Contributed by Mary Johns
Let’s talk about resource guarding. This is an undesired behavior that can be displayed with objects, food as well as space. Some of the signs associated with resource guarding can be eating faster, lowering head, freezing, hard stare, whale eye, hair raised on neck and back, lip licking, growling, showing teeth and air snapping. These guarding issues are something that needs to be addressed from the beginning and worked through on a consistent basis. In some dogs this will be a passing phase and other dogs will need to be worked on through life to control and minimize the behavior. Resource guarding can be worked on and also prevented with counter conditioning exercises and desensitization as well as correction and establishing what your boundaries and expectations are as well as what you allow or don’t allow your dogs to practice on a daily basis. We have always worked with all of our dogs on proper etiquette when eating, playing with toys and people, as well as space they are allowed in and our expectations in all of these situations. We have been working with Vados with a bit of resource guarding centered only around his meat while he is eating. Our goal is to be successful in building a trusting relationship with him as well as him understanding our boundaries and expectations. I would like to share with you some of the different ways we have worked all of our dogs to both prevent as well as work on these undesired behaviors if they should arise...…….
PRIVILEGE BASED TRAINING OR NOTHING IN LIFE IS FREE: To work on this we utilize the concept of Privilege Based Training or Nothing In Life Is Free. We have all of our dogs work for their meals, affection, playtime, walks and more. These daily activities are an earned privilege and with proper behavior and good listening skills they are rewarded. We also set forth our expectations of proper etiquette and they are not allowed to practice undesired behaviors. I also have our dogs work for their meals. I like to run through a couple of the basic obedience skills we are working on with the younger dogs and more extensive cues with the dogs who have mastered higher skills. I always switch up what I ask of them to ensure that they are actively listening and not just going off of what they want to do or a routine that they have memorized.
HAND FEEDING: One of the ways we work proper etiquette with food is by incorporating hand feeding as part of a daily routine. Hand feeding helps work on skills of taking things gently from us as well as understanding that the food comes from us and it is a reward of their good behavior.
REPLENISHING EXERCISES: Another thing I like to work is replenishing exercises. I work this by setting the food bowl down and asking for a wait with good eye contact and then release. As they have finished what I have offered within that bowl I will wait for eye contact and relaxed body language and replenish a couple more pieces into the food bowl and release to eat. You can also work this by placing a bowl with food down, asking for a wait with good eye contact, release. While they are finishing up eating you can place the next bowl down for them to move toward. As soon as they finish and move to the next bowl you can pick up the empty bowl, replenish and repeat. I will work this by locating an area where they are comfortable with me approaching without them going into the change in body language. You don’t want to replenish or exchange the bowl if their body language is tense because you would be rewarding their guarding behavior, so it is important to read body language as you are working these exercises.
DROP: Another cue I like to work on is “drop” with toys or various objects. This “drop” works well with trade up games with both toys, food or items they are not supposed to have. To work this I will offer a new toy or higher value piece of meat and once they drop what they are working on, playing with or not supposed to have I reward the “drop” and give the higher value item.
PLACE: When we are working in the kitchen, eating or just wanting to relax I have designated areas for the dogs to go to lay down. I work this consistently so they understand when I ask for “place” they know they need to park it and remain in that spot until I release them. This also works well for interrupting playtime for settling dogs down if they are being too rambunctious. I also like to rotate locations where we feed so they don’t get territorial of a specific space. This exercise is helpful if your dogs are territorial of space.