Resource Guarding

Object guarding can take many forms, from food to toys, the owner and location and is a fairly common problem with family dogs. This can sometimes become person specific – child or adult an employee or a stranger.

A young puppy may have growled at his littermates to make them back away so that he could get the best share. He simply continues this behaviour in his new home even though he is spoilt for food and toys. Some owners may even encourage the puppy’s protective display, thinking it is cute.

Owners also often do not notice that their dogs are becoming increasingly possessive and protective. When they become aware of the dog growling at them, they take offence and either scold him, hit him or drag him away from the food. To the dog this simply means that he must defend his dinner at all costs and it usually ends in a greater display of aggression by both sides. Once a food guarding dog has been given his food and he is then challenged for it, will become more aggressive and dangerous.

However, teaching a dog to be submissive to his owners and their friends is the most effective way to get him to accept his role within his mixed canine/human pack. Dogs do not bite superiors. (The only exception is the fear-biter) In fact, we should expect zero dogs to human aggression.

If your puppy frequently shows signs of resource guarding by hiding objects, hold on tight with its jaws, growl, snarl, and snap, to the extent that you are worried or scared, you need to act soon before he is an adult dog. Retraining an adult dog that is a resource guarder is complicated, takes time and can be dangerous. Preventing this in puppies is usually easy and safe.

What can be done to remedy the situation?

Your aim must be to show your dog that you are his leader and that he can only get his food or toy at your discretion and command.

1.)  A basic exercise by Jean Donaldson is called: Object exchange.

*Take an object away from the dog.

* Give him a really nice treat that you have hidden from him. (Never bribe by showing the treat first!!!

* Give the object back to the dog.

* Repeat several times in a row.

* Repeatat random times.

Start with boring objects that he is not serious about guarding, like a ball.

Give it to him, take it away, treat, and give it back, over and over again. Then gradually introduce toys, bones, pig’s ear etc. and things that he has guarded before.

2.) Leave it!” Take a tasty tidbit between your fingers and sit down near the dog while holding it about the height of the dog’s head. Play with the food so that he can see it. As soon as the dog tries to get it, close the food in your fist and firmly say, “Leave it!” (This is my bone). The dog is likely to ignore you, lick your fist or even nibble at it, so you stare at him and repeat, “Leave it! Leave it!” When the dog realises that you are not going to release the food and backs off, open your hand and say, “Take it,” in a gentle voice. (It usually takes up to four attempts from the dog to get at the food before he realises that you mean business.) Repeat as often as needed until the dog understands what “Leave it!” and “Take it” means. What you are aiming to achieve is for the dog to immediately back off when he hears, “Leave it! This exercise can now be extended to a small pile of biscuits in a bowl. “Leave it!” now means “back off and let the higher ranking owner have the food”

3.) Hand feed him for a while. Prepare his food in his bowl as usual, but do not put it on the floor for him. Simply feed him a handful at a time. If the bowl is not on the ground he has nothing to guard. Feeding by hand makes the dog completely reliant on you for the most important thing in his life, i.e. food.

4.) Food guarders must not be given bones or toys until they have overcome their problem. They are likely to want to guard these items in the same way. When it is time to re-introduce toys, make sure that he understands that it is your toy, which he may only play with you, when you decide to play, and when you decide to end the game, you always take the toy away.

5.) When a dog gets over excited at meal times he can be restricted by attaching a lead onto him while the food is still being prepared. The dog must understand that the food belongs to the owners and it is only by obeying them that he will have access to the food. On the way to the food he is restricted by someone holding the lead and he is made to sit for a small reward a few times before getting to the bowl.

6.) Before putting the food bowl down, take one of your own biscuits and holding it high and close to the dog’s bowl, eat it loudly while he watches and thinks that you, as his leader, are eating from his food.

7.) Do not feed him in the same spot or at the same time. For a while he must receive his food where you put it when you put it. Chose different rooms, outside on the stoep, in the garden or in the garage etc. Change his dish and feed him at lunch instead of the usual breakfast time.