What is it?
Resource guarding, also known as possessive aggression, is when a dog protects their food, toys, chews or anything else that they deem valuable. Dogs can guard their resources from people and/or other dogs. If dogs did not guard their food from other canines (in the wild or in a multi–dog household), they wouldn’t survive. Resource guarding is a normal canine behavior; however, while natural for canines, it can & many times is potentially dangerous for you!
Types of Resource Guarding and Warning Signs
Just like people, dogs are all unique. Some are predisposed to certain traits than others while early life experiences leave deep impressionable scars. The severity of resource guarding ranges from mild to severe. In almost all cases; however, when a dog exhibits mild tendencies of resource guarding, it often intensifies over time. Body posture tenses, hard stare, head goes down closer to item. Dog freezes, low growl, tail wags quickly, rapid deep eating. When a dog has something in their possession resist approaching!
Sit up & take notice. Beware and be aware! There ARE ways to teach your dog to not guard. Your response, your body language, your management skills (leaving items out) &your ability to teach cues such as “drop it & leave it”. Observe your dog. Take notice of their body language when eating & chewing. Teach your dog the invaluable cue of “drop it”. This will mitigate any desire to guard while avoiding having to take something out of your dog’s mouth. Hold up a high value food (real chicken), place it in front of your dog’s nose and calmly say “Cooper, drop it”. As your dog smells the food, he will drop the item in his mouth. Enourage dog to nibble food so you have time to take item. Slowly take the item away while praising your dog. If it is his toy, then give it back & praise him for relinquishing his toy/chew. By practicing w/ his toy it will act as a second reward & reinforce the drop it. Follow the same instruction for items that your dog may have that are NOT his. Just do NOT give the item back. In this latter scenario it is crucial that you are aware of YOUR response. When your dog has something that is not his & you react with emotion, you are falling into the infamous trap of “keep away … now I have your attention”. If you do not want your dog stealing things then it’s best to keep your response in check; not to mention keeping your belongings out of reach from your dog. When first teaching “drop it”, it’s best to stand sideways as you approach your dog; appearing less intimidating. Dogs will also guard if they feel threatened. When we walk up to a dog & loom over, we are intimidating looking &this alone may elicit a defensive response. Praise your dog while he/she is eating!
By using desensitization & counter conditioning, you can reset your dog’s internal response to another’s attempt to possess their treasure. Using these forms of behavior modification, it teaches your dog to welcome & accept the presence & reaching from someone. HOW? Toss high value food (chicken) near dog’s food dish while he’s eating so he becomes desensitized to people walking near him. You want to teach your dog that “good things happen when I’m eating” rather than “I don’t like it when people are near me because they stick their hands in my bowl & I’m afraid they’re going to steal my most valued resource! HAND FEED dog forever if need be! Be the sole provider of their food. Determine what the severity is, manage it and implement appropriate behavior modification. Contact a professional. What NOT to do – put your hand in their food bowl to “teach them to accept that”. Or take chew away. Do not reprimand! This will only encourage dormancy.