“MINE!!” your dog seems to say.
Your dog is guarding something valuable — food, a toy, an old shoe, their bed, your property, even you. This is resource guarding, and they will bravely stand between these things and threats, real or perceived. They may even exhibit possessive aggression to protect what’s theirs.
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed what resource guarding is and what it looks like. Here we will talk about what can be done to prevent or stop this potentially dangerous behavior.
A Quick Recap of Resource Guarding Behavior
Resource guarding is a fairly common behavioral issue among dogs. The object of a dog’s guarding behavior can be whatever they perceive as valuable, especially food. If you get too close, they may meet you with a negative response ranging from mild to severe. While resource guarding is a normal dog behavior that was useful to dog ancestors in the wild, it doesn’t translate well to life in human homes.
Signs of Resource Guarding
Resource guarding dogs have a stiff posture and hover over the object to keep it safe. You may encounter a mild, growled warning while the dog moves the object away, a menacing stare and bared teeth, or in the worst case, a bite. This behavior is especially dangerous for small children who do not understand the warning signs.
There are several available techniques and situations that require a professional trainer. But it all starts with your pack.
It’s All About the Pack
If you are the object of your dog’s resource guarding, the dog does not perceive you as the pack leader — you are a resource to guard. That’s why you need to establish yourself as the pack leader. Without that leadership, the dog will take the leadership role even though it’s not their natural inclination — somebody has to do it. So, they put themselves up here and you down there, and they start guarding things … or you.
Avoid Dangerous Strategies
Several techniques can prevent or stop resource guarding in dogs. But before we explore them, let’s talk about the possible dangers they involve.
Some techniques involve putting your hand on or in the dog’s bowl or picking it up while eating. We certainly do not recommend this course of action!
If you do nothing, the behavior may escalate and become dangerous. Yes, something needs to be done, but you don’t have to be the one to do it. If you’re worried that your dog might bite while you’re training them, it’s time to call in a professional trainer. If you’re unsure of what you’re doing, you can make matters worse and damage your relationship with your dog.
How to Inhibit the Resource Guarding Behavior
Resource guarding is not something that will change overnight. It is a long, gradual process that requires confidence in the steps you’re taking, patience, and pack leadership. It is not for everyone.
The “Ignore” Technique
There are times when you can ignore behaviors, which can work for some dogs. They think, I’m not getting any attention out of this. But with resource guarding, there is a potentially dangerous situation that is hard to ignore.
Interrupt and Reward
You can interrupt the unwanted behavior if you catch a dog in the act. Having the dog on a leash is helpful for training because you can interrupt the behavior by leading the dog away from the coveted item. You can redirect the dog’s attention from the behavior you don’t want to something acceptable and reward them when they do the latter.
Desensitization and Counterconditioning
Desensitization and counterconditioning are often combined techniques that change the dog’s reactions to trigger stimuli. Desensitization gradually eliminates the fear associated with the trigger. With counterconditioning, the dog learns to associate the trigger with positive things.
There are several variations of the steps required to achieve desensitization and counterconditioning, but generally, you start by standing several feet away while the dog has the guarded object. Over the next several days, you move progressively closer until you can touch and pick up the object.
Treats, Treats, Treats!
Yummy treats are a great way to redirect your dog’s attention from a guarded object. Instead of seeing a person approaching them as a threat to the guarded object, the dog can learn to associate them with the positive association of getting a delicious treat. Happy, treat-filled dogs are less likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors.
Certain commands help prevent resource guarding. “Drop It!” and “Leave It!” get the dog to let go of any object they have in their mouth or to stay away from it. “Come!” and “Place!” move the dog away from the object in question. These commands are here to put you in control.
Living with It
Some people are content with not training the dog and living with the resource guarding behavior. As long as no one is threatened or getting hurt, they simply leave the dog alone when they have their attention on the guarded objects. It’s a good idea anyway to let the dog eat their meals or chew their bones in peace. Feed them in a low-traffic area, such as their crate or a separate, quiet room.
What NOT to Do
There are so many ways for some of these techniques to go wrong when you’re not familiar with using them. Taking the item away without replacing it with something appealing teaches the dog that they really do need to resource guard. Punishing the dog for growling can aggravate the dog and lead to a bite. If you mess with their food by sticking your hand in your dog’s food bowl, you’re inviting a negative response from an agitated dog. And if you leave items they’re likely to guard within their reach, you’re asking for trouble.
Speak to a Professional Trainer at K9 Basics!
Resource guarding is a difficult habit to break, and in inexperienced hands, the steps involved can bring frustration, mistakes, and danger. That’s why we strongly recommend the help of a certified professional dog trainer, such as our training team at K9 Basics. We have the experience, expertise, and compassion to safely and effectively teach your dog how to behave and teach you how to be a powerful pack leader.