Features March 2010 Issue

Unwanted Dog Food Guarding Behavior

Five things to do when your dog guards a toy, bone, treat, or bed.

Resource guarding may be a natural, normal dog behavior, but it’s alarming when your own dog growls – or worse, snaps – at you over his resource. Resist your first impulse to snap back at your dog. Instead, do this:

Dog Food Guarding Behavior

A fake hand, mounted on the end of a stick, is used to safely assess whether this dog guards his food – obviously, he does! If a dog habitually or intensely guards food or other resources like this, find an experienced, positive behavior professional to help you. And employ scrupulous management to keep everyone safe!

1) Stop. Whatever you did that caused your dog to growl, stop doing it. Immediately. If you were walking toward him, stand still. If you were reaching toward him, stop reaching. If you were trying to take the toy or bone away from him, stop trying.

2) Analyze. Your next action depends on your lightning-fast analysis of the situation. If your dog is about to bite you, retreat. Quickly. If you’re confident he won’t escalate, stay still. If you aren’t sure, retreat. Err on the side of caution. Complete your analysis by identifying what resource he had that was valuable enough to guard, and what you were doing that caused him to guard.

3) Retreat. If you already retreated because you feared a bite, go on to #4. If you stayed still, wait for some lessening of his tension and then retreat. Here’s the dilemma: dogs give off guarding signals – a freeze, a hard stare, stiffening of the body, a growl, snarl, snap, or bite – to make you go away and leave them alone with their valuable objects.

Your safety is the number one priority, so if a bite is imminent, it’s appropriate to skedaddle. However, by doing so you reinforce the guarding behavior. “Yes!” says Dog. “That freeze worked; it made my human go away.” Reinforced behaviors are likely to repeat or increase, so you can expect more guarding next time.

If, instead, you are safe to stay still and wait for some relaxation of tension and then leave, you reinforce calmer behavior. “Hmmmmm,” says Dog. “Relaxing made my human go away.” If you can do this safely, you increase his relaxation when you are near him and decrease his guarding behavior.

4) Manage. Give your dog guardable things only when you won’t have to take them away. Crates are good places for a resource guarder to enjoy his valuable objects. When he’s crated with good stuff, don’t mess with him, and don’t let anyone else mess with him. When small children are around, put him away – for his sake and theirs – since you may not always know what he’ll decide to guard, especially when kids bring their own toys to play with.

5) Train. Work with a good, positive behavior professional to modify your dog’s guarding behavior so he no longer feels stressed when humans are around his good stuff. Teach him to “trade” on verbal cue for a high value treat such as chicken, starting with low value objects and working up to high value, so he’ll happily give you his things on cue when you need him to. (See “On Guard,” WDJ October 2007.) Out-think your dog. Resource guarding behavior is not a good place for a battle of wills.

Pat Miller, CPDT, is WDJ’s Training Editor. Miller lives in Fairplay, Maryland, site of her Peaceable Paws training center. Pat is also author of The Power of Positive Dog Training; Positive Perspectives: Love Your Dog, Train Your Dog; Positive Perspectives II: Know Your Dog, Train Your Dog; and Play with Your Dog. See page 24 for more information.

Comments (6)

This is a simple problem to solve. Kudos to Cesar Millan for this.

When the dog guards his bowl, stand between the dog and the bowl, facing the bowl. When the dog attempts to get around you, keep moving to stay between the dog and bowl, never facing the dog. Once the dog slows or stops, move back toward the dog, easing him away from the bowl (gently, no anger, no aggression from you!) You want to move him at least 10 feet/3 meters from the bowl. Do this for 3-5 minutes. Allow other dogs to approach the bowl and eat, just not the guarding dog.

That's it. Each time you see the dog guard the bowl, repeat the same exercise. I've had to do this with one dog a couple of times, several years apart. Both times two "sessions" cured him (at least for a few years!)

Posted by: DanMinor | November 20, 2014 2:41 PM    Report this comment

As soon as I would get a pup actually the first day I would take the food away while they were eating same with toys,starting at such a young age I never have to worry about guarding behavior or possessiveness and I feed all 3 together and when they steal each other's toys they just start playing.

Posted by: Linda Mussa | July 14, 2014 5:12 PM    Report this comment

As soon as I would get a pup actually the first day I would take the food away while they were eating same with toys,starting at such a young age I never have to worry about guarding behavior or possessiveness and I feed all 3 together and when they steal each other's toys they just start playing.

Posted by: Linda Mussa | July 14, 2014 5:12 PM    Report this comment

As soon as I would get a pup actually the first day I would take the food away while they were eating same with toys,starting at such a young age I never have to worry about guarding behavior or possessiveness and I feed all 3 together and when they steal each other's toys they just start playing.

Posted by: Linda Mussa | July 14, 2014 5:12 PM    Report this comment

As soon as I would get a pup actually the first day I would take the food away while they were eating same with toys,starting at such a young age I never have to worry about guarding behavior or possessiveness and I feed all 3 together and when they steal each other's toys they just start playing.

Posted by: Linda Mussa | July 14, 2014 5:11 PM    Report this comment

As soon as I would get a pup actually the first day I would take the food away while they were eating same with toys,starting at such a young age I never have to worry about guarding behavior or possessiveness and I feed all 3 together and when they steal each other's toys they just start playing.

Posted by: Linda Mussa | July 14, 2014 5:11 PM    Report this comment

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