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Growling Dog - Resource Guarding

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How To Stop Your Dog From Guarding Food, Toys, Etc.

Growling, Snarling, Snapping Or Biting To Protect Food, Water Or Toys

Does your dog growl or snarl when someone comes too close to his toys or food? It is common for dogs to claim territory, food, toys, other dogs, and even people. This behavior can be generalized further, with dogs guarding anything. Resource guarding can be a dangerous behavior. While unsettling on its own, it is easy to envision a perfect storm that turns protection or guarding into full-blown aggression.

Resource Guarding is Caused By:

  • Instinct - In a dog pack, the leader, alpha, eats first and denies the others' attempts to encroach on his domain.
  • Lack of socialization - Dogs that have not been properly trained to give up their favorite items or yield their food bowl will demonstrate this unwanted behavior.
  • Fear - A dog that is afraid of people (adults and/or children) or animals will defend its resources, and itself, against the threat.
  • Dominance issues - In dominant cases, the dog sees himself at the top and is willing to exert that influence.
  • Actually trained that way - owners playing with the dog (tug of war), encouraging him to growl in protection over his toys.

Tips to Stop Resource Guarding

Resolving the issue begins with relationship exercises and redefining your dog's understanding of the resources themselves. It is normal for a dog to guard its resources. It is normal for people too, but we use locks and the police to safeguard our territory and a dog uses its teeth. In this case, we want to replace his current understanding with a new, more tolerant view of things.

  • Begin by picking up his toys and other items that he guards. Do this when he is away.
  • Allow him to have one toy at a time, and be the one that hands it to him.
  • When taking a toy from him, trade him for a different toy. It's best to give him one of the least valued toys first, and then trade him a better toy.
  • When he is eating, make it a habit to add pieces of food in there as he goes. Let him learn that a human hand by the food dish means chicken, hot dog, or beef in the bowl.

Note: If there is a chance your dog may snap or bite, do not put your hands near him. Instead, use a broom, or other long handled object.

The way to fix the behavior is to make giving up items a fun thing. By rewarding your dog with play and treats for trading his toys, by dropping good food items in his bowl while he eats, and other such exercises, you can condition him to see the presence of a human hand near his toys and food as a good thing that indicates better stuff coming his way. The stronger his belief in this, the lower the likelihood that he will bite someone for approaching him at the wrong time.

Caution: There is a difference between changing a dog's mindset and simply getting a dog to be quiet. The growl and snarl can be punished out of the dog, but if the underlying aggression remains, then he will simply skip the warning steps and go right to the bite. This is commonly what occurs when a dog is merely punished for incorrect behaviors instead of trained to see the world differently. It is much better to prepare your dog to enjoy and want interference.

Dogs That Guard Resources Are Also Likely To...


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