Like so many of the interventions we take with puppies, prevention is key when it comes to resource guarding. This is true for a number of reasons:
1. Generally speaking, it’s much easier to keep something from happening than to stop it in its tracks one it’s gained some momentum.
This is true with many things in life, not just resource guarding. The more we rehearse behaviours, the more engrained those pathways become. Creating new pathways requires much more consistency and perseverance than preventing them from being formed in the first place.
2. Once your dog starts resource guarding, he learns that it works.
Imagine your puppy blissfully enjoying his favorite chew. You think it’s adorable and you reach over to pat his head. Fido assumes that you’re reaching to take the chew, and he instinctively growls. Your instincts kick in, too, and you immediately remove your hand. “Interesting,” thinks Fido. “The next time that happens I’ll growl again so that she knows I’m still working on this.” It’s how behaviour works.
3. When done properly, resource guarding prevention exercises teach your dog not only to tolerate, but to LOVE when stuff is taken from him.
This provides valuable padding if he ever finds himself in a situation where multiple triggers are stacked against him.
For example, imagine if your puppy had an upset tummy and he wasn’t yet socialized to children. You have friends over with a small child, so you give him a stuffed Kong to distract him. When the adults are busy, the child wanders over to Fido and reaches for the Kong.
4. It trains the human not to “test” dogs during mealtimes.
Clients sometimes tell me, “Oh, I can put my hands in his food bowl and he doesn’t mind at all!” These guardians are well-meaning, but they often don’t realize that pestering their dogs during meals could actually have the opposite effect. That’s right; it could create resource guarding.
If we are routinely concerned with our dogs’ resources in this way, it makes them seem more scarce and therefore more valuable. It’s much better to teach our dogs that resources are plentiful and that fantastic things happen when we come near their stuff.
So how do we prevent it?
The first step in a resource guarding prevention plan is simple: Teach your puppy that fantastic things happen when you approach him when he’s got something valuable. While Fido is enjoying a meal, walk up to him and drop a special treat into the bowl. This needs to be something more valuable than the kibble – think bits of cheese or real meat. Then simply walk away.
Do this at each meal, and guess what Fido will learn pretty quickly? He’ll learn to LOVE when people approach him during mealtimes. There are several other steps involved to really proof this skill, but this simple exercise will get you and Fido on the right path.
I’d love to help you take it to the next level, so reach out if you’d like to set up a puppy consultation.