They say that possesion is 9/10ths of ownership and dogs are no exception.
The dog's rule is that if it's in my mouth it belongs to me and I am
allowed to protect it regardless of my rank.
Notice I said "regardless of my rank". If your dog is guarding a
bone, his food bowl or a favorite toy it isn't because he's trying to take
over the house. Though the behavior of guarding is normal as far as dogs
go and even necessary if the dog must ensure his own survival in a group
(like a wild pack), it is totally unacceptable when dogs live closely with
Guarding is classified as a normal canine response to perceived
threat but unacceptable. Where does this behavior come from ? No one can
answer that definitively but it is probably safe to say that guarding
objects is partly genetic and partly learned. I notice among my private
training clients that guarding objects (like bones, toys or food) is very
common in sporting breeds like spaniels, pointers, setters, and retrievers
(yes even Goldens), . I find that the dogs that have the highest energy
levels and the most drive to do what they were bred to do (like retrieve
ducks) tend to develop the most serious problems.
Honestly, though I think genetics can predispose a dog to object
guarding, I think the intial way the situations are handled determines the
dogs overall fate. The heavier the punishment and physical reprimands, the
more likely the problem is to have escalated to the point where the dog is
put to sleep. From my experience punishment is the surest way to get
bitten seriously and should be avoided entirely.
Here's how I would go about making changes in a dog that is object guarding:
- If possible, eliminate the trigger to the dog's guarding behavior. If
it's a particualr kind of chew toy, bone or treat, don't give it anymore.
- Teach your dog to "leave it" on command and practice with increasingly
difficult leave its. Ex. tissue, paper, socks, books, etc.
- Put money in the dog's "bank account" for giving things up. Trade your
dog anytime he has something (whether it's a ball, a rubber bone or a soft
toy) so he gets used to giving things up and then getting them right back.
Take the toy, give him a piece of cheese, then give the toy back.
- Give bones with a string attached. Tie a rope or string to a bone and
practice giving it to the dog for a minute, then pulling it away and
trading him with cheese, then giving it back again. Repeat this until he
abandons the bone any time you approach.
- Don't punish growling. This is your dog's warning that he is feeling
uncomfortable and that he needs more training. If you punish growling your
dog may not growl again, but instead skip right to the bite.
These tips are not meant to replace the guidance of a qualified trainer in
assisting you in getting control of a problem dog. Object guarding can be
a very serious problem that you want to get rid of as fast as possible but
you may need some guidance in doing so safely. Consider booking a private
consultation if this is a problem for you and your dog. The tips above
will get you started in the right direction, but further coaching will be
necessary in most cases. The above suggestions would be a great place to
start with a young puppy as part of a object guarding prevention program so
hurry and get started today.
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