What is Resource Guarding?
Resource guarding refers to a dog displaying behaviour, such as growling or snapping, intended to communicate to others to stay away from something they consider of high value or importance. The resource can be food, treats, toys, an item like a favourite chair, or occasionally a person. Dogs have evolved as opportunistic feeders, and it’s natural for them to protect what they consider to be “theirs” from potential takers. That said, resource guarding can be a serious problem if a dog threatens to bite their family when they try to take something away. It is important to teach our dogs to be willing to give up things they would rather keep.
Teaching Your Dog to Share
Whether you have a puppy, a new dog that doesn’t yet resource guard, or an occasional but not dangerous resource guarder, you want your dog to learn not to guard their food and to willingly give up any item. Practice these exercises frequently before you really need them.
Exercise 1: Human Hands are Good!
Approach your dog’s food bowl while they're eating and, without bending down, drop a delicious treat (something like a piece of chicken or beef) into their bowl. This will teach them that humans approaching their food are not a threat, but rather something good.
You can also hand-feed your dog to set up a strong association with people as providers of good things. This is especially helpful when you first bring a dog into your home.
Exercise 2: Learning to Give
Choose a word or phrase like “drop it” or “give” to use as a release cue when you want your dog to give you whatever they have. Get an empty paper towel roll, a toy, or other item that will interest your dog, without being high value.
While holding onto one end, offer your dog the cardboard roll or other item, moving it around to make it more exciting until they take it.
Continue to hold onto it, so they can’t grab it and run.
Now, stick a high-value treat (diced cheese, hot dogs, whatever your dog loves) right under your dog’s nose. Your dog will likely spit out the item.
When they do that, give them the treat.
Exercise 3: Mastering Sharing
After this is working consistently, add your verbal cue, “drop it” or “give” (in a happy voice), as they sniff the treat.
After your dog has finished the treat, entice them with the original item again.
Once you are confident that the item interests them, add the cue “take it”.
Then, use your cue to “drop it” and repeat the trade. Your dog is learning that when he lets go, they not only get a treat, he gets back the item they originally gave up.
Note: When not practicing, move the item out of sight, so that your dog doesn’t keep picking it up, in order to get a treat.
What To Do & What NOT To Do
DO: Ensure you maintain a non-threatening position like sitting or kneeling and angled a little to the side.
DO NOT: Lean over or walk directly toward a dog. This is often a trigger for resource guarding. If your dog becomes still and stiff or raises a lip at any time, don’t continue.
DO: Prevent inappropriate behaviours from developing by rewarding desirable ones. Take the opportunity to create positive associations between people and resources.
DO: Set them up to succeed! Keep things out of your dog's reach. Close doors, put the trash in the closet, and keep the laundry basket out of reach.
DO NOT: Chase your dog. The chase is a reward and teaches your dog that theft brings attention…and play. Get in the habit of trading for something better.
DO: When teaching your dog to “drop it” or “give”, start with boring items and gradually work up to more valuable ones.
DO: Make sure that your “trade” is more valuable than what you are asking your dog to give up. Your dog gets to define “valuable.”
DO NOT: Hit, scare, or threaten your dog in order to get something from them, even if they snarl or growl. They are telling you to “back off,” and that’s a warning message you want them to be able to express. Dogs that are punished for growling go straight to biting.
DO: If you have a multi-dog household and one or more dogs are resource guarders, feed them or give them bones or toys in separate rooms.