The best way to prevent/solve resource guarding is to show your dog that his resources are safe. This can be challenging when you have a mischievous puppy who gets into things he or she wasn’t meant to have. The more they learn that you take away items they’re enjoying, the more defensive they tend to become. Alternatively, the more they learn that their favorite things are safe around you, the more comfortable they will be. When you address resource guarding, a plan including prevention and training will give you the most effective results.
Ensuring that your puppy has no opportunities to get a hold of items they shouldn’t have will help set them up for success. Puppy proofing using baby gates or exercise pens allows you to easily control their access to your space.
Assess your space for any dangerous, expensive, or sentimental items and put these away in an area with two lines of protection (e.g. a closed drawer in a room with a door that closes). This makes it far less likely that you will have any big accidents while your puppy is learning what is theirs and what is not.
Rotate a diverse selection of toys in the spaces where your puppy is allowed to roam so he or she has lots of good enrichment choices (toys and safe chewing options). Rotation keeps them interesting so your puppy will be more likely to target them.
Create a positive association to you approaching your puppy when they have an item they value. If your puppy is chewing a toy, walk over and toss them a high-value treat, then continue on with whatever you were doing. If they’re eating out of their bowl, do the same thing. Your puppy will begin to look forward to you approaching, and you will reduce the likelihood of building competitive behavior around resources.
Teach “drop it” without an inherent sense of competition. We want “drop it” to be a fun game which your dog participates in without hesitation, rather than an indicator that you might steal their things. Set your puppy up with something safe, which you know they will pick up. Allow them to take the item, and watch them casually. As soon as they open their mouth (even if they’re only adjusting their grip in the beginning), say “yes” and toss them a treat. Allow them to eat the treat without you approaching the item, and allow them to pick the item up again. Repeat until they begin to experiment with dropping the item. Once they realize it’s a game, and repeatedly offer the drop, you can add the cue “drop it” when they are dropping the item.
When playing with your puppy, remember not to trick them and then “steal” their toy, even to toss it again. Waiting for your puppy to actually give you a toy will help prevent the keep away game as your pup gets older.
For now, do not practice “drop it” with anything you have noticed your puppy guarding in the past.
If your puppy does grab something they shouldn’t have, either use this opportunity to practice the steps for training “drop it”, or if you must get the item quickly, toss several treats away from the item; allow your puppy to pick them up, and then toss more treats when your puppy sees you pick up the object. We want to avoid chasing the puppy or snatching the item away.
With proper prevention, whatever your puppy has should not be an emergency. On the unlikely chance they have something life-threatening, common sense rules apply – do what you have to in order to keep your puppy safe. If you believe your puppy has swallowed something dangerous, please call your veterinarian right away.
Using this system will help your dog to perceive you as a cooperative partner around resources and can strengthen your relationship. If your dog has serious resource guarding issues, including signs of aggression, it’s best to discuss it with a professional. As always, when in doubt, consult a trainer!
Author: Rachel Marderosian, CPDT-KA