Training your dog can be rewarding in many ways. Dogs benefit mentally and physically from training and it can help reinforce your bond with your dog throughout his life. So what happens when training is at a standstill because your dog refuses to give up a favorite toy or growls at you when you make an attempt to take his food? Too often, dog owners find themselves at a loss with a dog who is possessive and defensive as a result. This can also lead to unwanted behaviors such as growling, showing teeth, and even snapping or biting.
Resource guarding can be dangerous behavior if escalated and should be addressed as quickly as possible to avoid incidents involving bites or other aggressive responses. There are many reasons why a dog may choose to resource guard, including environmental influences, temperament, incidents that occurred during puppyhood, or issues like neglect and abuse. However, there are also many ways to encourage a dog that he doesn’t need to resource guard.
Training your dog out of guarding can be a great way to increase his confidence and his bond with you, but there are a few things to remember while you work on this behavior. Resource guarding can lead to some serious aggression issues and your safety should be paramount. It takes patience and understanding to train a dog of any age out of resource guarding, but it also requires safety precautions. Never try to take your dog’s food by hand and never allow small children to take anything your dog is possessive over.
While preventing the behavior entirely is ideal, it’s not always possible. Some owners who adopt a dog may realize the behavior only after they bring the dog home. However, this is not an impossible behavior to adjust. While the prevention method works best with young dogs and puppies, the other methods are better suited for adult dogs who require behavior adjustments to address their guarding issues. If you are planning on working with your dog to avoid or correct resource guarding, expect the process to take at least a month or two.
To begin, have your dog evaluated by a vet to eliminate the possibility of a health issue that may be causing aggressive or defensive behavior. Things like injury and illness can trigger these reactions in dogs of any age.
Then, gather up some treats that your dog enjoys. These should be small morsels of treats and not things like bones or other items that can take him a while to eat. The easier it is to hoard, the more likely your dog is to guard it. Use these treats as rewards for good behavior. If you are worried about your dog biting or snapping, you may want to invest in a muzzle that you can use for short periods of time that will allow your dog to take treats and drink water but not to bite. Remember to never keep a muzzle on for longer than necessary. Consult a behaviorist or trainer if your dog's aggression is too dangerous for you to work with him safely.
Tilly was from a hoarder and adores all other dogs, sometimes too much so, not always reading the social cues right. I moved to an apartment complex that has their own fenced in dog run and would take her their daily to play with the other dogs. She has developed some bad habits from the other dogs so my trainer urged me to avoid going there. As a student, it punished me more than her to not go there having to study with her still full of energy (walks are nothing compared to sprinting around in the dog run). Out of the blue, a little over a month ago she started to seem possessive of toys. I didn't think much of it because it looked more like a game of extreme keep away. Then it developed into growling and even a little bit of snapping (never making contact!). My trainer's solution is avoidance which I can understand to an extent but also concerns me because I do not want to do it forever. I like to bring her everywhere with me and I have many family and friends with dogs but feel embarrassed to ask them to put all their toys away before I visit. I don't really think she'd ever hurt another dog but I don't want to worsen it in any way.
Hello Carly, You can make trading toys with you a game. You want to build trust and respect in this scenario. First, check out the article that I have linked below and choose at least one of the methods to help build respect. I recommend using the "Consistency" method and one other method. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Get her used to having you around her toys. Give her a toy that she only sort of likes. Approach her and before she has the chance to growl or display aggression - while she is still calm, toss treats over to her and walk away again. Practice this until she looks forward to you coming over to her while she has toys. Next, teach a "Drop It" command. Hold a long toy out to her. Encourage her to grab the toy but hang onto it still - don't give it all the way to her. Tell her to "Drop It" and hold a treat against her nose. When she drops the toy to get the treat, praise her and give her the treat. As she improves, remove the treat from your hand and just tell her "Drop It" and wait seven seconds. If she drops the toy, then give her a treat from behind you back and give her the toy back again after she eats the treat. Practice this until she responds to "Drop It" right away even without a treat on her nose. As she improves, you can start trading her other toys for the toy she has. Give her a not so great toy, and practice "Drop It". When she obeys give her a better toy instead and make it fun. You cannot guarantee that she will never nip at someone in the wrong scenario so be careful when you go places still, but training her to feel relaxed around people and toys and to trust you and respect you more will significantly reduce the odds of her ever biting someone over the issue, so it is worth working on. Keep an eye on her body language and go slow enough for her to stay relaxed while training to stay safe. If you don't feel confident working on this on your own, then see if your trainer is comfortable helping you or hire another private trainer who has experience in this area and will do the above training with you to help just with this specific issue. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
I appreciate your suggestions Caitlin but they don't properly pertain to Tilly's problem, maybe I wasn't clear enough. She has been possessive of toys with other dogs, not with me.
