is not practice to try a “drop” with that bone. Build up skills with other items first and always use common sense. I like to build strong “leave it” and “drop” daily with easy items before even getting close to more serious items to prevent any injury.
Teach your dog that good things happen. You can stick your hand in a VERY young puppy’s food bowl (four months and younger). However, if your dog is older than that AND growling over food, do not stick your hands in their food while they are eating! You are doing exactly what your dog is terrified you will do…steal their food. Instead, before putting the bowl down take half of the food and sit it on your kitchen counter. Have your dog “sit” and “wait” before placing the other half on the ground. As he is eating, toss a piece in and walk away. Repeat and keep yourself at a nice distance to prevent ANY tension. Remember you are teaching your dog to LOVE you coming towards the bowl, not become defensive.
Resources can change and growling is a last resort for many dogs. Educate yourself on what your dog is trying to communicate to prevent putting him or you in this awful position and practice your training everyday so your dog learns it’s fun to look to you.
For more information about teaching “leave it” and “drop” to resource guarding dogs, we have a video available for download.