Whether you adopt your puppy from a shelter or bring him home from a reputable breeder, each and every puppy has a different personality. While this is mostly dependent on genetics from his mother and father, sometimes environment can also lend a hand in rapidly embedding certain behaviors and habits into your puppy’s personality. This can include things like anxiety or nervousness and other issues like aggression or rough play.
One problem, in particular, that might rear its head early on is what’s known as “resource guarding”. When a puppy is allowed to be raised with his littermates, there can sometimes be competition for resources like food, especially in a larger litter. This can evolve into growling, snapping, and biting in order to be the first to claim - and keep - the food that is available. Unfortunately, some owners can bring their puppy home with this problem without realizing it, wondering why he doesn’t seem to like when they interrupt his meal.
Resource guarding is a serious issue that plagues many dog owners from the newbies to the most experienced. It can present itself as a minor issue or a serious one, but the good thing about catching the behavior when your dog is still in its growing stages is that it's much easier to manage or fix. As soon as you notice resource guarding begin to happen with your pup, it’s important to start intervening in his training right away as getting rid of the habit can still take anywhere between three to six weeks of hard work.
Whether your puppy is receptive to training or stubborn in his ways, remember that resource guarding is a natural behavior. Verbally or physically punishing him for behaving naturally will almost always backfire. Desensitization and counterconditioning - training tools which help your pup realize that good things happen when people are near his food - are much more reliable and humane ways to help break your puppy of his resource guarding behavior.
The most important thing in your arsenal for resource guarding training is a container of high-value treats. Tasty, smelly foods like bits of real meat or other interesting snacks like dog-safe peanut butter, baby carrots, bananas, or sweet potato. Double check that any treat you offer is safe for your puppy to eat and keep it in a container in the refrigerator for quick access during meal times. These treats will come in handy when it comes to training your dog to realize that having people near his food is a good thing.