Resource Guarding: What It Is, How to Avoid It & How to Overcome It
Saying a dog can be overprotective with food is like saying it gets wet when it rains. Yet, many owners are still surprised when it happens (including me). You would think that the same person who put the food in their bowl should be able to pat them while they eat, but no, for some reason, that’s when your dog goes berserk! And, it’s not just with food though. Sometimes they do it with toys, places and even people.
Resource Guarding is when a dog becomes overly protective over what it believes is its possession, be it a physical location, an item, or an individual, to the extent that it might resort to violence to defend it/them. Like many people, I learned this lesson the hard way with my first dog. I thought that was how all dogs were and were doomed to be that way forever until I found out even if a dog resource guards stuff, it can and ought to be trained to let go.
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Why Do Dogs Guard Resources?
Resource guarding is a common trait with many animals in the wild and is very common with dogs, so don’t think your pooch is bunkers. In the jungle, the animal that eats first gains superiority over the others, as it will be bigger and stronger. If it doesn’t get enough daily nutrients or control over its territory, it could perish. Your dog believes that if it doesn’t protect what’s hers, it would have a very difficult if not a miserable life.
In other words, your dog lives in a self-imposed post-apocalyptic world, where the strongest get to fight another day, while the weakest get turned into handbags, and the puppy doesn’t want to be a handbag. Can you imagine what that’s like? How would you feel if your next meal would be your last, would you share it with anyone? Okay, I’m not even sure why I asked that, not like I even share food on a normal day. And that is partly why I get dogs, and also why I’m hoping you can stop your dogs from becoming like me.
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Can Resource Guarding Be Prevented?
Asking if you can alter a dog’s natural hard-wiring may seem like a shot in the dark, but as with almost every bad habit on earth, there is always a way round out. Obviously you can’t know if your dog would be a resource guarder, but pre-emptive measures are needed for all dogs.
The two most important lessons for a dog to learn in order for it to break or not develop this habit are: there is enough to go around and it is more rewarding to share. When a dog is constantly made to share, yet it still has more than enough, it won’t be as tempted to be stingy with goodies. When it comes to locations and people, a little bit of resource guarding is needed, but not to the point of aggression, unless necessary, like if a person is in physical danger.
How To Prevent Resource Guarding
When it comes to food guarding, you have to make sure you are a positive part of the feeding process. The message you want to convey is that your presence is necessary for your dog to enjoy its meal. You can accomplish this by feeding your dog some of its meals by hand. I like to feed my dog nice chunks of meat and other foods it really enjoys from my hand. The other stuff needed for balanced growth but it doesn’t particularly like, I put in his bowl. This way, when I call it to eat, he is expecting something good, and he finds no need to keep me away from the feeding bowl because I can only make the experience better!
Besides feeding your pup by hand, also be by its bowl as it feeds. Put some food in there while you stand beside it, and stroke its body gently as it eats, even holding the bowl in your hands. Your dog will recognize you as the source of food and won’t feel threatened by your presence. Another level to this is to walk past its bowl while it is feeding and put some more food in there, like Santa.
All of these things combine to cement the idea that you are good for food. If it doesn’t have your presence, it’s not going to have a good time. Also remember to praise your dog as it eats from your hand, in your presence and when it allows you to pat it while it eats. These exercises will teach your dog there is enough food to go around, and the closer you get to it, the better it can be.
When it comes to toys, play games with it in which you alternate toys. As your pooch plays with one, get excited about a different one. Soon, it will want the one in your hand. Praise your dog for letting go of the first toy and for letting you play with it and stroke it while it plays. This teaches your dog that it is more rewarding to share.
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How To Help Your Dog Stop Resource Guarding
Trick it Into Eating By Your Side
For food-guarding dogs, the first thing to do is to change the whole feeding process. Whatever pattern or habits it has built around eating have to be destabilized, so it can form new positive habits. To do this, change its feeding time, location, and bowl. This switch won’t give it enough time to get defensive when it’s time to eat.
Pick up your dog’s bowl and pretend to put food inside. When she looks at you, praise her for giving you attention during feeding time, then reward her with some food. When she is done with that, put some more food in the bowl, pouring little at a time so she has to look unto you for food and you can give her praise.
After it has eaten a reasonable quantity, walk away from the bowl. After she walks away, go back to the bowl and put some more food inside. Repeat this process for every meal. This will get your dog not only used to you being near its bowl, but it looks forward to it. You are teaching your dog that without you, there is no food. You can then move on to larger handfuls of food and even full bowls while you stand next to it.
Putting special treats in the food bowl at random times also adds an extra level of anticipation. Not only does your presence during meal times mean food, but you being anywhere close to its bowl is also bound to lead to pleasant surprises like steak, chunky bits of chicken, and anything else your dog really loves. Everyone likes a surprise. Your dog is sitting in a corner watching Scooby-Doo and all of a sudden, bam! You drop something too juicy to resist. You may even notice that your dog would stop eating long enough to look at you in appreciation before it continues.
The first time my dog let me stand close to it while it ate a whole meal, I almost did a triple backflip. But as I was indoors and I can’t do backflips, I just praised him vocally instead. What you may discover is as you continue this process, you may soon get to the stage when you can carry your dog’s bowl while it eats and stroke it at the same time.
A Rare Instance Of Natural Correction
When my first dog used to defend its plate and threaten me if I came close to it, I was taught to regain dominance by showing it who was boss. But I realized that my confrontational approach only made it madder! Thankfully, I soon adapted positive reinforcement and things improved. Eventually, it learned to stop being that way with me and to my surprise, our new puppy.
Somehow, this naturally overprotective dog realized that as the responsible adult, it had to let the younger dog eat. I remember the first time we saw baby Kevin walk over to Spotty’s plate and we sprinted across the room to rescue the newborn (of no relation by the way), only to realize that Spotty had just moved out of the way. Spotty just stood there and watched the little pup devour its food. It blew my mind.
This is in no way, a foolproof plan. I have seen dogs so guarded they would bite their own pups! To go out and get another puppy might increase your joy, but may not stop your older dog from resource guarding. But the point is this: even old dogs can learn to behave themselves. It may be because of something you did, or just being trained in a loving environment. Sooner or later, all their aggression tends to take a back seat the more they are being trained with positive reinforcement, and that really is the best medicine.
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