If Good Dog Charles turns into Cujo the moment you try to take his toy away, you are likely dealing with a resource guarder. Resource guarding in dogs is not an uncommon problem, but you need to address it because it could lead to potential biting. Fortunately, by implementing some easy step-by-step behavior modification techniques, preferably under the guidance of a professional, you can teach your dog that giving up his prized possessions is no biggie and can actually be a rewarding experience.
Determine what triggers your dog's resource guarding response. Does he growl only when he has a particular toy? Are new toys the main problem? Is he growling when you try to take his toy away or when you get too close? Also, determine if the resource guarding is only limited to toys. Many dogs who guard their toys may also guard bones, food bowls and other treasures worthy of protection.
Become familiar with your dog's body language. Learn how to readily recognize signs of relaxation. Look at Scruffy's body language when he is relaxed on the couch and pay particular attention to his body, ears, eyes and tail. Compare this body language to the body language you have witnessed when your dog was protective of a toy. Most likely you noticed how his body tensed up and became stiff as you walked by and how he may have given you a hard stare while keeping his head low and emitting that low growl, pleading you to stay away.
Arm yourself with some high-value treats. Skip the kibble your dog eats every day or those stale doggie biscuits you have stored for several months in that cookie jar. You want soft, bite-sized treats that your dog perceives to be much higher in value than the toy he has been fiercely guarding. Many dogs drool for small bits of chicken, beef, hot dogs or cheese. Use these treats only for training purposes.
Let your dog initially have a toy that isn't excessively perceived as valuable. Stay at a distance where he is likely to not tense up and walk parallel to him. As you are passing by, toss high value treats. You want to make it clear that when you pass by great things happen. Repeat several times so to make it clear that you are no longer a threat, but rather a predictor of yummy treats. If your dog becomes tense at any time, then you are likely too close for comfort.
Move gradually closer each day. Continue walking parallel to your dog and tossing treats right when you pass by. Make it clear that it's your presence that makes those treats happen. After repeating several times, something wonderful will happen: your dog's emotional response will change. Instead of tensing up as you get close, your dog may lift his head and even wag his tail in anticipation of the treat. Progress by getting gradually closer every day and tossing treats until you are walking right past your dog.
Let your dog have a toy and in the meanwhile smear some peanut butter on another toy. As you walk by your dog, instead of tossing treats, let him have the toy smeared with peanut butter. In order to obtain the toy with peanut butter, your dog should drop his other toy. Take the latter as he works on licking the peanut butter off the other toy. When he is done, again smear some peanut butter on the other toy, walk by and let him have the toy while you remove the toy without peanut butter. Repeat several times for several days.
Items You Will Need
- High-value treats
- Peanut butter
- Always put safety first and consult with a certified applied animal behaviorist or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist before trying things on your own.
- As your dog progresses, start using toys he values more and repeat the whole process all over.
- Should your dog have a toy in his mouth and you need to take it away, say "drop it" as you offer him a treat or exchange the toy with another toy smeared with peanut butter.
- If your dog does not appear relaxed or happy at any stage, step back and retreat to the previous level. For instance, should your dog growl when you are 3 feet away, make sure you stay more than 3 feet away.
- If at any time you think your dog may bite, don't hesitate to call a professional.
- Avoid punishing your dog by taking his toy away. This will only increase his aggression because it confirms in his mind that your intent is to really take his toy away.
- Don't punish your dog for growling. Doing so may lead to a dog who bites without warning.
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