Resource Guarding Food Bowl: Prevention & Management

What is resource guarding? Resource guarding is the behavior a dog chooses when he believes he needs to protect something of high value. This item can be the food bowl (empty or full), a favorite or new toy, a bone, a sock, his bed, your bed, etc. The list is endless because it is completely up to the dog to determine what he believes is considered “high value”. However, most commonly the behavior is seen over the following items: food, toys/bones, bed/crate, and a favorite person. This behavior can happen with any type of dog, any sex, any age, any size. Knowing the signs is very important so you can prevent the behavior from getting worse.

If you notice any of these signs, or believe your dog is starting to exhibit resource guarding behavior, you must address the behavior immediately.

  • Lowered head over the item of value
  • Standing guard over the item of value
  • Snarl or low growl when you come near the item or reach for it
  • Complete stillness (aka freeze) when you come near the item or reach for it
  • If pushed, or signs not read properly, the dog will snap at the hand reaching for item

The following outline is to help those who are experiencing the behavior with the food bowl specifically, although this method can easily be used on toys/bones. The outline below is what I share with my clients, and this one specifically was written for a couple who had a 4 month old Golden Retriever puppy, Wrangler, who was starting to growl when they walked by the food bowl.


Dear Dave,

First, I would start by ignoring the growling he presents when you walk by the food bowl. If you show him now that that behavior does not keep you away, it will teach him not to continue the behavior. Instead, continue what you were doing (walking by him, stopping near him, etc.) and just talk to him in a normal voice. You can say something like, “Hey bud. Good breakfast huh?”, then simply walk away.

Second, I want you to purchase a really yummy treat that you will use solely for the next suggestions. These treats should be small to moderate size, and be the best thing Wrangler wants. My suggestion for healthy treats for a growing puppy is some type of food in a roll such as Natural Balance. These are full meals so they are low in calories and extra fillers Wrangler does not need right now, and they last a long time in your fridge.

How you use these treats are as follows:

  1. When you walk by him while he is eating, I want you to talk to him in a normal voice, telling him he’s doing a good job, and drop a treat or two into his bowl while he is eating. Don’t worry if they don’t land directly in his bowl, he’ll still get the picture. You will want to do this at least 5 times during each meal if possible. After doing this step for a few days, you will start to see him awaiting your approach because you bring something delicious. At that point, I want you to ask him to sit or look at you, then drop the treats in the bowl, and release him back to eating his meal. Do this step only once or twice during each meal as it can be very stressful so we don’t want to push Wrangler too much in the beginning. Continue this step for a week or two until you notice a difference in his behavior.
  2. The next step is to actually remove the food bowl while he is eating, and there are two ways to do this. The first is that you only put about 1/4 of his meal into the bowl and hang around while he eats. As soon as you see he is done with that portion, ask him to sit and pour the next 1/4 of food in with a small treat, and release him to eat after he has sat their patiently. Repeat these steps until you have given him the last 1/4 of his meal. As you do this each meal, you will slowly wean the treat size and frequency out of the picture so that he is simply listening for the reward of his food after doing a good behavior for you. The second step, which should only be started when the first step is going very smoothly, is to ask him to stop eating while food is still in the bowl. At this point you can ask him to sit, remove the bowl that still has food in it, place a huge yummy treat in it, replace the bowl and release him to eat.

If you follow these steps, in a gradual manner, you will see a huge difference in just a couple of weeks. The most important thing to remember during all this is not to be afraid of him. If he learns, or is suspicious that his growling behavior is working, he will continue to use it.


The most important thing to know regarding behavior modification for resource guarding, is that you always want to give the dog something in return for giving up their prized possession. For instance, in the above letter I have the client give Wrangler his food bowl rgback along with a more delicious treat than just his kibble. If you are working with toy resource guarding, you will take the toy (nicely), then give your dog a really good treat and the toy back in the beginning. As the behavior is diminishing, you can start to work on taking the toy without giving anything in return immediately. After you have held onto the toy for a minute or two (or longer depending on how advanced your dog’s training is going), you will return it to them. This teaches your dog that although you remove the item from their possession, they receive it, or something better, in return.

I hope these suggestions help, but if you are ever uncomfortable, unsure or scared, seek help from a professional dog trainer immediately before things become worse. I wish you all the best of luck!

 

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The Advantages of Private Lessons versus Group Classes

I get a lot of inquiries on why I do not recommend group classes for puppy training or behavior modification so I thought it important to share my reasons with my readers so that perhaps they too can encourage a fun and successful time training their dogs.

Shy little Reuben
To help Reuben overcome his fear and anxiety of having people come over to his house, we first taught him several important commands (place, stay and leave-it) before we had “strangers” come over.

