Resource Guarding Prevention in Puppies
By Anthony De Marinis, CDBC, ADT, CBATI, VSPDT, TTWC, VSA-DT
Preventing your puppy from becoming possessive of his things can be very important, especially in households with children. Many dog owners think that if a puppy growls or snaps at them they should “show them who’s boss”. People might take things away from their puppy, grab them by the scruff of the neck, yell at them or even chase them around the house when they have something in their possession that they shouldn’t.
However, these concepts can cause more harm then good. You could teach your puppy to become afraid of you, which may cause your puppy to resource guard items in his possession, even if those items are not his. (For example you dirty sock, or worse, your underwear!) In this blog we will discuss what resource guarding is, and what you should not do with your puppy to prevent problems from happening. I have also provided two different videos with resource guard prevention exercises to replace the misinformation you might have read about online or have been told by family and friends.
What is Resource Guarding?
Resource guarding, also known as “possession aggression” is a behavior a dog displays to control access to a valued resource. What is a valued resource? It is something of value to that particular dog. Just as people value different things, so do dogs. A dog may feel the need to guard food, a bone, a toy, space, another dog or even a human. It is important to point out that some dogs will only resource guard one thing, while others may resource guard multiple things in their life. When a dog is resource guarding, he might display defensive behavior to keep another dog, person or animal away from his valued resource. Some dogs may also display overt aggressive behavior, which is aggressive behavior with intent to cause harm.
Resource guarding is a normal, natural survival behavior that all animals, including people, will display. However, the severity of the guarding behavior will determine how normal, or abnormal and even how dangerous this behavior can be. To learn more about resource guarding, take a look at my blog post Resource Guarding In Dogs.
Can My Puppy Resource Guard?
YES! Your puppy can resource guard. There can be a number of reasons a puppy can resource guard. Here are the three main reasons that I have observed as a behavior professional:
- Depending on the breed of dog, your puppy may have a higher propensity to display resource guarding behavior. It might be part of who they are as a breed genetically. It is also important to point out puppies who are poorly bred or puppies who are from high stress situations/environments can also be prone to resource guarding behaviors.
- The dog owner and family members in the home may cause resource behavior to occur, even by accident. This could be if the family chases the puppy around the house when he has something he shouldn’t have. This can also happen when someone starts grabbing things out of the puppies mouth or sticking hands in the dog bowl or petting the puppy while he is eating.
- In homes with multiple dogs, the puppy might feel the need to protect his items from the other dog. (This is fairly normal, and not really concerning unless it causes issues between one or both dogs. We have to remember this behavior is how dogs set boundaries with each other.)
Preventing Problems with Your Puppy
For new puppy owners, it is of utmost importance to prevent possession problems from occurring. Many owners and even some professionals are under the impression that we should show our puppies who is the “boss” by sticking our hands into the puppies food bowl while they are eating or reaching over and grabbing a bone out of the puppies mouth while chewing. However, this is false. In fact, this can actually cause resource guarding behaviors to surface or get worse over time! This is because a puppy can learn that when they have an item in their possession (such as a bone or food in their dish) and a person approaches them, they need to guard the item because it was taken away from them in the past.
Lets say you are eating and one of your family members night after night continued to try and take a piece of food out of your plate. After a couple of time, you might be a bit more guarded and prepared for them to try and take food from your plate since this has occurred a couple of times. Are you going to continue to allow it, or are you going to stop it? And if you stop it, how will you do it? Will you yell at this person, maybe you will avoid this person, or are you going to get a little physical?
Whatever your response to this family member is, you are resource guarding! And this is the same behavior your puppy may display. The only difference is that he is a dog and the way he responds is different than a human because he cannot communicate the same way that we do.
Teach Your Puppy to Understand
At the end of the day our pets are still animals, even though we consider them as family. BUT the reality is regardless of how we train or what we are attempting to teach, we need to make sure that it is clear to our puppy. Approaching your puppy and stealing his bone or grabbing the sock he stole from the bedroom is only going to make your puppy learn that when you approach him the next time he may loose his valued treasure. This can result in him running away from you with the item, which then leads to the “chase me game” around the house and/or it can lead to the puppy holding onto the item with a firmer grip or even a little growl or air snap. A puppy may display these behaviors because he may feel threatened by the fact that his item may be taken away from him. If you compare this to the example I gave above with the your family member taking food from your plate, you can see how your puppies response would actually be a normal response over time.
