This article is a sidebar/companion piece to “Changing of the Guarder: Resource Guarding in Dogs.”
This guarding-modification protocol, created by my friend and fellow trainer Kelly Fahey, owner of The DogSmith of Hunterdon in Pittstown, New Jersey, is a simple protocol that can be used by shelters, people who have adopted dogs who showed guarding behavior in the shelter or whose dogs started guarding in their new home, and by any dog owner with a guardy dog. When done properly, it teaches the dog that a person approaching means more good stuff is coming, helping to dispel the dog’s notion that the person might take her good stuff away.
The procedures should be undertaken by one person at first, then generalized to others.
As always, when modifying behavior, we want to remove as many opportunities for the dog to practice the unwanted behavior as possible. If a dog in a shelter is being “guardy” as visitors pass by, she is at risk of being triggered by every passerby, and her behavior will worsen. If possible, such a dog would benefit from being moved to a kennel in a ward without public access and brought out to be shown to potential adopters who seem like a good match.
Note: If at any time you elicit a growl or other guarding behavior, you are too close and/or have proceeded too quickly.
1. Tether the dog to an eye bolt affixed to the wall for that purpose, or to a solid, heavy object. Give her a valuable chew object (not a Kong – it will roll out of her reach) or a small bowl of food.
2. Have a good supply of high-value treats that you can toss easily. (Chicken does not work well for this – it’s too messy and hard to accurately toss.) Small bits of cheese or meat work well.
3. Walk past the dog at a safe distance. Depending on the dog, this may be six to eight feet beyond the end of the tether, or it may be closer. As you pass, toss several high-value treats near the bowl or chewy, where she can easily reach them. Keep walking; do not pause to toss. If the dog growls, lunges, or shows other obvious guarding behavior, you are too close.
4. Repeat Step 3 until, as you approach, you see the dog starting to look up in happy anticipation of the treats she expects you to toss. When she does this consistently, decrease the distance between yourself and the dog by a few inches as you pass by.
5. As long as she is consistently happy at each new distance, continue passing by and dropping treats, gradually getting closer to her when you pass.
6. When she is happy with you walking past at a distance close enough to touch her, pause as you pass and feed a treat from your hand. Then walk on.
7. When she stays happy with your pause-and-feed, gradually increase the length of time that you pause and feed her treats. The increase should be no more than 1 to 2 seconds. As you increase the length of your pause, start talking in a happy voice as you feed her the treats.
8. When you can pause for about 10 seconds and she stays happy, occasionally bend slightly and drop a treat into the bowl or next to her chewy, then feed some more from your hand and walk on.
9. Repeat, gradually increasing the number of times you bend and drop.
10. Now, gradually increase how much you bend over until you can touch the bowl or chewy. Remember, if you see any sign of tension you have moved too quickly. Back up a few steps and continue more slowly from there.
11. Finally, as you are pausing, bending, and feeding, occasionally play the Trade game, always returning the bowl or object to her after she has happily allowed you to take it.
12. Now, start the protocol over again at Step 1 with another staff member, volunteer, or reliable family member. Continue until the dog is comfortable with a variety of people approaching her. Repeat the process with any new family friends or shelter visitors that can follow your directions, always starting with Step 1.
I’ve been reading all your articles for years! From Beginners to advanced, I always take something away from it.
And this is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to write. Actually IN TEARS!!
About 25 years ago I had the most loving Rottweiler female you could ever ask for. I had her from six weeks old. (her mother died and she was the only pup). She was an exceptional show dog! (unrelated to this she was so good she was accepted to breed to the top ninth Rottweiler in the United States). So yes, I WAS a dog trainer of sorts. (it helps when you always have perfect puppies from birth to raise!)
Not only was she a confirmation CHAMPION, she was a obedience champion! She loved everybody, including ALL the animals you have on a farm.
Somewhere, I can’t exactly remember because it was so long ago, (but before she had puppies so I think it was about three years old)…. She suddenly became so food protective, that we couldn’t even hardly feed her! We would be giving her her dish food and she would start growling snarling, even before we set it down!
So like most intelligent person‘s, (and in the loop), I sought advice from totally professional trainers and paid also, when advice didn’t work!. From dumping a bucket of cold ice water on her head, hosing her with turbo water ,to refusing to feed her at the beginning of the reaction, (I absolutely refused the shock collar advice!), I can’t even remember how many awful things I had to live through !!!!!
YES ME!!! I was the one in pain and agony! If it wasn’t mealtime she was Miss Perfect and LOVER!
And she didn’t care, she had a point to make and that was that!
So thankfully! I gave up all the “good” advice!!!
My husband would take her into another room and have her do training exercises for treats, (behind a closed door!) and I would put her food dish down in her place. (I had, of course being a show person, up to seven other dogs, when there were no puppies.) everybody lived in the house, and nobody fought! (you remember the old training where dogs are not allowed to growl, well if my dogs ever growled, I was so disgusted with them, I would make them all lay down and I would just walk back and forth telling them how disgusted I was with them! They were so upset with me being disgusted, I would tell them that “sisters don’t fight”!! And they never did after teenagers and going through this scenario.)
So life went on, I gave up, Bear won, she got treats for being behind the closed door and then she got her food after I set it down (and got away!)
And then one day it just dawned on me, to offer a high-quality treat, while she was eating! I started with Throwing ribeye pieces into her dish (from 5 feet away, with her glaring & growling at me!), then regular meat, then chicken and then finally lowerd it to hotdogs. It was less than a month when I was putting her treats in her dish while she was eating, stirring the food with my hand giving her more and petting her!
Duh!!! Why Hadn’t I THOUGHT about that before!!
WHY DIDN’T THE EXPENSIVE “PROFESSIONAL TRAINERS” TEACH ME THAT???!!!
IT WAS ALL SO EASILY FIXED!!!!
SHE was lucky, being she was such an expensive dog and such a top-quality show dog, putting her down, or putting a shock collar on her, as ALL ADVISED, was just not happening!!!!
Unfortunately I’m not sure I can take all the credit for that….. I mean I really really loved her!!….. but I am sure that how much she was worth in $$$ had a part in it. (being totally honest here!)
And she lived until 13 1/2 and was the most wonderful loving dog you could ever have!!! SHE DIDN’T EVEN HURT THE FREE-RANGING CHICKENS!!!
I know now that Thanksgiving treats into the dish is a very common practice, but back then, nobody ever advised that!
And I feel so sad for your Rotty mix, and I feel with you.
We do the best that we CAN making the choices WE DO, based on the best knowledge that we have at THAT TIME in our lives.
(that pertains to raising children also!)
Looking back, it’s easy to know how much better we could’ve handled situations, if we had the knowledge and accessibility to knowledge that we have at this time.
Yeah definitely is a good information i appreciate all what you do