By Rangnath Tamboli*
Let’s start with what is resource guarding. It is when a dog thinks of an object of utmost importance to it, so much so that it chooses to guard that object. You will see this with dogs and their food, their toys or even bones that they like chewing. In many cases, you’ll see the dog tends to eat faster, or its body stiffens, or it may show its teeth and growl, bite, snap or sometimes even charge at the person whom he thinks is causing trouble. It is a way in which the dog is trying to convince you to stop your approach towards it. It is trying to protect that object.
There are ways that you can identify resource guarding. Early signs would include the dog picking up the object and going away to the other side or sometimes placing its paw on the object. But whatever maybe the signal, the owner must know that this behaviour should be nipped in the bud before something can happen to trigger it.
Resource guarding is also referred to as ‘possessive aggression’ due to this. Note that resource guarding isn’t only between a dog and the owner, it can also be between a dog and other animals, e.g. a dog is eating his food, but when another dog comes close to him at this time, he will growl or snap.
So what do you do when your dog displays this behaviour? While it’s understandable that the behaviour can send a chill down anyone’s spine, it can also be addressed. To start with, the owner needs to understand that an approach that involves yelling or screaming or even giving the dog a whack is not going to work here, and for all you know, it may cause more damage than cure the issue at hand. He or she must be honest with people/guests that come over to their home that their dog exhibits resource guarding and hence, do nothing to trigger it as the guests safety comes first. The owner must not let the guest approach the dog’s toys or food in a way that the dog doesn’t appreciate.
The owner must bring in a canine behaviourist and trainer to solve this problem. Any problem of aggression cannot be solved by pet owners. Make sure that the behaviourist uses only positive reinforcement techniques as this is the only way to have a life-long good impact on your pooch. Let me give you an example of why the owner needs a canine behaviourist: Mahesh owns a pet dog that exhibits resource guarding with food and bones. The dog has growled at Mahesh a few times in the past when Mahesh approached it while the dog was eating. Mahesh knows there is a problem at hand and decides to take on this problem himself. So to teach the dog ‘who is the boss’, the next time Mahesh puts his hand into the dog’s food bowl and removes the bone. The dog growls and snaps and Mahesh has a narrow escape. Now, Mahesh doesn’t only have a dog that growls and snaps, but also has a dog that has the potential to bite him the next time this happens. The key here is NOT to challenge the dog. Don’t intimidate the dog at all. These tricks are known to a behaviourist, hence the pet owner must call one.
The trick here comes by gauging the body language of the dog as well. The dog must be so comfortable that he should not find it necessary to guard the object at all. The behaviourist must use positive reinforcement with the dog. In this, one way could be of diverting the dog’s energy to another object and once that is successful, then take the resource guarded object away. Build a trust with the dog and let it know that there’s nothing stressful about the object or food going away. Reward the dog when he behaves correctly by praising him a lot and give him an amazing treat.
Things to keep in mind if you’re facing this problem:
1) Keep objects likely to be guarded away from the dog.
2) Don’t keep taking the food away from your dog – imagine how annoyed you would get if someone walked away with your plate while you were in between a meal?
3) Find a treat of highest value and let the behaviourist use this one during the training sessions.
4) Be honest with relatives and friends, who come over, about your dogs behaviour so that they don’t do anything to annoy him and increase the problem at hand.
5) Teach your dog the ‘leave it’ command while it’s still a puppy. If it’s an adult dog, let the behaviourist do the same.
6) Never use negative reinforcement like yelling, screaming, whacking, or use of prong and shock collars.
*Author is a professional canine trainer having 18 years of experience and a massive authority on training dogs. He uses comprehensive training with innovative methods to bring out the best in the dogs thereby making them most resourceful. He has earned his reputation through effective techniques and a positive training approach. He is winner of the National level Dog Competition. He is a specialist in Competitive Obedience, Tracking, Protection, and Detection Training.