Puppies are really good at learning to associate things. So the next time you snatch something out of your puppies mouth, keep in mind he is learning that when he has an item and you approach, that you might be a threat to him and his valued resource.
Instead, we need to teach our puppies that our appearance and approach is not a bad thing when he has something in his possession. (There are two simple instructional videos below!)
Prevention Plan Tips
Here are some tips you can start implementing to prevent issues from occurring. If you are currently dealing with resource guarding issues, I suggest hiring a qualified behavior professional so that you can properly get these issues addressed.
- Do not reach over to the puppy and stick your hands in the food dish, especially while the puppy is eating. Instead, leave him alone and let him enjoy his meal! If this is to difficult for you, below I have attached a video on how to prevent resource guarding with a food bowl.
- Do not pet or touch a puppy while eating out of the food dish or chewing on a bone. You might be provoking a problem from occurring. If this is difficult for some family members, especially homes with children, then place your puppy in a contained area such as his play pen or crate so that the kids understand that your puppy if off limits when in these locations.
- If a puppy growls, do not get loud or physical with the puppy as this can cause them to defend themselves, making things worse over the course of time. Growling, baring teeth and air snapping are all warning signs of a dog expressing that they are feeling stressed and uncomfortable. Many dog owners get insulted when their own dog does this to them. Take these behaviors as a sign of your puppy telling you how he feels or “boundary setting”. Hiring a qualified professional may be a good idea if these behaviors are occurring.
- Do not grab or flip your puppy over to show him you are the “boss”. Randomly doing things like this are confusing to most dogs. If someone walked up to you and lifted you up, you wouldn’t just submit, you would defend yourself. The same is true for most dogs. This can lead to your puppy displaying aggressive behavior as a way of defending himself. Furthermore, this can harm the bond between you and your dog, making your dog feel more questionable or threatened by you.
- Do not chase your puppy if they have an item in their possession. Instead try trading with higher value food such as boiled chicken breast, Happy Howies Meat Rolls, cheese or something of value. Chasing your puppy when he has something in his possession, even if it is your sock or the mail, will only teach your puppy to continuously avoid you when he has something in his possession. And worse, you might teach your puppy to resource guard those items because you make such a big deal about the fact that he has something in his possession. If it is an item that is not of significant importance and your puppy will not become harmed by the item, then the best thing to do is ignore this so that it is not this big deal event.
- Do not tease or provoke the puppy. Kids especially will do this, sometimes not even realizing it, but teasing the puppy will only get your puppy more annoyed which might teach him to become more defensive.
- Your puppy picked up a twig or a leaf outside! BIG DEAL, who cares. If it is a problem, then have treats with you at all times and trade it out. Puppies learn and explore with their mouths. It is a normal and natural behavior. Don’t make things into a big deal because your puppy will continue to learn twigs, leafs and whatever else are a big deal because you made it one! Most puppies will spit out leafs and twigs and move on if we don’t make it a big deal event.
- Understand Canine Body Language: My last piece of advice is to learn about canine body language and communication. All dog owners should learn and understand this, regardless if their dog has a behavior issue or not. Learning what your puppy is saying or doing will help you understand what your puppy is communicating to you. Here is a helpful article by Victoria Stilwell on Canine Body Language. You can also check out my detailed blog post on Resource Guarding to learn more about what this behavior is and what it looks like.
Here are two helpful instructional videos that I created to help you implement more sound strategies to prevent your puppy from resource guarding.
About Anthony De Marinis
Anthony De Marinis is the owner of De Marinis Dog Training & Behavior and provides comprehensive in-home behavior consultations and positive reinforcement dog training services across Long Island, NY. (Online Virtual Consultations for aggression and behavior modification are also available for clients who are both local and out of state.) His specialty is working with complex aggression and behavior cases. Anthony has 7 professional certifications which include: Certified Dog Behavior Consultant from the International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, Accredited Dog Trainer by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Certified Graduate of distinction from the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior, Certified Behavior Adjustment Trainer, Certified Victoria Stilwell Licensed Positively Dog Trainer, The Third Way Certified Trainer and is a Fear Free Certified Animal Trainer. Currently, Anthony has a young Australian Kelpie named Journey. They are learning about agility and sheep herding. You can visit Anthony’s website and learn more about him and his services at: www.demarinisdogtraining.com