How to Train a Dog with Guarding Issues

How to Train a Dog with Guarding Issues
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon1-2 Months
Behavior training category iconBehavior

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

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. 

arrow-up-icon

Top

The Prevention Method

Effective

0 Votes

Ribbon icon

Effective

0 Votes

Ribbon icon
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Troubleshooting Method

Effective

0 Votes

Ribbon icon

Effective

0 Votes

Ribbon icon
1

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Avoidance Method

Effective

0 Votes

Ribbon icon

Effective

0 Votes

Ribbon icon
1

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

By TJ Trevino

Published: 01/30/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

Have a question?

Training Questions and Answers

Dog nametag icon

Colin

Dog breed icon

Golden Retriever

Dog age icon

9 Years

Question icon

Question

Thumbs up icon

0 found helpful

Thumbs up icon

0 found helpful

Hello, my dogs name is Colin and he is almost 9 years old. The challenge me and my family are having with Colin is that, he will guard toys, rugs, tissues, wrappers..basically almost anything he can chew on or tear up. When he is in the act of guarding, he will stiffen up and do small growls at first, even bears his teeth however if you keep pushing to get the “rug, or toy” away he will only growl louder and if you were to try and take what he has away he will nip at you. And it’s not like a quick nip.. it’s a hard bite down…And I would say Over past year he has gotten worse to the point to sometimes he will do a growl if you are just walking by him when he has something. I’m very concerned because I know how to use other toys or get his attention away with the crinkle of a bag of food lol, but my family isn’t so great at doing that stuff with him like I am.

Jan. 20, 2022

Colin's Owner

Expert avatar

Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

Recommendation ribbon

1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Andrew, I would start by desensitizing him to wearing a basket muzzle, and have him wear a drag leash and basket muzzle when you are home for a while, so that you can safely address the issue and pup learn that the aggression doesn't get him his way anymore. I would also practice commands like Leave It, Out, Place, and Drop It. Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Drop It – Exchange method: https://wagwalking.com/training/drop-it Place command: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s With pup securely tethered, I would practice pup having something safe like a bone and passing by at a distance that you know pup tolerates. Whenever pup responds calmly, toss pup a really great treat. Practice these passes often, tossing pup treats when he does well, with the safety of pup being tethered in case. As pup improves over several sessions, gradually decrease the distance you pass at. Practice Drop It with items you can hold onto at the same time as pup also, rewarding pup for letting go, then letting pup chew again while you hold, building trust with giving you something. Finally, pup probably needs to be corrected when pup doesn't obey what you have taught, but this should be done carefully with pup tethered to something secure, pup being rewarded highly for obedience, and a correction not being as directly associated with you, but with pup's own behavior, usually through a working level e-collar correction. If this follow up training is needed, I only recommend doing this with the help of a qualified trainer to ensure safety and it being done correctly and not leading to other issues. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcWs6rRDfMQ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Jan. 20, 2022

Dog nametag icon

Tilly

Dog breed icon

border collie golden retriever mix

Dog age icon

1 Year

Question icon

Question

Thumbs up icon

0 found helpful

Thumbs up icon

0 found helpful

User generated photo

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.

Dec. 10, 2018

Tilly's Owner

Expert avatar

Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

Recommendation ribbon

1133 Dog owners recommended

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

Dec. 11, 2018

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.

Dec. 11, 2018

Carly E.


Training assistant
Need training help?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews

Install


© 2022 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.