Overcoming Resource Guarding

Written by Nicole Ellis, CPDT-KA (2 min read)

Resource guarding happens whenever your pup displays a behavior (e.g. growling, snapping, etc.) meant to convince other dogs or humans to stay away from something that they want—like their food or favorite treat. We'll help you identify resource guarding and provide steps to help with it. 

For food guarding:

Start hand feeding all meals, a few pieces at a time for at least a few weeks. This will make a huge difference. You can use some of the food to incorporate training as well during meal time—for example, working on sit and lay down during meal time is a great exercise. It's also important to pick up your pup's food bowl off the ground when they're finished eating; do not leave it lying around.

Next, here is an exercise to work on for a few minutes each day (don't overdo it). Put down an empty food bowl, step back and let your dog examine the bowl. Then, toss a tasty treat in or towards the bowl (make sure not to touch the bowl at this point), let your dog eat the treat while you stay away. Repeat this a few times, and then stop. When your dog loses interest in the empty bowl, pick it up. Staying calm and non-reactive is essential. As you progress with this, your dog should be looking to you when they see the empty bowl waiting for a treat.

Once you feel comfortable with this behavior, we can begin working our way up to rewarding your pup with higher value treats. To do this, toss a treat into the bowl and as he is eating it, step forward and give him a higher reward treat (a treat that they really like). So if you are tossing in a piece of kibble, give him a piece of chicken, or something tastier than the first item. It's important to work your way up to this activity—you should not do this step right away.

For toys:

Sit down and present your dog the toy, and then present something that is extremely tasty to trade for the toy. I would use something that they usually never get that smells fantastic—such as some string cheese, some chicken, or some beef/steak. It's vital that as we swap the toy for food, the food is more appealing than the toy. We are teaching him that if he gives up his toy, he gets something so much better!

This is also a great time to begin working on a drop it command. Remember to stay calm and take baby steps, keep your sessions short and end on a good note. I'm confident you can make a big difference and stop this resource guarding.

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  • Nicole Ellis