Mine! How to Deal With a Dog That Guards
What you should do if your dog guards his food and toys: A step by step guide to solving resource guarding.
Your precious angel just growled at you for the first time. He snagged a sock from your laundry pile and dashed under the bed. You reached under to get it and he growled. You reached again, and he snapped at you! He didn’t bite, but it’s clear he thinks the sock is a prize worth holding onto. Your dog is resource guarding.
Some dogs guard their food bowls. Some guard bones or toys. Some even guard crazy things, like rocks. On occasion, they will guard a person. Some dogs only get cranky with other dogs.
Resource guarding in dogs is not uncommon. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t address it. Left alone, it could get worse. Here are some common myths about resource guarding:
“It’s funny.” People post videos on social media all the time with their dogs growling over everything from bones to beer bottles. They think it’s a hoot. It’s not. The dogs are clearly upset, and it’s only a matter of time before they bite someone. Then who will get the blame? Not the person posting the video, but the dog.
“My dog would never bite.” Any dog is capable of biting. When a dog growls over an object, he’s telling you to back off. He’s concerned that you will take his prize away. A growl is a warning. If you don’t listen to the warning, your dog may feel he needs to be clearer, and snap or bite. This doesn’t mean you should punish your dog for growling. If you do, you’re just treating the symptom, not the problem. The problem is that your dog has an object and doesn’t want you to take it from him. If you punish him for growling, he still wants the object. So he may skip the growl and go straight to biting you.
Growling is an obvious sign your dog has an issue. There are other signs a problem is brewing that are more subtle. If you approach your dog while he’s eating out of his bowl and he deliberately lowers his head, trying to cover the entire bowl, this is guarding. If he eats faster when you approach, trying to get all the food down his hatch before you take it from him, this is guarding. If you see these signs, it’s time to train your dog.
What Not To Do
Do not stick your hands in your dog’s food while he’s eating. This would annoy anyone and can increase the chances your dog becomes food possessive. Do not pet him while he’s eating. This is also annoying. Don’t take his food away repeatedly during his meal. Your goal is not to annoy him, but to teach him that your approach is something he should look forward to.
Teach Your Dog You Bring the Good Stuff
If your dog has already bitten you or snapped at you while guarding an object, please get help from a professional, reward-based trainer. Make sure the trainer isn’t going to use harsh methods, as this will likely make the problem worse, not better. If your dog has exhibited early symptoms of guarding and you believe it’s safe to address it, then here’s how to start.
If your dog guards his food bowl, start with an empty bowl. Put a handful of his food in the bowl and move away a few steps. When he’s done eating, approach and put another handful of food in the bowl, then move away. Repeat for the entire meal and subsequent meals for at least two weeks. Your dog should start looking forward to you approaching his bowl.
If your dog guards an object, put it away for now. Start with an object he doesn’t guard. For example, put the coveted sock away and take out a tennis ball. Get treats. Offer your dog the tennis ball. Encourage him to bring it to you, and when he does, give him a treat in exchange. When he is good at this game, try another object that he is not likely to guard. When he has a dozen objects under his collar, then try the sock again. Be sure your treat also has a higher value. Continue to practice with the sock and other objects until your dog successfully brings you a variety of objects, rather than running away from you with them.
If your dog only guards from other dogs, there are a couple things you can do. You can manage the issue. If they argue over their meals, you can feed them in separate rooms or in their crates. If they argue over specific toys, don’t let them have access to them. If you want to fix the problem, then you need to teach your dog that the presence of other dogs is a good thing. Cue your dogs to sit, with enough distance from each other so your guarding dog doesn’t get upset. Give the other dog a treat, then give your guarding dog a treat. Repeat. Gradually work the dogs closer together. Only progress as far as your dogs are comfortable. You’re teaching your dog that he gets good things when the other dog is near.
Resource guarding can be scary, but you can treat it. Teach your dog that he doesn’t have to worry about people or dogs taking his precious stuff away. Instead, their presence means good things happen!