I’ve had several clients whose dogs have growled over food, toys or other items–even a person in some cases!–which can indicate what is commonly known as resource guarding.
Resource guarding is a completely normal behavior, first of all. If the zombie apocalypse happened today, all of us would be guarding our valued resources from others. It is a drive that protects our very survival, so the first step is to realize that this is a normal behavior, and one that can be modified if your dog might be a little too zealous in protecting what is “his.”
An essential part of treating a resource guarding dog is to help the dog understand that nothing bad happens when he gives up something of value to him. In the end, we want him to realize that your approach, or the approach of another person or animal, is a good thing. We do this through a process of reconditioning the dog’s response to one of being relaxed, or even happy, when such an approach is made, instead of going on guard or demonstrating what might be labeled as aggressive behaviors.
For instance, if your dog guards his food bowl, walk by it when he is near it and throw a high-value treat into the bowl. You’ll want to start this process from the farthest distance as to not elicit the guarding behavior he demonstrates; so if he will growl if you are within one foot of the bowl, start from two. Gradually decrease and vary the space and factors, as time and progress are made. We never want to elicit a guarding response and we want to reward all calm behavior. In time, this will give him a reason to enjoy your approach!
Another way to demonstrate to your dog that nothing bad happens when he gives up something of value to him is to trade the item. Present a wonderful treat to get that toy out of his mouth. By trading, he won’t feel like he’s lost something, and therefore will be less likely to feel he has to guard what he has.
It’s also essential to reinforce essential behaviors and cues that will help with teaching him impulse control and proper manners, such as “off,” “take it,” “drop it” and “leave it.” Bone-sharing exercises are also helpful to reinforce that all good things come from you, and that he can share and enjoy valued resources.
Management is also crucial, particularly when the resource guarding is at a more extreme level. Use gates, crates and tethers as needed to keep everyone safe. Ensure high-value items aren’t just lying around. It’s important to be mindful to manage the environment to set the dog up for success, as well as prevent any guarding incidents. The more a dog engages in a behavior, the more likely it is to happen, so we don’t want him to be easily able to guard any resources while treating the problem!
Resource guarding can be a very serious issue and we advise obtaining help from professionals if you’re facing it. Please call us to discuss your case and how we can help!
Owner, Delightful Doggies