Training a puppy:

When you start training your puppy, you want to ensure that both you and your puppy enjoy and learn. The best way to accomplish this is to be in an environment where you have your puppy’s complete attention, where they can engage 100% with you, not be distracted by other people or dogs. This provides a “classroom” where your puppy will learn you are fun while teaching them their basic manners. When you take your puppy to a group class before they have an understanding of their foundation cues (sit, down, walking on a leash, come when called, stay, etc) you, and your puppy, will become extremely frustrated and walk away learning half of what you hoped to. Your puppy will be highly distracted by all the other puppies in the class and pay little to no attention to you. You will become frustrated that your puppy isn’t listening to you, possibly using a bit more harsh voices or leash corrections which will in turn frustrate your puppy because they don’t understand the corrections.

Behavior Modification in an adult dog:

For a lot of the same reasons listed above, private lessons are highly beneficial for addressing, and modifying, unwanted behaviors in older dogs. Private lessons allow you to practice behaviors in your own home at first before moving to a public area. Once your dog has an understanding of what their new “jobs” are, you can move to a public setting to practice and solidify the new behaviors. Until then, you need to set your dog up for success by working in controlled environments.

Loose Leash practice in public
We started Snoopy and Odie off in their own neighborhood where we taught them how to walk nicely on a leash before we ventured to public areas like this beautiful park in Encinitas.

Don’t get me wrong, group classes have their benefits especially for young pups who need to learn valuable social skills. They are also highly effective for fine-tuning basic commands so that you can “test” your dog’s knowledge and understanding in an environment full of stimuli such as other people and dogs, loud noises, new smells, etc.  I typically encourage all my Kinderpup students (puppy training) to attend a group class upon graduation so that their owners can take them into a somewhat chaotic situation to challenge their pup as well as give them the opportunity to play and socialize now that they have an understanding of their basic manners.

Group Class should be fun!
This group of ladies had already done basic training with their pups before getting together for a group class which made their time together productive and fun! Which is evident by everyone’s smiles, including the dogs’, on graduation day.

So if you feel your dog needs help with reactivity around other dogs, needs a little fine tuning on their stay or recall, needs to learn something new, or you just brought home a puppy, please talk with a professional trainer who offers private lessons to help you and your pup get off on the right paw. Both of you will in turn be excited to learn and conquer new personal goals with each other!

 

 

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House Training Ideas – Pee Pads

If you have just brought home a puppy, or are thinking about adding a new little furball to your family soon, it is important you understand the importance of house training and making it a simple and successful process. This blog series will cover the three different ways to train your puppy – pee pads, potty patches and crate training, in individual and detailed blogs. They will discuss what the products are, how they work, the pros and cons and how to teach your puppy to use them.

This first blog covers the very popular product known commonly as pee pads.


Pee pads are made out of an absorbent top layer with a plastic backing and usually come in a square or rectangular shape. There are some pee pad products made out of cloth material which are able to handle more liquids but act just the same as the most common plastic products. Some pads have chemicals mixed in to the material top layer fibers that act as attractants and are used to promote your puppy to potty on the pads. Pee pads can be used by simply placing them directly on the ground or in plastic trays to keep them from moving around (see image above).

 

Pros

  • It is very easy to teach your puppy to use
  • They are an easy target for you puppy to learn where to go.
  • They absorb urine well
  • They are easy to clean up and dispose of
  • They have many uses – around water bowls, under messy treats, in cars for carsick pups, etc.

Cons

  • They are difficult to transition your puppy off of
  • They inadvertently teach your puppy it is okay to potty inside
  • Some dogs like chewing on the pad instead of using it
  • They can be too small of an area
  • If not disposed of timely, it can be too “dirty” for your puppy and he will potty off of the pad

pee-pad

There is virtually little training involved to teach your puppy to use pee pads, especially when using the ones with attractants added. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult to transition your puppy off of them when it’s time to teach them to go outside. Typically the pads are placed as liners in the crate or x-pen so when your puppy has an accident, they are training themselves to use the pads.

If you decide to use pee pads for your dog, you will need to transition them off of the pads and in to the yard. This will take a bit of time and your puppy will have accidents during the transition training, but it will be the clearest way for you dog. Here is a short step-by-step guide to help your puppy succeed:

  • Slowly move the pad closer to the door you will want your puppy to use to go outside. This may be a slow process for some where you will only be able to move the pad a couple of feet at a time while others may be able to have their pad moved one time.
  • Reward your puppy for continuing to use the pad in its new location.
  • pee-pad-2If your puppy has accidents, and you catch them in the act, startle them with a loud noise and carry them over to the pad to finish their business.
  • Once your puppy is making it successfully to the pad in front of the door, you will move the pad just outside the door.
  • It is important to start teaching your puppy to communicate that he has to go out (i.e. ringing bells – to come in another blog) during the previous step, so that he won’t just potty in front of the closed door once the pad is removed.
  • Once your puppy is making it successfully to the pad outside, move it to the location you want him to potty on (grass, mulch, bark, etc.). After a few days you can remove the pad completely.

