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Resource guarding in dogs

Does your dog stiffen up, make big eyes at you, growl or even try to bite you when you get too close to his food and/or toys? Then you probably have the pleasure of sharing your home with a dog that is very (too) attached to its personal belongings!

Anthropomorphism aside, it is important to know that resource guarding is actually a genetic and normal behaviour in dogs, up to a certain level of course. It is instinctive for some dogs to want to protect their food and other possessions. After all, it is a matter of survival! While this behaviour can escalate significantly and become very problematic for humans and other animals, it is entirely possible to share your daily life with a dog that is resource guarding, and even to help it progress!

With the help of a training plan established and explained by a dog trainer using positive reinforcement techniques as well as dog language training to respect your dog's limits, you will have all the necessary tools to better cohabit with your dog.

In the meantime, here is a list of five suggestions that could help you better cohabit with a dog that shows signs of resource guarding. Remember, however, that it is strongly recommended that you get the help and support of a dog behaviour specialist before you start training Fido, as resource guarding can be a more difficult and risky issue to work on for some dogs.

1. Practice trades

One of the safest ways to intervene right away is to make a trade with your dog when you want it to let go of something it has in its mouth. To do this, offer your dog an irresistible treat or high-value toy at a distance where it isn’t uncomfortable to encourage it to drop the object it is guarding. Once your dog drops the object, you can retrieve it when your dog is busy with its new gift!

2. Practice “Leave It”

Teaching your dog not to pick up objects from the ground with the “Leave It” command can be an absolute blessing for some dog owners during walks, or even in the kitchen! Although supervision is always required, learning this command will help you avoid disaster when your dog is tempted by the devil, not to mention the risk of ingesting a foreign object for some more reckless pooches. Better safe than sorry!

Note that to teach your dog this exercise, a consultation with a dog trainer is strongly recommended.

3. Practice “Give

Again, teaching your dog the “Give” command will allow you to ask it to give you something it has in its mouth, without getting into the dog’s bubble and becoming intrusive (which can be very risky). Although not always willingly, if your dog has learned the exercise and knows that giving something away means it’s getting something even better in return, it shouldn’t hesitate too much!

Note that to teach your dog this exercise, a consultation with a dog trainer is strongly recommended.

4. Manage the environment

While this suggestion is not training per se, it is a good old classic to implement on a daily basis. When we share our home with a resource guarding dog, good environmental management is essential to prevent incidents and give the dog peace of mind.

Management can be done at mealtimes, by isolating the dog in a room or an area of the house using a baby gate, for instance, while it eats or chews a very valuable bone. This way, it will be impossible for anyone to get too close to the resource in question and make the dog uncomfortable. This suggestion will be even more useful if there are other pets or young children in the house, as they could accidentally overstep the dog’s boundaries.

The same principle applies to toys, in that Fido can be set up in a separate area using a gate when enjoying some solo playtime, or if other people or pets are around. To make it even safer, be sure to put away all of your dog's toys after playtime so they're not left lying around.

5. Know how to recognize and understand canine language

Of course, the best is always saved for last. This is the simplest, if not the most basic, of the suggestions in this article, but it is probably one of the most important.

Knowing how to recognize your dog's discomfort signals and being able to interpret them correctly is a necessity to respect its limits and not put it in a situation that makes it uncomfortable. While some dogs express themselves quite clearly in the presence of their resources, others express their discomfort in a much more subtle way, possibly giving you a hard stare or even just freezing. It is important to remember that even though these signals are less threatening than others, it does not change the negative emotion the dog is feeling in this situation. Ignoring these signals could make the situation worse as well as undermine the trusting relationship with your dog.

As with everything in life, communication is key. Learn to understand and respect your dog, and it will thank you for it!

By Mel-Lyna Cadieux, Animal Behaviour Specialist


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