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!

 

Advertisements

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.