On a personal note – pee pads are my least favorite of house training methods because I find more people having difficulty with house training their pups when using pee pads. A large majority of calls I receive regarding house training issues in dogs older than 9 months of age are with dogs who were trained with pee pads. I urge people to stay away from this training method when at all possible so that life is easier for you and your pup. Full disclosure, growing up we used pee pads with all the puppies that entered our household and we had success transitioning them to go outside. But knowing what I know now, I see the hazards that come along with this method and see less benefits.

If you are having trouble house training your puppy or adult dog, please contact a professional in your area to help you figure out a better way that will be successful.

 

 

 

10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 10 – Have Fun!

Welcome to the last blog (sniff sniff) in the series of my personal 10 Important Dog Training Tips. Over the past 9 weeks I covered the topics of no grey ares, consistency, setting attainable goals, the power of repetition, having realistic expectations, finding confidence in yourself, knowing when to take a step back , the NILF concept and knowing when to hire a professional to help you. This week, and last topic in this series, covers the most important thing to remember when training your dog…….always have fun!!

fun2
Practicing one of Caleb’s tricks at the local park between obedience sessions.

 

Just as with any other type of training you do in your life; working out, studying, practicing an instrument, you need to have fun or you will lose the drive to want to excel. Dog training is the same way. If you don’t find yourself smiling at your dog at least 5 times during your practice session, or laughing out loud at their mistakes, you will not enjoy working on your dog’s behaviors. And if you are not having fun, it can be guaranteed that neither is your dog!

Remember, dog training, whether it be for behavior modification, perfecting known cues, learning something new, or just seeing what your dog wants to do, should always have some moments of fun mixed in with the practicing of the other behaviors. This can be by mixing in a fun trick, adding in a little play session or possibily having a “quiet” moment of bonding and rethinking what your goal is. The possibilities vary and can be countless as each partnership (handler and dog) is different from the next.

fun1
Practicing one of Caleb’s tricks in the park between his obedience lessons.

So get some treats in your pocket or gather your dog’s favorite toy and get out there and have fun!!

10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 8 – the NILF concept

Welcome back to the series of my top 10 Important Dog Training Tips to remember during the training phase with any dog. The past seven blogs I covered the importance of no grey areasconsistencysetting attainable goalsrepetition, having realistic expectations and confidence in yourself, and finally, knowing when to take a step back. I’m winding down this series with this week’s blog which covers the very important topic of the concept known as Nothing in Life is Free (NILF).

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Dog training with the NILF methods simply means that your dog must work for a resource he wants. This resource could be to cuddle with you in bed, go for a walk in the neighborhood, play fetch, get a bite of your sandwich or swim in the pool. The list can go on and on and simply comes down to that the resource is anything your dog deems important and something they wish to have. Requesting that they do something first, before getting the desired resource, means you are teaching them that good dog manners are reward with “important” things versus a dog learning to be pushy to get what they want.

This is very easily achieved in your household just by asking your dog to do simple things in the beginning. Let’s say your dog wants you to throw the tennis ball. They run over to you and drop their tennis ball in your lap while you are watching t.v. Instead of just throwing the ball automatically, you would instill NILF by asking your dog to do a simple sit command, then throw the ball as the reward for sitting. Once your dog has the hang of this simple command, you would ask your dog to either sit longer, lie down, go to his bed, etc. If your dog doesn’t do what you ask him to, he doesn’t get his ball. He may start to bark, nose you, paw at you, or even try to take the ball, all of which you either have to ignore or correct him for and only reward him once he does the simple behavior you asked him to originally.

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All of these past students are doing something for what they want. Some are laying down politely as guest enter the house; sitting politely to be petted, receive a treat reward or chase the ball or just stay in one position no matter what distractions are around them to continue walking through the park.

 

The NILF concept is especially important for those dogs who show tendencies towards resource guarding and/or aggression. By instilling ground rules from the beginning that your dog can not get what he wants until he does something for you helps them to understand they are not making the rules. They are not the decision makers and in resource-guarding-squarecontrol. Any time I sign on a new client who has a dog who is growling at them when they try to sit on the couch, walk near their food bowl when they are eating, snap at them for trying to take an object away, etc., I always tell each and every one of them NILF must be started immediately. This is for everyone’s safety. At this point I believe your dog has lost their “freedom” and must now earn everything they want. They no longer respect you or your possessions therefor they must go back to NILF and earn every resource they want by doing something. They must respect you and stay out of your space. They must do everything you ask them, and in return, as you start to see their behavior changing, you can reward them with higher valued items. In the end, everyone wins! Your dog listens to you making your house copacetic again and your dog gets what he wants, all by everyone understand the rule of boundaries set by NILF.

