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  • Writer's pictureTeaching Tails

Keeping Possession!

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

A guide to understanding and addressing resource guarding in dogs.

Resource guarding is a natural behaviour in dogs where they feel the need to protect valuable items like food or toys. While it's a normal instinct, it is not a desirable behaviour as it can sometimes lead to conflicts and challenges. In this blog post, we'll delve into the world of resource guarding, explore effective prevention methods, and highlight the a importance of positive training methods.

Understanding Resource Guarding

Resource guarding is rooted in a dog's instinct to protect their possessions. It can manifest as growling, snapping, or even biting when someone or another animal approaches their prized possessions. Recognizing the signs of resource guarding is crucial for proactive management and intervention.

Signs can vary from mild to severe, and it's important to recognize them in order to address the behavior effectively. Here are some common signs of resource guarding in dogs:

1. Growling or Snarling: Dogs may growl or snarl when someone approaches their food bowl, treats, toys, or any other valuable item they consider as their own.

2. Stiff Body Language: Dogs may display stiff body language, tense muscles, or a frozen posture when they are guarding a resource. They may become rigid and show signs of discomfort or unease.

3. Lunging or Snapping: Some dogs may escalate their guarding behaviour by lunging or snapping at anyone who gets too close to their prized possession. This is a warning sign that they feel threatened and are willing to defend their resource aggressively.

4. Ears Back or Tail Tucked: Dogs may exhibit submissive body language when guarding a resource. They may tuck their tails between their legs, flatten their ears against their head, or cower slightly.

5. Freezing or Staring: Dogs may freeze in place or intensely stare at someone who approaches their resource. This is often a sign of their heightened alertness and readiness to protect what they consider theirs.

6. Swallowing Food Or Other Items Quickly: While not always a clear indication of resource guarding, some dogs may gulp down their food or other items quickly, fearing that someone may take them away. This behaviour can be a result of past experiences or a predisposition to guarding.

It's important to note that these signs can vary from dog to dog, and some may display more subtle indications of resource guarding. It's crucial to observe your dog's behaviour closely and address any concerning signs quickly to prevent the behaviour from escalating.

Prevention is Better than Cure!

Instead of waiting for this behaviour to escalate, it's essential to take preventive measures. We can use positive reinforcement training methods, to encourage our dogs to feel better about having resources in our presence.

It is therefore essential that we work on teaching them more appropriate behaviors and create a positive association with people approaching their resources.

Here are some things that can help.

1. "Leave it" or "Drop it" Cues: Teach your dog a reliable "leave it" and "drop it" cue. This will allow you to safely remove objects from them when necessary and redirect their attention to more desirable items or behaviors.

2. Counter Conditioning and Desensitization: Here we are gradually exposing your dog to situations where they typically display resource guarding behaviour. Starting with low-value resources and gradually work up to higher-value ones. While they are calmly engaging with the resource, reward them with treats or praise. This helps create positive associations and teaches them that good things happen when people approach their resources.

3. Trade-Up Game: Teach your dog that giving up a resource leads to receiving an even better one. Start with a lower-value item and trade it for a higher-value one. This teaches them that swapping their possessions is beneficial and not a threat.

4. Positive Reinforcement Training: Use positive reinforcement techniques to reward your dog for any calm and non-guarding behaviours. Rewarding them with treats, praise, or play when they allow you to approach their resources without displaying any signs of guarding.

5. I Always Bring the Good Stuff: Gradually work on desensitizing your dog to people near their food bowl. Start by standing a big distance away and gradually move closer while tossing treats into the bowl. This helps them associate your presence with something positive and reduces their guarding behaviour. This must be done really slowly and repeated over many, many sessions and I would definitely advise under the guidance of a professional.

6. Seek Professional Help: Many people attempt this training without the help of a trainer. The problem is they move too quickly through stages resulting in the dog becoming suspicious of the new behaviour they are trying to teach. Owners can also completely misinterpret the dog's body language which can lead to bites. It is essential to approach resource-guarding behaviour with patience, caution, and guidance from a professional.

Why You Should Never Use Punishment!

While punishment may seem like a way to address resource-guarding in dogs, it is important to be aware of the potential risks and fallout:

1. Escalation of Aggression: Punishment can escalate the aggressive response associated with resource guarding. When a dog feels threatened or punished for guarding a resource, they may respond with increased aggression to protect it.

