Prevent Resource Guarding in Puppies
We don’t know if this cute little puppy in front of us could develop resource guarding later on. My goal is to prevent a problem from occurring.
We want to prevent problems before they begin, create positive associations and not create negative associations.
Have you ever met a dog that will grab a toy and stand guard over it? Their body might become stiff and they might even growl or lunge at people for coming too close.
Have you ever met a dog that instead of dropping a rock or clump of grass will swallow it?
Have you ever met a dog that instead of giving up the sock or dish towel will run away from the person?
Yes, your sweet puppy could do any of these things as an adult so let’s prevent this before it begins.
What is resource guarding? This is when a dog “guards” an object that they find valuable. It might not look like much (standing over the object) or it might look scary (growling at those that come close) or even biting. Resource guarding should be taken very seriously in any breed or size of dog as it could result in a bite. If you have an adult dog or puppy exhibiting signs of resource guarding please reach out to a qualified trainer immediately.
Most people think of resource guarding as only happening with food bowls. Some people will say to me that their dog does not resource guard because he does not guard his food bowl but the same dog has bit a person for picking up a bone from the dog’s bed.
Some dogs might guard:
Food: from their bowl, on the floor/ground, food toys like cow ears or a Kong. It might be food dropped from the table or food out of the trash can.
Objects: like socks, a tissue, a toy, a dish towel, or any other object.
Location: like a dog bed, the human bed, a comfy chair.
Humans: or human laps
Miscellaneous: These can be hard to spot. I once saw a dog that guarded sun beams on the floor. Another guarded the area in the house where he was fed but he guarded the area when his food bowl was not present.
Some dogs will have a combination of these.
Some dogs guard from dogs or other pets, some guard from humans, some guard from everyone.
In our puppies we want to prevent resource guarding from happening by creating a positive association.
Can you always prevent problems? No! If you have done everything right with a puppy you can still have issues arise. Don’t beat yourself up. There are multiple factors in why we see guarding type behaviors, like breed and genetics. No, it is not “all in how you raise them” and puppies are certainly not blank slates.
What should you do if puppy “steals” an object?
First, do not chase! This could become a really fun game for puppy and not fun for you.
Do not scold puppy or try to scare them to drop it.
With my puppy Robin (AKA: the best sock hunter in all the land) we have worked on a “show me” behavior where he comes to show me his prize (usually a wool sock) and giving the sock to me is part of the game.
You might wish to make a Switch with puppy. Say he has a plastic bag in his mouth and you are about to panic, grab a treat and make a switch. If you have ever grabbed things out of puppies mouth or chased him you might not be able to switch, another reason to never grab things from pup.
Put the treat in your hand or on the floor and offer it to puppy. This might be a quick fix right now but not the long term solution.
My favorite way to teach puppy to Drop an object is with Chirag Patel’s Counting Game. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ra8TKCwTDbk&t=66s
This works really well and is a game that I play with several variations with all puppy clients. Practicing this will make it work better.
Things to teach puppy:
Food Bowl Exercises: First, all puppies should have a safe and quiet place to eat their food. This might be in an ex-pen, a crate in a quiet spot in the house. Kids and other dogs should not be able to bother puppy while he eats.
Exercise 1: While puppy is eating (from food bowl or food toy) walk up to puppy and toss some high value food near their bowl, like a piece of chicken. With repetition puppy will learn if someone comes near him while eating good things happen. You will see your puppy look at and probably wag his tail.
Exercise 2: Put food in puppy’s bowl and put the bowl on the floor. Puppy can eat the food. When the bowl is empty pick it up and put more food in the bowl. Repeat. Play this game after a meal so that puppy is not hungry while you play.
We want puppy to learn that when you get close to their bowl, food toy or chew toy good things happen and when you pick up their bowl good things happen (like more food).
What do you do if puppy has a high value treat that you need to pick up?
Puppy has been chewing on a Kong or cow ear for some time and it is time to pick it up. Remember to Switch or play the Counting Game as you can see I did here with Dewey who was chewing on a bully stick : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lag-tJ_xseI
Does Dewey look like he is guarding? Does he look relaxed? What association do you think Dewey has made with me coming near him while he has a high value chew?
What to avoid:
There are a lot of things online and in books that say you should mess with puppy’s food as they eat or take their bowl away mid-meal. They say this will teach puppy to get use to you doing this. Please do not do this. Your puppy is hungry and deserves the respect to eat comfortably. Stealing their food bowl will create a negative association with people near the food. This could crate a resource guarding problem.
Please do not try to intimidate or scare a puppy to get something from them. These are bullying tactics. While it will work with a puppy it might not when your puppy grows in to an adult and could cause great harm later on.
If your puppy has shown signs that concern you contact a certified professional, the sooner the better.
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