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We recently adopted Lily with the light warning of "she sometimes guards toys." It turns out that this is a more extreme resource guarding than we were lead to believe. She has snapped when trying to remove a toy that had a choking hazard. How can we best handle these situations? Our fear is that she picks something up on a walk that's dangerous to her and guards it.
Hello Aaron First of all, I would highly recommend finding a qualified trainer or behaviorist who is very experienced with aggression rehabilitation. Below is the protocol I would recommend that that trainer follow and teach you. Be very mindful of safety and utilize things like leashes and muzzles as described for safety reasons. Any dog can bite, especially one that is showing aggressive tendencies so it is important to take proper precautions while training. A qualified trainer will be better able to read your dog's body language and do the following safety and hand the training off to you. There are two sides to resource guarding. One is working on the dog's respect for you and the other is building her trust for you. Your dog needs to learn that she is never allowed to guard items. It is simply not acceptable. She also needs to learn that when you take her things it will not be a negative experience for her. Having food or toys taken away can cause a lot of defensiveness and anxiety so you want to show her that when you take something you might add something even better to it and give it back to her afterward or trade her for another item. You also want to associate your approach toward her when she has something with something pleasant. I highly suggest getting her comfortable wearing a soft silicone basket muzzle in general, so that you can have her wear that while you practice approaching her when she has a toy by her. This will allow you to build trust with her without having to take items out of her mouth at first, but simply from between her paws and nearby. You also want her to be wearing a fitted prong collar with a leash attached, with slack in it the majority of the time. You want to practice placing her toys down while she is wearing the muzzle and on the leash. Have her wait for permission to check the item out, then tell her "Okay", and let her sniff it. While she is sniffing it and interested in it tell her "Drop It", then go to grab the item. When she growls or acts aggressively, while wearing the muzzle, then correct her with the leash, and remove the item so that she sees that her aggressive behavior does not get her what she wants. Repeat this over and over again until she will let you take the item without aggression when you tell her "Drop It". After you take the item, then place the item back down and have her wait until you say "Okay" before you let her go back to it. When she waits for permission and lets you take her toys without acting aggressively, then pass several tasty treats through her muzzle for her to eat. When she will allow you to take her toys and begins to calm down and relax when you are near her toys because you are rewarding her correct behavior and correcting her aggressive behavior, then while she is not wearing the muzzle, but is on a loose leash with a prong collar that is attached somewhere secure nearby, then walk up to her, just out of her reach, while she has a toy and toss treats by her if she does not growl when you approach. After you toss the treats walk away again. If she growls when you do this, then go back to practicing with the muzzle so that you can safely correct her with the leash for growling. You can also connect a second prong collar and leash to her that you can hold while you are out of her reach and correct her with that leash if she acts aggressively when you approach. That way one leash will keep her from being able to get to you and bite you while you correct her from a safer distance. Make sure that the prong collar that is tethering her somewhere secure will not break and is also secured to a normal buckle collar as a backup. Also make sure that what she is connected to is secure and will not release her. Because of safety reasons and more things that can go wrong in this scenario I recommend you only do this scenario with the assistance of a trainer though. Eventually, you want to work up to her letting you take her toys when you say "Drop it", waiting to pick up toys you drop until you say "Okay", and being able to walk up to her while she has a toy and toss treats by her feet without her growling or tensing up. Whenever you take her toy without her acting aggressively, reward her by giving her a treat or by filling her toy with food mush like moistened food and a bit of peanut butter, or treats, before giving it back to her and giving her permission to take it again. Hollow chew toys like Kong work well for this. If you use peanut butter AVOID Xylitol. It is extremely toxic to dogs and a common sugar substitute. By correcting her with the proper safety precautions and rewarding her heavily for responding correctly to your approach and "Drop It" you can help her learn both what not to do and what to do. Do not just correct her poor behavior without also rewarding her correct behavior, and do not simply take her toys without making the experience positive for her in general. Doing either of those things by themselves can increase defensiveness and make the problem worse. I would highly suggest hiring a very well qualified trainer who can follow the above method and tailor it to your dog's reactions to help you implement all of this safely. Here is a link below to a video on how to build your dog's general respect for you without a lot of physical confrontation. Building her general respect and trust for you should make the resource guarding training more effective. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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