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Preventing Resource Guarding

Behavior and Training  •   Jasey Day  •   Jan 28, 2016


Instead of “mine, mine, mine,” we want our dogs to think, “sharing is good!” As a responsible owner, one of your jobs is to set your dog up for success in normal situations that your dog may encounter. One of these circumstances is having humans near a valuable item that is in your dog’s possession.

In a dog’s mind, the dog has the right to protect an item in his possession. It is easier to prevent possessive behavior than it is to retrain this behavior later in life.  Train your dog from the get-go that having humans near him and his valuable item is okay and is actually desirable! You can even train your dog to accept your taking away items, such as a bone, toy or chewie.

To start, teach the “drop” (or “give”) command:

  1. When your dog has an item (e.g. dog toy that is not his favorite toy) in his mouth, put a treat in front of your dog’s nose. The dog will drop the item. Deliver the treat to your dog’s mouth as you pick up the item. Then give the item back to the dog! Repeat. And repeat.

  2. After a few successful repetitions, add the command word before putting the treat in front of the dog’s nose.

  3. Increase the distance between the treat and your dog’s nose until eventually your dog will drop an item in his mouth on command even if the treat is in your pocket or if he is not sure you actually have a treat.

  4. Almost always give the dog the item back. This is win-win to the dog, who thinks, “I gave my human my item, but I got a treat and I got my item back!”

After you master the “drop,” perform these exercises:

  1. Do exchanges - you take his object with a “drop” and he gets a treat, the same toy back and/or another replacement item - with objects of low-value and low-interest (to the dog). Thus, take away his non-favorite toy.

  2. Do exchanges with slightly more interesting objects and then highly valuable objects (to the dog). High value may be a favorite toy or a chewie.

  3. Practice spontaneous exchanges of objects that the dog has in his possession. Do this over the dog’s life so that the behavior is maintained.

In addition, train your dog to be comfortable with humans near his food bowl. Be sure to practice this throughout the dog’s life, too.

Start by:

  1. Feeding your dog in a public spot in the house - If your dog always eats in seclusion in your laundry room, then a houseguest wandering into the laundry room someday during mealtime may make your dog feel threatened. Instead, have your dog accustomed to commotion during mealtimes.

  2. Dropping food near or into your dog’s bowl while he is eating - The dog should think, “Wow, when a human approaches my bowl, amazing things happen!” Work up to having your dog let you touch the food bowl and eventually take away his food bowl while he is eating. Put a tasty snack in the bowl and return the bowl to the dog. Again, having humans near the food bowl is actually desirable because great things appear in the food bowl!

If you have a serious problem with resource guarding, contact a professional dog trainer or behaviorist.

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