Us dog trainers love to bounce cases off of each other and sometimes the stories that I hear from my friends are such doozies, I must share them with the world. Yesterday, I was chatting with one of my dog training colleagues and good friend who told me about a client she recently visited. A young couple has a 1-year-old dog that’s been resource guarding items (showing possessiveness around objects) since he was a puppy. They are currently at their wit’s end and have long since run out of ideas on how to cope with the situation… without getting bitten. “Well, what have you tried already?” my friend inquired. The husband fell silent as the wife insisted that he reveal his tactics. “I sit across from him, stare back and growl,” he confessed. Though not at all funny, hearing this I let out a nervous chuckle. I knew too well that this man wasn’t the only one out there thinking this was the right way to deal with their dog’s dangerous resource guarding behavior.
There are many reasons why a dog may guard an item from you, one of them being that he feels insecure about you taking it. I advocate prevention exercises to help dogs understand that when a person approaches them while they have a special item something really good is going to happen to them. If you threaten a dog by staring and growling at them when they feel insecure about the situation they are in, you are only giving them more reason to want to bite you.
When I talk about this issue with my clients, I try to drive home the point with the following example. I understand that sometimes us humans feel that as our dogs’ providers we are entitled to take away any item we paid for at any time and our dogs should accept that. Well, imagine this. Your favorite food is pizza. Every single time you had pizza, I came and without permission, took it away. I may even be a bit forceful with you. After the third or so time, wouldn’t you be just a wee bit angry with me? You’d probably hang onto that pizza with a vice grip if you saw me approach again and you may even think to warn me to stay away. You may not have had a resource guarding issue to start with, but you’re sure developing one now. Doesn’t this sound like what most people do when their dogs have “illegal” items such as shoes, socks, toilet paper, and other fun things?
What if I was charming and persuasive? What if every time you had a slice of pizza, I came to you and offered to give you my slice in exchange for yours. The slices are equally the same. Better yet, what if I offered to give you two slices if only you would give me your one? By my third approach, you’d be overjoyed to see me. I only signify good things.
I know some people may be reading this and thinking that what we are doing is essentially bribing our dogs. That is not the case. What we are doing is creating in our dogs’ minds a positive association with approaching people when they have something valuable in their possession. We are conditioning them to enjoy the presence of a human being and to not feel in any way like they are in danger of losing their stuff.
This concept of a polite exchange is the basis of the “Give” exercise, a great way to prevent your dog from ever developing resource guarding to begin with. If you have a dog that is already showing possessiveness, please consult with a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) like myself to devise a training plan best suited for your dog and his particular situation.
To teach “Give,” start off by offering your dog a low value item such as one of his toys. When he takes it in his mouth, hold out to the side of him a treat that is of higher value than the toy. Say, “Give” in a non-confrontational tone. When he releases the toy from his mouth, mark the moment with “Yes!” or a click from a clicker and give him the treat. As he’s eating the treat from your hand, take your other hand and swipe the toy away. Repeat this exercise with as many low value items as possible. Work your way up to asking him to give you medium value objects after lots of practice. With enough repetition, your dog will be begging you to take things away.
If you are seeking a Certified Professional Dog Trainer in Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Queens to help you with your dog’s resource guarding issue, please contact me at 347-393-9162.