All dogs resource guard. In fact I would say that all people resource guard too! What is resource guarding? Lately I have been seeing more and more low level resource guarding cases, where the dog is not a threat to bite immediately, but they are stressed, anxious and uncomfortable with a threat to something they consider a resource. A resource is anything that means enough to us that we do not want it taken away. The reason is not so important, but it could be something we like, or even something we feel we need for survival. Guarding is any behavior the dog will show that demonstrates she is uncomfortable with someone or something approaching her resource. It does not mean your dog needs to snap or bite you over the resource. Speed eating, freezing and even just walking away with the item, are all signs of our dog resource guarding. Your dog should feel comfortable enough to be able to eat and enjoy her resource at leisure, not have to eat it fast or under the dining room table. These are minor signs of guarding, but they still show a dog who is anxious, so why not help your dog get better?
Well the truth is, throw your own feelings about it out the window, and don’t over react. If you stop yourself from getting upset, and instead turn the situation into a game you find much more success. Run away from your dog, leaving her with the item she is guarding, run into your kitchen, and start to take out some tasty treats. Make a lot of fun noises, and even say things like “oh my goodness, what do we have here…” If your dog happily follows you and comes into the kitchen, then reward her! If she brought the item with, then trade her, and if she left it in the other room, you can toss some treats across the room, let your dog go get them, and calmly go get the item.
Another way this could break down would be that your dog steals an item, and she guards it from you, her owner, the provider of all good things that come to her. Why on earth would she do this? In a moment of emotional stress you decide to try to punish her in some form for this resource guarding. Any kind of correction from physical, to yelling or scolding can really impact your dog’s resource guarding. If we stop and think about it from her perspective, she has something she really wants, and then you come along and try to take it away, rather rudely in her eyes, and then she gets into trouble for this, when all she was doing was enjoying herself. The next time you come over to her and she has something she doesn’t want you to take, her behavior will likely escalate to growling or showing teeth, or perhaps even snapping at you. You really can’t blame her, in a way you resource guarded her own item from her, and all she is doing is defending herself and her resource. If you can imagine for just a minute that instead of this happening, you approach with a super tasty treat and trade her. The next time you approach, she won’t have her guard up, she will be looking for the tasty treat!
Your actions have consequences! The more your dog thinks you want something, the more she is going to want it. Also your words have an impact on your dog’s resource guarding. I have seen the exact scenario with a Yorkie I work with. If I approached him with his bone, and I yelled at him, something like “oh no what does he have?!” he would grab up the bone, run away and even growl, almost as if to mimic my growly scolding. If I then approached him, immediately following this first try, and I keep my body language exactly the same, even running towards him with arm streteched out, but I keep my mouth shut, and much to my surprise he drops the bone, sits up and looks at me like I am crazy… My scolding and words were not only useless, they made the situation worse, so be careful with this.
I always try to teach people that your words should mean something to your dog. Sit means you want the dog to lower her rump to the ground, drop it means I want the dog to let go of whatever is in her mouth, but what does “NO!” or any scolding really mean to our dog? No barking, no jumping, no chewing on the sofa, no stealing underwear out of the laundry… there are just so many “no’s” at the end of the day, just forget it and teach your dog the yes’s! Teach your dog a formal leave it, and drop it command. These are two different commands, and can be used as a powerful pair! For this “leave it” will be a command we use for something our dog will never get. That being said, you can give your dog the treat you use during training leave it, but do this in a different context, in other words move it after your leave it, and ask your dog to sit, and reward her with the treat for sitting. “Drop it” is used for items that your dog picks up, and can sometimes, have back, especially during the training period. “Drop it” is great for balls, sticks and toys.
Leave it can be complicated to learn, so I made this instructional video to help:
For “leave it” I like to keep a treat in my closed fist and allow the dog to smell, lick and to try to get the treat, eventually she will give up and likely just sit back, or sniff the floor, when this happens we immediately praise and reward from the other hand. I find it best to switch hands, so the leave it hand goes behind your back, and you can always put your hands back behind your back to start again. After a few repetitions, your dog will likely start to get the picture, and we can say “leave it” when we see her leave the treat, praise and reward. In this case the CPR will all happen right in a row, when we see the behavior. “Leave it” is an important command all dogs, it teaches impulse control. Once you have completed this first part you can switch the order. Say “leave it” first and then show your dog the treat in your leave it hand. If your dog goes for the treat, at all, even leans towards it, just take it away and try again. If she doesn’t go for the treat, then praise, switch hands, and reward from your other hand.
“Drop it” as a command can be used with food and items you can and will give back to your dog. We want “Drop it” to be such an easy decision for her, she hears it, drops what is in her mouth, gets a very tasty treat and gets the item right back! What could be better than drop it? To start, give your dog something she really wants to hold onto, like the bully stick. Let her chew it a while, and then put a very tasty treat, like boiled chicken, in your closed fist, place your fist up to her nose so that her nose rests almost on the palm of your hand and she can smell the treat, try not to grab for the item in her mouth, instead just let it fall onto the floor. Say “Drop it” only once, and then praise as soon as she does, open your hand and let her eat the treat. Then bend down, pick up the bully stick and give it right back to her. If she is laying down chewing the bone intently, you may need to put the treat on the floor to get her to drop the bone, and this will also be a good way to practice a few times, without taking the bone. Just say “drop it” toss the chicken on the floor, praise her when she drops the bone, and let her eat the chicken and go right back to chewing on the bone. We don’t want her to think we are always taking things away from her.
Practice these commands, and teach your dog that you are certainly not a threat to her resources, you provide them, and when you ask for them back, you do it nicely and in a way that makes your dog think giving up these items to you is the best thing in the whole world. It can be emotional, and we as owners tend to take resource guarding personally, but these feeling don’t help the situation, and can even make it worse in a lot of cases. Leave your feelings out of it, and teach your dog that there is no need to worry! This is only the beginning, there is a lot you can do to prevent and work through resource guarding issues, so keep an eye out for future blogs!