“I can take anything away from my dog.” I’ve heard it many times. While I’m glad that these people are able to take things away from their dogs, they are often missing one important piece of the process to ensure their dogs are not possessive of or guarding resources.
Whether you have a new puppy or an older dog, preventing or addressing early signs of possession aggression or resource guarding are important. For some dogs, guarding will only display toward other dogs. For some, toward dogs or people.
However, just being able to take something away is not enough. Sometimes we can actually end up creating aggressive or guarding behavior by doing the very things we think will prevent it from developing.
Many people work on these things by taking things away from their puppy or dog on a regular basis. Picking up the food bowl while the dog is eating and then setting it back down. Taking a bone away, and then giving it back a short time later. Pulling toys from the dog’s mouth and perhaps giving it back or throwing it for the dog to run after. Taking away things the dog should not have, such as shoes, socks, or remote controls and giving nothing back.
Here’s the potential problem with taking these things away: your puppy now assumes that every time you approach when he has something in his mouth, you are going to take it away. Rather than teaching your dog to be accepting of this, you can create the opposite. Your puppy might start to tense up and get a bit apprehensive every time you approach. This won’t happen in all cases, but in some cases, you will actually create resource guarding behavior in your dog by doing this!
In addition, if you are doing this every time he has something in his mouth, you will only add to the irritation. Sometimes, just let him enjoy it!
So, what should you do? Create positive associations with your approach. Rather than pick up your dog’s food bowl, bring a tasty treat and drop it in. Later, pick up the food bowl, drop in a tasty treat and put it back down. Approach your puppy while he’s chewing on a bone. Offer a really tasty treat, so he drops his bone to take the treat. Let him continue chewing on his bone. Later, pick up the bone after he drops it to get the treat. When he’s done eating the treat, give him back the bone. When your puppy has your shoe, entice him to come to you rather than chase after him. Offer him a treat or toy as trade for dropping the shoe.
Rather than you always subtracting something from the equation, think about adding something of value. With some repetition, your puppy will actually feel good about you approaching rather than apprehensive and defensive.
For more info on resource guarding, check out the Resource Guarding topic in Part Two: Problem Behaviors of my new Juvenile Delinquent Dogs book.