2. Fear and Anxiety: Punishment can create fear and anxiety in dogs, leading to a breakdown of trust and potentially worsening resource-guarding behavior. Dogs may associate punishment with the presence of people or other animals near their resources, causing them to feel more defensive and guarding them even more intensely.

3. This is Suppression, not a Resolution: Punishment may suppress resource-guarding temporarily, but it does not address the underlying cause. Without addressing the root of the problem, the behaviour may resurface or manifest in other ways.

4. Negative Association with People: Using punishment during resource guarding incidents can create a negative association between the dog and the person involved. This can harm the bond between them and make it more difficult to address resource guarding through positive training methods.

5. Safety Concerns: Punishment-based techniques can increase the risk of aggression towards humans. Dogs may become more reactive or defensive when they anticipate punishment, potentially leading to bites or other safety concerns. This can be a huge concern when living with children.

Management is Key!

It will take time to teach the new behaviours mentioned above and to actively change your dog's emotional responses. So, here are some ways you can use management in your home to prevent the rehearsal of guarding behaviours.

1. Dogs Left in Peace to Eat: During meal times, ensure that the dog is left undisturbed and not approached by anyone, including children or other animals. This helps the dog feel more secure and reduces the likelihood of reactive behavior.

2. Teach Children Rules Around Dogs: Educate your children about the importance of not bothering or approaching dogs while they are eating. Establish clear boundaries and teach them to respect the dog's space at all times. As a society, we have come to expect our dogs to tolerate a lot, especially when it comes to children. The truth is some dogs are just not capable of that level of tolerance and as humans, we need to be able to recognize and accept this.

3. Choose Your Battles Wisely: If the dog has something in their mouth that is of no immediate danger or value, it may be best to completely avoid confrontation.

4. Separate Feeding Areas in Multi-Dog Households: If you have multi-dog households and a dog that guards, it is advisable to provide separate feeding areas to prevent competition and potential conflicts over food. Each dog should have their own designated space to eat in peace.

5. Dogs that Guard Owners: If a dog displays possessive behaviour towards their owner, it is crucial to work with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist to develop a behaviour modification plan. This may involve teaching the dog impulse control exercises and gradually desensitizing them to the presence of others near their owner.

6. Dogs that Guard a Place: If a dog guards a specific location, such as a bed or couch, management techniques can include using physical barriers (such as baby gates) to restrict access to that area or teaching the dog an alternative behavior, such as going to a designated mat or bed on cue.

7. Dog and Children Have Safe Play Areas: Ensure dogs and children have play areas free from each other. Both deserve the opportunity to just be free and play. Kids' toys are then safe from exploring dogs. Dogs then also have opportunities to play or chew without you worrying that the child may try to remove something from the dog's mouth.

8. Create a safe environment during mealtimes. To prevent dangerous situations, it is important to have children and dogs eat separately, as toddlers waving food can be tempting for any dog but for young dogs that are still learning this can be too much and may lead to them stealing food from the toddler's hand or plate. This could potentially create a dangerous situation, particularly if the dog already exhibits guarding tendencies.

CONSTANT supervision is key when it comes to interactions between children and dogs. The well-being of both requires proactive measures, consistent training, and ongoing vigilance.

Remember, while management strategies are important for safety and to prevent reinforcement of undesirable behaviour, they should be used in conjunction with positive reinforcement training to address the resource guarding.

When to Seek Professional Guidance.

If you are dealing with resource-guarding with your dog, I recommend you always seek guidance from a professional dog trainer or behaviorist who can help you develop a positive and effective training plan that considers your family's needs as well as the individual needs of your dog.

On a Personal Note.

As cute as he looks Chester resource guards. At home, we work hard to ensure it is well managed and we rarely have incidents. Understanding his communication is key. I know I was very fortunate to recognize the signs early. We still practice leave and drop just for fun, so he loves doing these behaviours just as much as other dogs love giving their paws.

However, with other dogs well thats a completely different story he could retain possession like George Best. Thankfully this is easily managed as he is the only dog in the household and because we are aware of this we know how to manage it around other dogs.

I hope you found this blog post useful and that it has helped you to understand resource guarding better.

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