Here is a video of my dog, Caleb, when he was 8 months old working for his food using NILF. He had to sit in one spot for 2 minutes to get what he really wanted…his kibble. These simple steps can be started at home with your dog – give it a try!

 

10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 6 – Confidence

Welcome back to the series of my top 10 Important Dog Training Tips to remember during the training phase. The past 5 blogs I covered the importance of no grey areasconsistencysetting attainable goals repetition and understanding realistic expectations. This week covers the importance of having confidence in yourself.

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As with most things we do in life, being confident plays a very important factor when training your dog. I can not stress this enough to my clients as I see it affect their ability to feel comfortable training their dog. What do I mean by this?

50c950d429050f05094a9733053e8af0If you are not confident that you are doing the right thing for your dog, whether that be your worry of your timing for their reward, that you are not being clear enough or you are not doing it right, or being too mean, all these will affect the way you interact with your dog leading you down the path of self destruction. When I train a dog, whether it be my own or a clients’, I make sure that I feel wholeheartedly that I am doing the right thing and I am confident with my request for the dog, whether it be asking them to do something new or correcting them for a wrong behavior.

I had a client who was training her Labrador to be a mobility service dog and one of the cues I teach all service dogs is how to “under” which means to go under a chair, table, bench or desk to be out of way of foot traffic whether the client is at work, out to dinner, at the doctor’s office or on public transportation. This particular dog was having difficulty understanding the concept that she had to crawl under the chair and stay there. As with all lessons, I let the owner try several attempts on her own the way she wanted to do it which was bribery for a morsel in her hand. Well, this lab, as shy as she was, found out she could just put his front legs and head under the chair and be rewarded then quickly jet out from under the chair. The owner was becoming quite frustrated and saw her dog’s behavior as a sign that she did not enjoy the task and the owner wanted to give up. However, what I saw was a dog who was nervous and didn’t feel comfortable with the task. But I knew that I was not asking the dog to do anything “mean” or “abusive” and helped her out by guiding her under the chair with a treat in front of her and a gentle, soft pull of the leash and collar. And guess what……she did it on her first attempt with me!

Just a couple of pictures of Caleb practicing his “under” at 5 & 6 months old.

This is just one example of how being unsure of what you are doing to/with your dog can possibly hamper their learning abilities whereas being confident in what you are doing/asking can teach your dog (and quite possibly yourself) something new. Don’t be afraid! Stand up for yourself and your decisions that involve your dog’s training, you’ll be amazed at what you both learn!

This video does not show training, but it captured a time where I pushed Caleb to do something because I was confident he could do it. And boy is he proud when he finally picks up the tire and carries it!

 

10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 4 – Repetition

It’s week four of my 10 Important Dog Training Tips series! Over the past three weeks I discussed the importance of keeping things very clear through “no grey areas”, why consistency is key and creating attainable goals. Week four covers the importance of repetition during the training phase.

Just like when you were learning your time tables, and you would work through flash cards night after night to remember what 2×2 and 7×7 equaled, your dog must practice commands over and over to fully retain the information.

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How many repetitions you ask? Well, this depends on how clear you are when teaching your dog what you want and how much your dog wants to do the desired behavior. I have seen some dogs learn a behavior in less than 10 repetitions while it may take another dog 30 repetitions to learn the same behavior. However, I think it important to note that repetitions are successful when there is consistency in what you are asking your dog to do as well. If you pay close enough attention to your dog, you will soon learn their body language to let you know they get it. For example, when I am teaching Caleb a new behavior, I know that once he starts wagging his tail very happily it is because the behavior clicked in his head and he now understands what I am asking of him. Almost like he’s proud of himself for figuring it out lol.

You can check out a video I made specifically for this blog where I start teaching Caleb not to forge forward when he transitions from a sit to a stand.

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Along with how many repetitions it may take your dog to learn a behavior, you then have to add in the months of practicing that behavior in all settings to ensure your dog understands he has to perform the same behavior no matter if it is in your living room, around your neighborhood or at the local park. It is important to remember that you never push your dog and expect him to perform with out any hiccups in new environments if you have not set him up for success. This means, you don’t take your dog to a high stimulation environment and practice his behaviors if you haven’t practiced them in lower stimulation environments first.