Food Resource Guarding 101
· Feed your dog in a chaotic, stressful location
· Bother your dog while they are eating
· Allow children access to your dog while they are eating (no pets!)
· Take away food from your dog during their meal
· Feed your dog in a quiet private location/controlled environment
· Give your dog space to finish their meal in peace
· Occasionally toss high value treats to your dog while they eat
· Teach “drop it” and “leave it” cues
Know your dog’s threshold before you begin
Every dog with resource guarding has a threshold. It is important that we find where the dog begins to get uncomfortable near their food, toy, bed, or even human. It’s like an invisible line. At one distant the dog is comfortable then next step forward the dog is uncomfortable. That is the threshold. That is where we begin training.
Manage your dog’s environment
Dogs thrive on rules and boundaries. If your dog is a resource guarder, then it is time to create new rules and boundaries. Structure is important in any household, but even more important in a home with a resource guarder. You need to control everything: food, toys, play time, the list continues. Just remember “nothing in life is free.” During mealtime have the dog sit and wait before being fed. During play time incorporate a basic command before throwing a ball or playing tug. Always keep high value rewards out of reach. When you are ready to play with a favorite toy then the dog can play with it. You say when it is time to end the game, not the dog. You are in control, not the dog.
Prevention is a big part of managing resource guarding and consistency is the most important in modifying unwanted behaviors. The goal is to change your dog’s attitude when it comes to people approaching anything that triggers resource guarding—food/toy/human/bed. We also need to determine why the dog is guarding. Sometimes the answer is simple and sometimes it isn’t. When training it is important to keep the environment predictable to prevent any setbacks. This is as simple as feeding your dog in the morning. The environment needs to be managed until the behavior is modified. Remove all triggers--- bowls, toys, etc. Provide them only in controlled circumstances.
Desensitize by using treats
Rather than punishing a dog for resource guarding we need to modify the dog’s feelings when it comes to people approaching their resource item. We need to create positive experiences. We need to counter condition (to change the pet’s emotional response to a stimulus) and desensitize (safely exposing the pet to the stimulus at a level or below level which fear is likely to be exhibited.)
Start using treats around your dog’s food/toy/resource item
To create a positive experience and begin changing the dog’s attitude we need to use a high value food reward. *The dog only gets this high value reward during training*
1. Walk towards your dog’s bowl while they are eating and stop at their threshold.
2. BEFORE they begin to show aggressive behaviors toss a treat towards them. If you toss the treat when they show aggressive behaviors, then you are rewarding negative behaviors. Timing is everything. Reward good behavior, not bad.
3. While you have the dog’s attention toss a few more treats towards them then walk away.
4. Repeat this step for a few days.
*It’s important not to rush or push the dog*
During this first week the dog will begin to associate you coming towards the food bowl as a positive experience (us throwing treats) and there is nothing to be afraid of. This exercise must be done on a regular basis.
Slowly decrease the distance between you and their food
Once you are confident your dog isn’t stressed by you being at the threshold you can start to SLOWLY get closer. Some dogs this requires one step at a time and that is normal.
· With high value treats approach your dog’s food bowl while they’re eating. This time walk one step closer than in step 1.
· Toss a few treats in their direction and walk away.
· After a few tosses you can take another step forward, slowly decreasing the distance between you and your dog.
· Repeat this step a few more times while they’re eating.
If your dog stiffens up, growls, or shows other signs of discomfort you’ll need to take a step back and toss treats from there. This is the new threshold. Please remember crossing each new threshold takes patience and there is no time frame on each step. If you don’t push too fast, you will eventually be able to get next to your dog’s bowl while they remain relaxed. Remember to always create positive experiences around the bowl. DO NOT TAKE FOOD AWAY when the dog is eating.
Change the dog’s feeding routine
Where do you feed your dog every day? Let’s change it. Sometimes a simple change in location solves the problem. We need to determine why the dog is resource guarding. Is the area too busy? Is another dog trying to eat their food? Are the kids making the dog nervous? If your dog has been resource guarding for a long time, try moving their feeding location a couple times a week. From one room to the next. It’s a simple way to change their mentality about mealtime just by making it less predictable and giving it new associations.
Hand Feeding and Food Dispensing Toys
Hand feeding is not a cure for food resource guarding, but it does help teach the dog where the food comes from. The food comes from you and not the bowl. It helps build trust and confidence. It also teaches impulse control and manners. This is another way to change their feeding routine. You can also use a Kong Wobbler or other treat/food dispenser toy to feed them or even use a puzzle bowl / slow feeder.
Teaching “leave it” and “drop it” cues
Once we can be around the food bowl now it is time to incorporate leave it cues. While the dog is eating, we will try to get the dog’s attention by saying “look” if the dog has a focus command, making a sound, or saying the dog’s name. Once the dog stops eating and makes eye contact with you, you drop a treat. After repeating this its time to incorporate leave it. We start by getting the dog’s attention, stating leave it, and once the dog stops eating, we treat. We can take it one step further by having the dog sit on command, then treat. We can even have the dog leave it and come, so the dog leaves the bowl. Once the dog is away from the bowl then we can safely remove the bowl and put it away until the next meal.
Summary for Success
1. Structure, rules, and boundaries
2. Controlled environments
4. Positive reinforcement and experiences
5. Basic commands: sit, down, stay, come, wait, leave it, drop it, and look, manners