Resource guarding is not uncommon among dogs, and the severity ranges from just a glance to outright growling and biting. Resources aren’t just food – they could be people, toys or other dogs, but the most common, of course, is food. This blog addresses resource guarding with food exclusively.
The underlying emotion involved in food resource guarding is fear. Usually, in the dog’s mind, the food they are guarding is considered life-essential to them. In other words, they fear they could die if the food was taken away from them.
That is why it can be very dangerous to even walk by a dog who has severe resource guarding issues. The way to reduce or even
eliminate this fearful resource guarding is to use positive reinforcement and counter-conditioning. The goal is to alter the pup’s emotional response to another dog’s presence and reduce or eliminate the old behavior and develop replacement behaviors.
Step one in dealing with resource guarding is management, not training. Access to the dog’s most prized possessions must be curtailed temporarily while you do the training. Access to particular rooms or furniture may be required, as well as restricting a dog’s access to the other dog’s food – think crates, baby gates and pens.
Once your management is set up, you should begin training each dog separately on basic commands in addition to “leave it” and “stay”. View my other blogs for details on how to teach these commands. Assuming these commands are solid in both dogs, you will need another handler to work with both dogs simultaneously. Important FYI’s: there is a hierarchy in the value of the resource – for instance, toys are considered low value, chew toys are medium value, as are treats that contain recipes. High value treats are things like real chicken, real meat, or freeze-dried liver. A second, important FYI is that you should always be working under both pups’ threshold – neither should be emotionally redlining and be in control of their emotions.
OK, leash up both dogs and place a low-value resource near dog 1. Then walk dog 2 into the room, stopping at least 10 feet away from the resource. Say “yes!” to dog 1 and treat her for remaining calm in the presence of the resource and another dog. Do the same with dog 2 as he remained calm and dig not go toward the resource. Rinse and repeat tens of times, getting dog 2 closer and closer to the resource over time. Now if either dog redlines go back to 10 feet and start over. This process may take a few sessions or a few days but eventually the dogs will come closer and closer together without reacting to each other over the resource. The next step would be doing the above with a medium-value resource, followed by a high-value resource. Again, this may take days, or weeks to successfully counter-condition both dogs.
Another counter-conditioning process is a little harder, but very impactful when successful. Hold each dog 10 feet from each other. Give dog 1 a medium-value treat and then give dog 2 a high-value treat. Each dog should be in sit/stays, by the way. If either dog redlines, then increase the distance and start again. Continue giving treats in this manner and slowly reducing the distance between the pups. In a matter of days/weeks, you should be able to move the dogs to paws-length between each other with both them in calm states.
What if one of the dogs redlines unexpectedly during the normal course of a day? First and foremost, remain calm. No negative punishment. Without making contact with either pup, separate the dogs, either to their crates or their beds (teaching them “go to crate” or “go to bed” beforehand is a good idea). Then, figure out what went wrong and take whatever resource out of their daily routine. A good idea would be to use this resource as a high-value training resource. If all goes well, you will be able to successfully counter-condition the dogs against being reactive to this resource in the future!