Working Through Resource Guarding
With Your Assistance Or Therapy Dog In Training
Is your dog becoming possessive with their food or toys? Worried that it's leading into aggressive behavior that will end in injury or worse?
If so, this is the perfect article for you because I'll explain how to start correcting this type of behavior and start teaching your dog to give up these items more easily.
Possessive types of tendencies, more commonly called resource guarding is when a dog tries to protect or keep items to themselves in doing so the dog may result in using aggressive tactics to do so. When resource guarding is first starting out a dog may just move away from you or hide under a couch but it can quickly spiral into aggressive behavior such as nipping, growling, or even biting to protect their items.
A common item you may have noticed your dog demonstrating this is around their food bowl. When you approach them as they are eating and you notice that your dog begins to eat even faster than before, it's a sign that they are resource guarding.
For an assistance or therapy dog, this type of behavior is unacceptable. A dog that will spend a large portion of their time around people and in public has to willingly give up their items without showing any possessive traits.
Imagine if your dog was chewing on a toy around a small child and the child went to take your dog's toy away from them. You of course would want your dog to accept this and allow the child to take the toy away as opposed to growling or nipping at the child. An assistance or therapy dog that shows any signs of aggression should not be working with people in public until they've resolved those tendencies.
If you start seeing your dog having some of these tendencies, I want you to start making a conscious effort to begin working on this. Because like I mentioned before, this can really start morphing into something where your dog growls, or they are taking items to hide. You want to start working on your dog's resource guarding so it doesn't continue to progress to a point where your dog is lashing out physically.
When you first start working with your dog on their resource guarding, the number one thing I want you to remember is any time you take something from your dog, I want you to make sure that you give them something in return.
How To Teach Your Dog To Give Up Their Items
For the majority of dogs, you need to give them something of equal or greater value when takin an item from them. This could be something as simple as a treat, but you do need to remember to give them something, ideally with enthusiasm.
Your dog needs to believe that they are getting the better end of the deal with the trade. By creating value from the trade you're laying the groundwork for your dog to be okay with giving up items because they know they'll get something in return. Let's say your practicing with your dog around their food, when taking your dog's food bowl from them, give them a really great treat to chew on for a few moments then place their bowl back down on the floor. It's very important not to take your dog's bowl from them without giving a treat because you will start to create resource guarding due to them feeling like they are losing their meal if they don't eat it quickly or try to protect it from being taken away.
When I'm working with a dog who is showing resource guarding around their food bowl, I like to place a high-value treat in front of their nose and lure them into a command. I'll have them hold the command for a few moments and then release them from the command so they can go back to eating. Over time, the dog is able to perform their commands comfortably because they've learned that they'll receive a tasty treat and they'll still be able to finish their food.
Once your dog is comfortable with this, you can progress to removing their bowl for a few seconds, then placing it back down on the floor. Remember, at every stage, keep giving your dog treats to build up the behavior that you desire.
Why is giving a treat to our dog so important? Well, if I'm taking a toy away from my dog, I'm going to give them a treat or a different toy so that they feel like they are getting something of value in return. Anytime you're taking something from them, they're not feeling robbed or out of luck.
The last thing you want is for your dog to be sitting there thinking; wait a second. What just happened? I was totally content chewing on this toy, and you had to come around and take this item away from me."
You want to give your dog something really, really good so that they feel like it's okay, and that they are getting something of value in return for the item that you were taking away from them. You can continue to progress your dog's desensitization with resource guarding as your dog becomes more and more comfortable with the game you're playing. Start to give your dog commands such as a down, stand, or whatever it is that you want to give them while they are eating.
You want to get your dog to the point where they feel that everything is going to be okay. That whatever item or food you are picking up they'll either get back or they're going to get something different that's even better.
What I really like to see with assistance and therapy dogs as we're working with this is start progressing to where you feel a hundred percent comfortable that a child can do this. This is really important because as we've mentioned in other articles such as Socializing Your Dog To Children, kids can be unpredictable, and you want to be one hundred percent confident that your dog is going to respond appropriately.
If you're noticing that your dog is showing any tendencies of resource guarding such as eating quickly when someone approaches or taking items to hard to reach places such as under a couch start working on this immediately. You don't want to have the possessiveness of their items to warp into physically aggressive behavior. If you were to dog, is beginning or is already showing aggressive tendencies, then I really would recommend that you either get some professional help from a dog trainer such as myself or one in your area so you can have this hurdle resolved as quickly and humanly as possible.
The last thing that I want to see is an assistance or therapy dog showing up on the news for hurting someone because of resource guarding. The whole reason I'm doing this training article is that the other day, Newport and I were going up to the roof of our apartment complex to go out to the bathroom and we had a dog run at us barking and growling because he was resource guarding space he and his owner were hanging out at.
Not fun, right?
I ended up having to work Newport for several days to be comfortable with being up on the rooftop because he was scared of going up onto the roof because he thought that a dog was going to come out of nowhere and try to attack us. It wasn't something I wanted to be dealing with as soon as I opened a door to be greeted with a dog that was bull-rushing us. Be mindful of resource guarding and if your dog is showing any signs of them. You want to make sure that your assistance or therapy dog in training is calm and chill anytime someone goes around their items.