Dogs guarding may seem like an annoyance and can be a dangerous matter if appropriate steps are not taken. If you adopt a dog who exhibits guarding, be sure that you can detect the signs and manage the environment.

Dogs guard for one specific reason; they want what they feel they need for survival. Most dogs will guard their food or high value bones such as rawhides or marrow bones, as food is a basic necessity for staying alive. Some dogs may learn that guarding areas such as couches and even certain rooms can give them control over the loss of safety and food. Managing and working on these behaviors doesn’t have to be tricky. It’s a matter of knowing how and being consistent. Your dog still loves you, but they need to be shown that they do not need to worry about their favorite spot on the couch or toy being taken away. They need to understand that you are a source and they can trust you.

 

The first step to managing a guarder is to be able to detect a guarder. There are some common behaviors that a dog exhibits when he is a guarder. The first thing to look for is if a dog grabs his resource and takes it away from you. This means your dog wants to be alone with his resource. The next behavior to look out for is if your dog starts standing over his resource. This is your dog trying to portray that the resource belongs to him. Along with standing or laying over his resource, if your dog is stiff then there is a good chance he is guarding. Stiffness includes stillness of the body, closed mouth, and stiff tail. Following this behavior, your dog may begin whale eying you. This is a common behavior a dog will exhibit if he does not want you to come near. Whale eying is displayed by your dog keeping his head still, and staring generally in your direction with the whites of his eyes visible. After this, typically if you are near, your dog may begin to growl at you. If your dog is growling while he is near his food or toys, keep your distance. This behavior needs to be taken seriously because the following step is generally a bite. Dogs growl to warn you that they are about to bite or lunge, it is very important to pay attention to what your dog is saying to you.

 

Now that you are able to detect the signs, you need to know how to safely handle guarding. Safety is our first priority. It is important that you never take a toy or food directly away from a guarder. Instead, it is good practice to teach your dog how to trade with you. Trading with your dog is a great technique to teach your dog about trust. Begin by picking out a treat that he loves and is willing to work for, such as hotdogs or cheese. These types of treats we consider high value, low value treats may include milk bones or soft treats. If your dog has a bone or toy that he is likely to guard, be prepared with treats on hand. Get your dog’s attention with the treat. If your dog is not paying attention, you may need to grab a more high value treat. It may be best to have your dog sit for you if he will. This will distract your dog even more from the toy. Once you have your dog’s full attention, say “trade” and throw the treat in the opposite direction of the toy. While your dog’s facing away from you and eating his treat, you may now go and pick his toy up. It is very important to be sure your dog is not watching you or too close to you, as he may get mad and snap. Doing this repeatedly will teach your dog that he does not have to worry about his things being taken away because he will get something he loves in return.

 

These are just the highlights to the large topic of guarding, but if you have any questions about your dog’s guarding or if anything in this article is unclear then please contact us at shamburger@animalcaresanctuary.org.

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