One of our wonderful Facebook fans wrote in to ask the following question: “What is the best way to handle ‘resource guarding’? My puppy recently bit my husband while he was trying to retrieve part of a dead bird from her mouth. She has never been deprived of food or mistreated in any way but seems to be very protective of strange things she picks up outside ie, branches, leaves, feathers, and in this case part of a dead bird. Please help so we can train her properly.”
This is a good question and resource guarding is a common problem. For starters, resource guarding is exactly what it sounds like. Your dog believes he has something of very significant value, which he feels defensive about or threatened by if you try to take the resource away. Usually the higher the value of the resource, the more your dog might guard it. Dead animals are a very high value reward for dogs because they are hardwired to protect their “prey”. So even if your pup has had a good life (and we thank you for loving your adopted dogs well!), your dog’s instincts may kick in to protect certain things.
When it comes to resource guarding, I would recommend enlisting the help of a certified, professional, positive-reinforcement-based dog trainer in your area. Often dogs protect resources they think will be taken away from them. Of course we are trying to take that thing away from them, which often makes the behavior worse! But a professional dog trainer knows how to teach your pooch the “drop it” command, and will make your dog a believer that dropping a resource is in fact a good thing by giving him a treat for backing away and letting go of the resource. This treat should be of higher value than the item he is protecting.
With the help of a certified dog trainer, dog bites can most effectively be avoided and your dog can learn to have a positive association with resources being taken away. Teaching your dog that good things come from resource removal, through treats, praising, petting, etc, will likely decrease or eliminate the guarding behavior. Furthermore, an experienced dog trainer will know how to read your dog’s communication signals and make sure that a bite doesn’t happen by detecting any early warning signs. It’s highly suggested that your dog never learns to use biting as a method to get what he wants!
Best of all, a good trainer will teach you how to read your dog’s body language and make sure that your dog learns to have a positive experience when dropping both the resource and the guarding behavior. The end goal: your dog will not feel the need to defend, protect, or guard the thing he wants and will trust you to give and take his resources no matter what they are!
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