Resource guarding (when a dog exhibits a protective or aggressive behavior around food, toys, treats, or even people) is a very common behavior in rescue dogs because they often have not received proper nutrition and come into rescue literally starving. In the past, they may have had to fight to protect their food from other animals in the shelter or as stray dogs on the street. Dogs may even see people who are kind to them as a resource worth guarding because they have not had a person to “call their own” before. Typically, as dogs begin to realize that food now comes at regular intervals and is not in short supply, resource guarding behaviors resolve on with time on their own. Meanwhile, it is important to keep children and other dogs safe around dogs with resource guarding tendencies and to avoid reinforcing negative behaviors.
Many people are under the impression that the best way to correct resource guarding behaviors is to “show the dog who’s boss” by taking food away while he’s eating or sticking your hand in the bowl, but this will only make the dog MORE prone to resource guard. Think about this from the dogs’ perspective. Imagine you haven’t eaten all day and you sit down at the table to eat a nice big hamburger. All of a sudden, some guy you barely know come over and snatches the burger out of your hands. Your instinctive reaction would likely be to grab it back and say, “What do you think you are doing? That’s mine!” A dog has no hands, so he would grab it back with his teeth and growl which in doggy language means, “What do you think you are doing? That’s mine!” WHEN A DOG IS EATING, LEAVE THE DOG ALONE.
Establish a regular feeding schedule twice a day, every day at the same time. Dogs thrive on consistency. If they know when food is coming, they will not worry that every meal could be their last. If the dog does not eat all of the food within 10 minutes, pick up the bowl and put the food away until the next meal time. DO NOT LEAVE FOOD ON THE GROUND ALL DAY.
Teach the dog the “DROP” command: NEVER TAKE ANYTHING OUT OF A DOG’S MOUTH BY FORCE. Instead, “trade” the dog for something more valuable. If the dog has a shoe, pillow, bone, piece of trash, or whatever other inappropriate thing in his mouth, take a piece of cheese or other high value treat or toy, show the dog that you have it and wait for him to drop what is in his mouth. As he drops the item, let him take the more valuable treat as you pick up the item you are trying to retrieve. As you make the exchange, say “DROP.” Eventually, the dog will learn to drop items when you tell him whether you have a treat or not.
TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL:
LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE: NEVER ALLOW CHILDREN TO INTERACT WITH A DOG WHILE HE IS SLEEPING, EATING, OR CHEWING A TOY.
NEVER LET CHILDREN PLAY INSIDE A DOG’S CRATE: The crate should be the safe place a dog feels comfortable in taking refuge (especially if he needs to take a break from little ones tugging on his tail and ears). Even the most patient dog has his limits. Respect those boundaries and teach children to respect the dog’s boundaries as well.
WHEN GIVING A DOG A TREAT: Instruct children always to place treats in the middle of their flat, open palm
WHEN A DOG IS JUMPING UP: Instruct children to cross their arms and turn their back to the dog
CLOSE DOORS BEHIND YOU: Most of us don’t live in a Donna Reid world. It’s tough to keep a house neat and tidy everywhere, all the time. Encourage all family members to keep bedroom and other doors closed and allow the dog access only to the main living space. Instruct children to keep toys, socks, shoes and other items, off the floor in the main living space and keep clutter confined to area the dog has no access to. In addition to teaching your children good housekeeping and preventing the destruction of your child’s favorite teddy bear this will prevent the dog from swallowing ingesting inappropriate items which can lead to expensive surgeries and death.