When I get a call from a client concerned about a dog who is growling, snapping or even biting over bones or other valuables, people often seem to be skeptical that the behavior can be changed. It can!
Zuzu started out as a resource guarder very early on. I have given her bully sticks to chew on from an early age, and she’s always loved them. Perhaps she loved them a bit too much. One day she was lying on her bed, chewing on a bully stick, and I walked over to her. At the time, I had no intention of taking it from her, but she didn’t know that. She growled when I got close.
Now, many people will get angry when a dog does this. How dare you growl at me?! They think they need to immediately show the dogs “who is boss” by forcing their way in and taking away the bone or chew item.
I had a very different (and I know, not a typical) reaction. I stopped right where I was and said (or perhaps just thought) something like: “Wow, thank you for letting me know that we need to work on this issue! I appreciate the warning that you are feeling very uncomfortable with this situation.”
She was not being mean and aggressive, nor was she trying to be dominant toward me. She was simply saying, I really really like this and I really don’t want anyone taking it from me, so I am willing to do battle over it. Good information to have. And the best information to have was that she was more than willing to warn me before she escalated her behavior. I don’t punish a growl ever. I always look at it as good communication as to how the dog is feeling.
Since that day, Zuzu and I continue to work on her possessiveness with bones, bully sticks, and other valuable items she finds on walks (I won’t gross you out with what those are). When she has one, I sometimes just let her be. But not always. Sometimes, I approach her, toss her a tasty treat and walk away. Sometimes I offer her a tasty treat, wait for her to drop her bone and take the treat. Then I pick up the bone (when there is no competition over it) and then hand it back to her once the treat is consumed. Other times, I drop a few tasty treats on the ground and when she goes to pick those up, I quietly reach in and pick up the bone to save for later.
We’re still working on it. Sometimes she will willingly give up what she has. Sometimes she finds something outside on our walks that she finds even more valuable and we’re working on those.
These behaviors are easy to change if we do things correctly. They are also easy to create or make worse if we do the wrong things. If you see any signs of resource guarding with your dog, talk to me now about how to change things for the better. You’ll be glad you did!