Avoiding Object and Food Guarding

As a youngster, I was attacked by a dog.  In all fairness, I had been warned to stay away from the dog when it was eating.  But, the path behind him was the most direct route to where I wanted to go and as I was about 5 years old, the savings in time was rather important to me.  I received a warning growl and then was bitten in the face.  I was lucky.  He missed my eyes, but the bite did separate my two front teeth and they stayed that way until I lost them and got permanent ones.  Now, for some people that might have led to a lifetime fear of dogs; but, for me, thankfully, there were no lingering fears.

Guarding food or an object that she considers valuable is not unusual for a dog.  In a pack, it is not uncommon for dogs to threaten each other, but one of them will usually back down and then everything is fine.  If one doesn’t back down, the outcome is determined by the one who wins the fight. dog-notouchy In a home environment, object and food guarding can be dangerous if the dog sees family members as a threat.  Children are the most vulnerable, as they are seen by your dog as equal or lesser members of the pack.  In my case, I was visiting the home of the dog—so I had no pack status at all.

As with all training, it is by far easier to teach your dog these lessons when they are young.  As a puppy, they are dependent on you for everything.  By practicing a few simple exercises you can reinforce the idea with your puppy that you, as pack leader, have the right to take any object away from her at any time.

  • When you are feeding her, take the bowl away from your puppy before she has finished eating.  Then return it after a short time.  Let her know that you have complete and full authority of everything she has or may be given.
  • Repeat this exercise with toys.  Practice giving your dog a toy and then take it away, only to return it later.  If your dog shows any aggression (growling) while playing with a toy, put it away.  Playtime is over for now.  Try again later.
  • If your dog steals an object (as puppies are likely to do) “trade” with her.  Offer her a treat or a toy in exchange for the object you want while stating “Mine”.  You can eventually begin weaning her away from the treat. When she has something that you want, say “Mine” and take it without giving her a treat.  Eventually, she will drop what it is that she has stolen at the verbal command “Mine”.

You can substitute a different command if you choose.  Many people will use the command “Give it” or “Give”.  Which ever command you choose, try to be consistent in using it.

In the beginning, while working on these skills, it is best if only adults take on the job of training.  Once you are getting a consistent positive response from your dog, then you may allow children to begin to take over the role—under your supervision.  This alerts the dog that as pack leader, you recognize the child or children as pack members, and that they have higher status than your dog.

It is far better to establish with your puppy, the idea that you have the right to take or remove any object from her at any time, than to try to deal with a full grown object guarding or food aggressive dog later.  If you take the time early on, you will be saving yourself from having to deal with a much bigger problem in the future.

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