How to Prevent Resource Guarding

Resource Guarding is when a dog growls, snaps or is otherwise aggressive when a person or other animal approaches things that the dog finds valuable (ex. Food, toys, people, resting places, etc.) In some cases, you may observe that your dog will not guard his bowl of kibble or other freely available resources, but that he will guard high value items like meaty bones or special treats. Ideally, your dog should not guard any resources from you, as this can be dangerous for you and your family members.

The following may be signs of aggression in a resource-guarding dog:

  • freezing or stiff posture over/near resources
  • holds breath or stops chewing when approached while eating
  • growling, snapping or barking when certain resources are approached by a human or other animal

As you can see not all signs of aggression are overt or easily noticeable. Regardless of the intensity, if you notice any of these behaviors in your dog, it is best to immediately find a qualified trainer or behavior consultant to help you with the problem. Do NOT force your dog to give up resources. Do NOT scold him or use harsh punishment on your dog for growling or snapping at you as this may cause your dog to distrust you even more, and it may cause the aggression to escalate.

Young puppies usually do not exhibit this behavior, although it is not unheard of for a puppy to become aggressive around certain resources. Again, if you think your puppy might be showing early signs of resource guarding, consult a trainer or behavior consultant right away. Here are some things you can do to prevent your puppy from becoming a resource guarder:

1.Practice impulse control

Impulse control refers to the puppy learning that he should not act impulsively on his urges by lunging after or stealing food or other resources whenever they are near or available. If trained properly, your puppy will become more mindful of taking directions from you for taking accessible resources or things that he wants. He will learn to listen for your cues such as “Take it!” or “Get it!” that grant permission to access a resource. Impulse control is one of the things taught to young puppies in Puppy Class. It basically involves showing a treat to a puppy and teaching the puppy that lunging for the treat causes the treat to go away or be hidden. The treat is only revealed or uncovered again when the puppy stops all attempts to paw at it, lunge for it or otherwise steal it out of his owner’s hand. When the puppy demonstrates that he can control his impulse to grab the treat, the owner rewards the puppy by telling the puppy “Take it!” and encouraging the puppy to take the treat.

2. Practice object exchanges

While your puppy is eating, practice several repetitions of trading his bowl or stuffed chewtoy with special treats. Once he’s done consuming the treat, give him back his bowl or chewtoy. This exercise teaches your puppy that your approach to his food bowl is a good thing and that he has nothing to worry about when you come to take things away from him – it just means there’s a chance he might be getting a special treat! All members of the family (except young children) should practice this exercise with the puppy, so that he develops trust for everyone in the household.

3. Teach your puppy to release an item on cue

Your puppy should be taught a release cue such as “Out” or “Give” that tells him to relinquish an item in his mouth. One way you can teach your puppy this is through the game of tug or retrieve. Using an appropriate tug toy and while engaged in a game of tug with your puppy, periodically say “Out!”, then freeze while your puppy is latched on to the toy. When your puppy lets go of the toy, praise him and reward him by quickly starting up the game of tug anew (you could also pop him a treat for letting go of the toy). With repetitions of this exercise your puppy learns that “Out!” means to release the item in his mouth.

4. Make sure your puppy does not feel the need to compete aggressively for resources

If you live in a busy household with lots of people or with multiple dogs, make sure your puppy has a proper feeding area where he can eat quietly and undisturbed. Place your puppy’s bowl or stuffed chewtoy away from where people walk by. In a multi-dog house, at meal time, don’t let dogs steal food from one another or bully other dogs into giving up their food or treats. Make sure every dog has their own space in which to eat in peace.

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