Does Your New Dog Guard Food and Toys?

Resource guarding is common problem, one you can manage or solve with this expert advice.

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Many shelters and rescues assess whether a dog has resource guarding issues, but tests often only cover food bowl protection. They may not know if a dog guards treats, toys, or even people. So what should you do if your new dog arrives and starts growling when your existing dog — or worse, your kid — gets too close during treat time or play?

First, understand that her behavior isn’t a show of dominance. She isn’t resource guarding to prove she has more power than you. Your new dog is growling because she really wants to continue enjoying whatever she has. You do not need to “show her who’s boss” — you need to respect her boundaries and earn her trust.

That being said, this article is designed to get you started. If you feel that your dog needs more help than you can provide, get a positive reinforcement trainer involved.

Start working on the issue by deciding between a “fix” and “management.” For example, one of my dogs guards her food bowl and treats. I don’t have any children, but I do have other dogs, so I keep them away from Sadie when she is eating. If Sadie is simple lying there, guarding her bowl (she may not want her food, but she doesn’t want the other dogs to have it either), I give her a couple of minutes and then put the food away until she is actually hungry. In this case, Sadie doesn’t guard things from me, but from the other dogs, so it’s relatively easy to manage.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Dog with toy by Shutterstock.

If you have children, or your dog growls/guards if you just walk by when she’s eating or enjoying a toy, it’s best to work toward fixing the issue. There are a couple of important points to get across during resource guarding training:

  1. People are always a source of something good.
  2. When you are willing to give up what you have, you get something even better.

Food

If your dog resource guards his food or treats, start by dropping high-value treats when you walk by. Note that high value isn’t what you think is high value, but what your dog thinks is high value. The goal is for your dog to start looking up when you walk by because he expects something good to happen. Only drop treats when your dog is actually eating. The ASPCA has a wonderful protocol to get you from dropping treats to picking up the food bowl.

Toys

If your dog is guarding toys, start with training a “leave it”, “drop it”, or “give” (depending on what you prefer) with lower-value toys. To teach this, approach your dog when he has a toy that he doesn’t guard. Tell him to “leave it,” and then give him a treat as a trade. Once he is done chewing, give the toy back. You want him to understand that you taking something away isn’t always permanent, at least at this stage. Once your dog becomes more comfortable, you can trade for a treat and then put the toy away.

Furniture

For this one, teach your dog “off” so you can give the command when someone wants to sit on a piece of furniture. To train off, tell your dog “off,” and then lure her with a treat. Once all four feet touch the floor, she gets the treat. As with any training, you will eventually fade out the lure and not need to treat every time, but you can start treating more randomly. If you stop treating and your dog stops listening, go back and continue treating until she jumps “off” on command at least 90 percent of the time.

As you work on resource guarding issues, management will still be important. If your dog growls when you are 2 feet away, stay more than 2 feet away, even when doing the training. You should also teach your children to stay away from the dog while she is eating or chewing on a bone, regardless. It may take some time, but going slowly and creating positive associations will make your dog feel more comfortable while also strengthening the bond with your new four-legged family member.

For more information about these strategies, Grisha Stewart has some good information on available online, and Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs by Jean Donaldson is a great book to check out!

Top photo: Dog eating by Shutterstock.

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Abbie Mood, Dip. CBST

Abbie lives in Colorado with her dogs Daisy, Sadie, and Buster, and can usually be found outside with one of them. She is a dog trainer and freelance writer who loves to explore environmental and animal rights issues. Find out more about her at abbiemood.com and lifediscoveryproject.com. Follow her on Twitter @abbiemood and Instagram @abbiemood.

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