What is resource guarding and does my dog show any of the signs? Resource guarding is displayed by a dog that starts to become aggressive when something is taken away from him, or when he is approached while sitting in a specific location.
A resource can be anything that the dog finds valuable. It can be an owner or anything inanimate the dog has decided to protect. Degrees of aggression are dependent on the individual dog, but can be anything from staring, lip raising, placing a body part over the object, and stiffening of the body to growling and snapping.
Usually, most dogs will guard their food bowls or chew toys of high value (rawhide, bones). Smaller dogs often guard their owners from others approaching, some dogs lie in front of doorways preventing you access. A dog will start to eat faster when you approach his bowl, he could stop eating completely but stare intently at you, and then he can also show the more obvious signs of aggression.
It is important to understand that this type of behaviour will not get better if left without behaviour modification with the help of a professional. Managing the environment is very important, the less mistakes you allow your dog to make, the fewer times he can rehearse the behaviour. Never react to aggression with aggression. You are only adding fuel to the fire and it’s a very dangerous situation to find yourself in. If your dog has managed to get access to something he has guarded accidentally, never confront him. Say for example he managed to get on the couch and is now growling when anyone walks into the room. The best approach is to ignore him and not retaliate, slowly walk out of the room and think of a way to distract him and get him off the couch. Try shaking a cookie jar or scrunching up a packet- we know how dogs love this sound! If he runs to you, ask him to sit and reward him with something delicious. Use this time to your advantage and take him outside, give him anther treat because he has been such a good boy. Now you can go back to the couch and make it inaccessible to him.
Prevention is better than cure! Enroll your puppy into a good puppy school, as this will be one of the topics that should be covered. Getting your puppy used to taking treats from your hand is a good first step. It is important to remember that patience is the best attribute to have during training; dogs aren’t stupid but need time to make sense of what you’re teaching them. Once your puppy is readily accepting food from your hand, start to place your hand with food inside the bowl. Once this stage has been completed, you can start to sit with your puppy while he is eating. Slowly stroke his back and place your hand on his food bowl while eating. He needs to accept your presence while eating but also understand that you are not a threat.
Puppies often chew on objects that they aren’t allowed to, those little noses and mouths love to explore! Never just take something from your puppy. This will give him reason to start guarding. Rather get a tasty treat and exchange it for what he has in his mouth.
Always start at a very young age and remember to reward behaviours you expect an adult dog to have. You can’t change the rules once he grows into an adult. Same rules throughout each life stage! If you’re out of your depth or you are in danger of being hurt, rather enlist the help of a professional.
No “bad” behaviour will just go away!
©Melissa van der Merwe 2013
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