When dogs don’t want to share
Resource guarding is an anxiety disorder in which a dog guards items that they deem valuable. Resource guarding can be present in any age dog. However, it generally starts in puppyhood.
Sometimes the behavior is mild and goes unnoticed until the dog is between 1 and 3 years old, when the owners start to see more overt signs such as growling and biting. In some dogs, resource guarding can develop later due to the administration of medications that increase appetite, or after periods of starvation. Regardless of the cause, early identification and proper treatment of puppies who are predisposed to this behavior is very important.
If you think about it, resource guarding is not abnormal. If you watch multiple dogs interact, you’ll see that they guard things from each other.
Dogs that are diagnosed with resource guarding guard their stuff in an extreme way. They may just guard with more intensity, or they may guard items that seem very unimportant, like paper towels. Many owners force the dog to give up the item; by prying the dog’s mouth open, for example. This causes the dog’s greatest fear to come true: that their stuff is going to be taken away when the owner approaches. Although at that moment the owner has won the battle, they have lost the war.
If the dog truly has resource guarding, the aggression will intensify, because the owner has taught the dog to fear their approach. If a dog is already growling, lunging, snapping or biting, it should be addressed as soon as possible.
Once your new pup has adjusted a little more to their new home, start working to teach them that giving their toys back to people is infinitely rewarding.
When a person approaches and they have a toy, there is a high likelihood that the person will not take the toy.
Even if a person takes the toy, your pup should probably either (1) get it back immediately, or (2) get something better in return, or get it back and get something better in return.
One exercise you might try, when your pup has settled down with their toy, approach and try saying “Drop it.” Immediately offer a treat. If the puppy drops the toy, they get the treat and get the toy back. If your pup doesn’t drop the toy, toss the treat to the side and walk away. Your pup may look at you quizzically, drop the toy and go eat the treat, then back to pick their toy up.
For the next week or so, every time you see your pup with a toy, make a trade for a treat. By the end of the week, chances are that the treat no longer needs to be tossed and pup will trust enough to know that they will get the treat and keep their toy. Eventually, you will not have to show them the treat, but only say, “Drop it.”
What is likely to happen in the not-so-distant future is that your pup will see you approaching and drop whatever they have in their mouth without any cue whatsoever.
Stop by the Central Aroostook Humane Society or check out our Facebook page. Please be responsible: spay and neuter your pets.
Gloria J. Towle is the secretary and a member of the board of directors of the Central Aroostook Humane Society.