Resource guarding is a term used to describe situations in which dogs are in possession of an item and want to retain possession of it. In the wild, this tends to be a life or death situation in that if the dog let another animal take possession of his/her food s/he would ultimately die of starvation. Dogs are naturally highly motivated to retain possession of the resource so that they survive. While this survival instinct served dogs well in the wild, it’s not one we appreciate in our pet dogs, so we need to teach our puppies to like being approached when they have a favorite chew, and to not mind when it’s taken away.
Our job is to change the pup’s thinking from, “Oh, no! They’re going to take my stuff!” to “Yeah! I love when they take my stuff!” The trick to this is to teach them that good things happen when humans take your things. If we use the fact that we’re bigger and stronger to just make them give it over, we deepen their misgivings and set ourselves up for confrontation down the line. Your puppy is not being dominant by not sharing—remember, it’s hardwired instinct for animals to guard their stuff.
Food Bowl Bonuses Exercises
- Step One: Ask your puppy to sit. (If you haven’t learned Sit yet, just wait for her to be calm and polite.) Once your puppy sits (or is being calm), place the empty food bowl on the floor and walk a couple steps away.
- Step Two: As your puppy eats, walk up and toss a treat into her bowl. Walk a couple steps away, pause for a few seconds, and repeat until the puppy is finished.
- Step Three: When the bowl is empty, ask your puppy to sit. Pick up the empty bowl and give her a small treat.
When your puppy shows clear signs of enjoying your approach (wagging tail, looking up expectantly to see what kind of bonus is coming), add in a bowl touch. Walk up to your puppy as you’ve been doing, but now reach down and touch the rim of the bowl with your right hand and then immediately add the bonus with your left. (Reverse this if you’re left handed.)
After a few days of bowl touches (or however long it take to get tail wags and expectant looks up), graduate to picking up the bowl. Approach, pick up your puppy’s bowl with your right hand, add a delectable bonus and quickly put the bowl back down. The message? It’s great to have people bug you when you’re eating!
Important Things to Remember
If your puppy grabs something you don’t want your pup to have, don’t quickly take it away. Instead, ask your puppy to “drop it” and then offer to trade a better treat for the forbidden item. This will teach puppy that having things taken predicts yummy treats. If your puppy is not interested in trading, and the forbidden item is not harmful, let puppy keep it. It is better for your puppy to sneak an unintended snack or chew than for you to get hurt trying to take something away or to teach your pup not to trust you approaching when s/he has possession of something.