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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Loving Guidance, LLC

http://www.lovingk9guidance.com

info@lovingk9guidance.com

 

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!!

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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.

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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 9 – Don’t do it Alone

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, knowing when to take a step back and following the rules of Nothing in Life is Free (NILF). This second to last blog on this topic is short and sweet, covering the important reminder that you should always seek professional help if you get stuck.

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Do not be embarrassed that you can not do it on your own! As with everything in life, sometimes you need a little guidance to help you achieve your goals. When working on behavior modification for your dog, it is vital that you hire a professional you feel comfortable with.

  • A professional dog trainer should make you and your dog feel at ease and make the training fun.
  • A professional dog trainer should help you understand why your dog is exhibiting certain behaviors, what the triggers are, and how to redirect your into a positive behavior.
  • A professional dog trainer will be able to guide you and your family through the overwhelming world of dog psychology so you can better understand why your dog is reacting a certain way.
  • A professional dog trainer will be able to tell you if private lessons or group classes would be best for your dog.
  • A professional dog trainer will be able to tell you if the addition of medications such as anti-anxiety medications would benefit your dog’s mental health.
  • A professional dog trainer will be able to break situations down into something that both you and your dog can understand and help you reach your training goals.
  • A professional dog trainer should like at the dog’s life as a whole to set a training plan that will be prosperous.

If you find yourself overwhelmed with your dog’s behaviors, not sure how to address them, or unable to reach your goals on your own, search for a certified dog trainer through any of the following organizations: IACP, NADOI, APDT.

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 7 – Take a Step Back

Welcome back to the series of my top 10 Important Dog Training Tips to remember during the training phase. The past 6 blogs I covered the importance of no grey areasconsistencysetting attainable goalsrepetition, having realistic expectations and the importance of having confidence in yourself. This week’s blog covers the importance of knowing when to take a step back in your dog’s training.

step back

We all have had a hard time learning a subject or concept in our lives and dogs can have the same difficulties and road blocks along the way. To be proper educators, we do need to watch our dogs for any hints that they are not understanding what we are asking of them during the training phase and know when it is time to take a step back in their training. This means that your dog may not have a full understanding of the previous step of the training therefor they are not excelling at the current task. To help them succeed, we must take a step back to the last task and make sure they understand before moving forward.

For instance, when I first started teaching my dog, Caleb, how to do nose work, I moved a little too quickly from the stage of having him find the odor to the stage of having him mark the odor’s location. Caleb was catching on quite quickly that his task was to search for his food which would be placed within view, no higher than his head, at the time. He seemed to be flying around the house finding his food with no problem so I decided to challenge him. The next time I hid his food I put in closed cabinets and drawers and he did exceptionally well. Where the issue came in is that when I decided to build off of Caleb’s current odor marker (sit at odor source), I didn’t work on the smaller steps to get to the final picture I wanted. In my mind, I wanted him to sit there patiently, or for longer than 15 seconds, to know that he was positive this was the location of the odor. However, to Caleb, my lack of a quick praise meant to him this must not be the location and he would get up and start searching again. Clearly this was my fault for not teaching him what I wanted him to do in a clear manner before getting to this step.

Luckily, at about this time, Caleb and I went to work with the amazing and knowledgeable Andrew Ramsey of Ramsey Nosework. Andrew immediately pointed out to me that I was doing a few things incorrectly so we took a step back in Caleb’s training to get him to understand that when he found the odor he had to mark the spot by staying still with his eyes locked on the location for several seconds before the reward came. The subsequent sessions were so much more fun for Caleb because he now had an understanding of what he was suppose to do. Since returning home from our lessons with Andrew, we have worked on Caleb’s focused alerts in the house and are almost ready to move to the outdoors with this sport he so thoroughly enjoys now that he understands his job.

So, if you feel your dog just doesn’t understand what you are asking of them, take a moment to step back to the previous step and make sure they are comfortable with that step before moving on. Example of this can be if you are asking your dog to do a 5 minute sit stay but they keep breaking at 4 minutes – take a step back to releasing your dog at 3:50 and build up from there; if you are asking your dog to do a down at a distance of 6′ from you but they don’t do it until you have asked them multiple times – take a step back to a distance where they feel comfortable and down automatically; if you are asking your dog to jump through a hoop that is 3′ off the ground but they keep running under it – take a step back to a height your dog consistently jumps through then slowly raise the hoop. Doing this will help both of you enjoy your training together!

 

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!