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Canine Companion: Pets Likely To Employ Resource Guarding Behavior

Hey, guys, I want to start out this column emphasizing how much I appreciate your support. Thank you to all my readers out there.

This week, I have had a handful of questions about resource guarding. Yes, I know that sounds technical. Resource guarding is basically a dog’s tendency to protect a location, a special toy, a special blanket, and sometimes even you.

In the wild, a dog who is protective of her resources is more likely to thrive. Their survival depended upon their valued ‘items’ per se.

In our world, that’s not exactly a desired behavior nor do many understand it. The most comments I hear (and believe me- it makes perfect sense) is “I buy tons and tons of toys, plenty of food, doggy beds, and everything my dog could ever want in excess.” I completely understand what you’re saying, but your dog still wants to protect certain things (or all).

Sharing is Caring

This may sound silly, but you can teach your dog to share with some time and effort. Before we dive into that, I want to share what resource guarding looks like, because not every dog will growl. The growl is good because that’s a form of communication. If you haven’t already read my article about growling, email me).

Dogs who are resource guarding may do one or all of the following: growl, stifften their body, eat quickly so they can get their food before ‘anyone else’ does, show their teeth (snarling), or even bite.

Let’s go back to the sharing part now. There are two technical words you should learn/research if your dog is experiencing this issue: counterconditioning and desensitization. Both of these will be necessary to teach your dog to share.

I need to emphasize something extremely important before continuing with this. If your dog is guarding his or her resources in an extremely aggressive manner, this must be approached with extreme caution. There are many bites and negative behaviors that could be prevented by using different techniques. The information presented in this article is designed more for a dog who is lightly guarding. Contact me if you are completely lost or would like a behavior modification plan for you to follow and ask questions.

Since there’s so much that goes into this topic, and there’s very little room here today, I am only going to go over what to do if your dog is guarding her food bowl.

Start by getting your dog an entirely different bowl and place it in an entirely different location. You don’t have to throw the old bowl away. Just tuck it away somewhere that your dog won’t find it. Then vary her feeding times so she isn’t sure when dinner time is. There are very few times this will be recommended- feeding your dog the same time each day establishes routine. By changing the time, your dog may be less tense about guarding her food.

If you want to learn about how dogs tell time, research the circadian rhythm.

Once you’re ready to feed your dog, pick up her bowl and make it look as if you were filling her dish. Set it down. What’s her reaction? If she looks up at you, tell her ‘good girl’ and give her a treat. This could be a few pieces of kibble from her meal. Once your dog has successfully completed this step, add more food to the bowl. Wait for her to look at you again. Praise her.

Repeat this process until your dog’s entire meal has been eaten. Then, walk away as if she’s finished eating and you aren’t going to give her anymore. Then, go back and add a handful more (amount dependent upon the size of the dog).

Continue this process for at least one full week. Once you are comfortable, begin standing next to the food bowl.

Now, you might be asking ‘how the heck does this help anything?’ If I wasn’t in the dog world, I know I would be wondering.

Here’s why. By you conducting this process with your dog, you are teaching her (or him) there is a positive association between you and her food/food bowl. She understands each time you approach her, that means something good is going to happen. Positive reinforcement.

I now must critically emphasize this next point. Absolutely do not punish your dog for resource guarding. This is likely to result in more severe aggression, a loss of trust, a loss of any type of bond, and make it even harder for you to get on the right track.

Well, that’s all I have for today. Until next time, guys.

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