How to Train a Dog with Guarding Issues

Medium
1-2 Months
Behavior

Introduction

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.

Defining Tasks

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.

Getting Started

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. 

The Prevention Method

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Step
1
Socialization
Wariness of strangers or other animals and pets can cause a dog to begin resource guarding. Teach him early that being in the presence of others means good things and reward him for being calm and polite around guests.
Step
2
Teach your dog to trade
Before he can develop any guarding issues, teach your dog the importance of trading. Offer your dog a toy and allow him to play. Offer him a treat next as a trade for the toy. Remove the toy while giving him the treat. A few moments later, give the toy back to him. This will help develop positive associations with the removal of toys.
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3
Require permission
Your dog should know that he has to work to receive things that he wants. Toys, food, or treats should only be given after he asks permission in the form of following an obedience command like ‘sit’ or ‘down’. He will soon learn that he does not get anything for free and that you provide everything that he wants.
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4
Work on obedience
Develop a good obedience foundation with your dog. Basic commands can help him learn manners in your home and can make it easier for you to control food or play time.
Step
5
Handle food early
Look for reasons to handle your dog’s food bowl as much as possible. Drop special treats into the bowl before returning it to him so that he develops a good association with you taking his bowl from him. Never remove food as punishment.
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The Troubleshooting Method

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Determine triggers and warnings
Take some time to write down or document what your dog reacts to. Is she guarding toys, food, or other items? What sort of reaction is she having? Is she just trying to block your access or is she actively displaying aggressive behavior? Be sure to keep this list of things with you so you know what your dog’s warning signs are. This can help prevent a bite.
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2
Relearn obedience
Even if your dog knows a few commands, work frequently on them to ensure mastery of each one. A solid grasp of obedience can help you control your dog’s urges to guard certain things.
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3
Rewards are earned
Establish the idea with your dog that she does not earn treats, food, walks, or toys without first doing something you ask. This can be a trick or other obedience command.
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4
Teach the ‘drop it’ command
Begin with something that is very low value to your dog and give it to her after she performs a command for you. Then bring something that is higher in value like a yummy treat or a favorite toy. Say ‘drop it’ as you offer the higher value object and immediately reward when she leaves the lower value object alone. Repeat this frequently to develop an understanding of what it means to drop an item and leave it alone. Reward frequently for good progression.
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5
Build trust around food
Drop special treats and surprises into your dog’s food bowl from time to time as you approach it to associate your approach with good things. Work your way gradually over time to getting closer and closer to the bowl, dropping yummy things into it each time. Begin picking the bowl up just a few inches off the ground and gradually increase this height and distance until you can remove the bowl entirely. Always return the bowl to your dog! Never remove the bowl as a punishment. The bowl should only be removed for longer than a few moments if there is no food inside or if your dog is actively uninterested in it.
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The Avoidance Method

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Exercise
Before leaving your dog to his own devices in the home, be sure that he is well exercised. Take long walks to tire him out and leave him with toys or games that are mentally stimulating. A tired dog has less energy to misbehave most of the time.
Step
2
Remove triggers
Put food bowls away and out of sight when not using them, stow toys up in a hard to reach place, and keep bones or treats away from your dog’s area. These things should be provided by you and only you.
Step
3
Set up barriers
If your dog is guarding certain things like furniture or areas of the home, barricade him from these areas until you can work with him. Avoid allowing him access to these things using baby gates or closed doors.
Step
4
No visitors during feeding
If necessary, put your dog’s bowl during feeding time in an area where no one will disturb him. Avoid situations where he may feel like he needs to protect his food and give him a private space to himself.
Step
5
Don’t punish
Never punish a dog for resource guarding. If he knows that a bad punishment happens when you try to take what he is guarding, this may only ramp up his aggression. Choose to reward good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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