Resource guarding is a very common problem in many dogs. Some dogs would never think of it. They defer easily to us. These are thought of as submissive or 'nice' dogs. However, big or small, well bred or puppy mill, many dogs may try protecting a possession. In wild dog or wolf packs even very young puppies are allowed to protect and keep what they already have in their mouths. Think of this- if you were eating your dinner and anyone, even a close friend, approached uninvited and took the plate from you it would be very rude and you would protest. Perhaps at the very least you would say, 'Excuse me? That's mine!' Obviously dogs do not communicate that way. They may stand over the object as you approach, with or without hackles raised. You may hear a low growl, and then a snarl. Rarely do they just lunge out and attack to guard their possession. Therefore I feel we need to teach them skills so they learn how to defer to us. This will also show respect for the puppy or dog acknowledging that what he has is important to him, but we need to see it.
Some resource guarding begins because of the common theory that if we are dominant over our dogs we should be able to remove anything from them at any time. Because of safety issues this may be true but it needs to be treated as just one more skill we train into our canine companions. I believe we actually set our dogs up for protective behavior early in puppy hood if we take away a raw hide or a toy and it just disappears. He may think 'hey wait a minute, that was mine!' Or, we approach, hear a growl, and back off! 'Well', he thinks, 'that worked'! What I prefer to do with my dogs is approach them and give them a simple command, like 'out'. Assess the dog's reaction. If he looks up at you with soft eyes and a happy expression pick up the food dish or toy, look at it and then give it back. To accustom my dogs to hands in the food dish I will walk by and put a special treat in the dish as a surprise.
What do you do if protective behavior has already started and as you approach your dog he gives hard eye contact, growls, snarls or lunges? If you have a medium to large breed dog over the age of three to five months you may have missed the window of opportunity to physically reprimand him. With a young puppy I have grabbed the scruff of the neck, taken his prize and verbally reprimanded him in a low growly voice. I am also aware that this is a red flag to start immediately desensitizing him to my approach with the above techniques. In addition I start working on the 'trade up' command.
- Give the dog or puppy an item he really likes, such as a favorite toy or chewie. Let him really get into it.
- A few minutes later approach him with something of higher value. A biscuit, piece of chicken, or a Kong with peanut butter works well. A different toy might work to.
- Let him see it or smell it and say 'Let's trade"!
- If he looks receptive reach down, take his and give him yours. You could also trade back again. BE CAREFUL!! Know your dog and looks for signs of guarding. Remember that when you are reaching in you are putting your face in close proximity to his mouth!
What do you do if it's still no go and your dog is growling and snarling at you? In this case be very careful what you allow your dog to have. Work on leadership skills, such as down stay and wait at the door. Keep a long leash on him if you do give him a prize possession and practice the recall command. Reward him. Tell him to stay and go pick up the object.
Many dogs with resource aggression can be turned around. I would never trust them with a child however, because kids can't read the signs of aggression. It's up to you not to put your dog in a situation where that could occur.
Keep practicing obedience. Teaching a dog skills forms a relationship. If you have a strong relationship this goes far in solving this issue.