Guarding Possessions

“Resource Guarding”

Does Your Dog Guard Things From You?

Toys, bones, tissues, trash, shoes, remotes, etc…

  • Understanding The Dog

  • Guarding Things

  • Guarding Food

  • What To Do

Resource guarding is when a dog avoids surrendering an item, a.k.a. “sharing”. This behavior often gets its roots before 8-weeks of age and was likely created due to a lack of resources, competition over toys or food, or someone bothering the dog while they ate or taking their food bowl away. When we bring a new dog into our home we need to build trust and structure the new environment properly so that behavior does not strengthen. Guarding behavior can come to full intensity as dogs reach young/late adolescent between 7-10 months of age.

A dog may run off with an item to maintain possession of it or they may have found this is a reliable way to get someone to chase or play with them, or get attention. Attention seeking or playful behavior is a very different from a dog that resource guards. A dog that resource guards things from its human family members is displaying a lack of trust and/or respect. Those with the strongest relationship with their dog will have the most influence and control over the dog’s behavior but understand you don’t need to establish an authoritarian relationship nor do you need to be a dictator with your dog to be in control and gain their respect. Dictators are feared, not respected. Being pleasant with your dog does not make you a pushover; it only makes you respectful, trustworthy, and enjoyable to be around.

Guarding possessions from humans and guarding things from other animals are two differing problems. Resource guarding is a serious issue that needs to be handled appropriately. Guarding from other animals requires management, and the animals and context will determine if this behavior can be improved, and if so in what circumstances. The more serious problem is guarding behavior with humans. The good news is we are in a better position to manage this situation since we should have more control over how people respond and interact with the dog while we work to improve the behavior.

It’s about trust and learning to share
— Glenn Massie

There is genetically driven behavior and learned behavior. Many dogs were developed to “guard” in some manner, while others their role was to work with us and share, a.k.a. “retrievers”. Another group of dogs a.k.a. terriers, were never breed to share because we never desired them to share their possessions with us. If you look at the breed standard for some dogs you can see why the intensity of their behavior may be more pronounced if there is perceived conflict.  

POSSESSION

POSSESSION

“highly protective”

  • "Dignified and aloof, with a certain keen fierceness"

  • “fearless courage if threatened”

  • “fearless with a well developed protective instinct.”

  • on the tip-toe of expectation at the slightest provocation”

A dog’s personality is a combination of temperament and character.

  • Temperament = pre-disposition (heritable propensities)

  • Character = disposition, (learned style of coping or navigating the world)

    • Character develops through the interaction of temperament and environment

    • Character emerges as one matures and has more life experience

    • Patterns form habits

A dog’s temperament (pre-disposition) is unchanging, and character (disposition) is consistent and generally if it does change it usually happens over time. You will not be able to change a dog’s temperament but we can influence a dog’s behavior! Behavior change is often motivated by self-interest. To achieve a behavior change with a dog that guards resources, the relationship must be built on a foundation of trust, respect, and desire. This is accomplished by being fair to the dog, controlling and providing all the things that are important to the dog, and just as important being fun to be around and being your dog’s best friend.

Maintaining possession of things is a normal puppy behavior that can start before 8-weeks of age. A puppy will often take a toy or novel item and move away from littermates to go to a location that offers the best chance of maintaining possession and control over the item. Whenever something is perceived to be in limited supply those things can be viewed as a scare resource that is guarded from others. Dogs like humans generally believe they are entitled to possessions like food, toys, and other things under their control.

Just about any dog regardless of the breed can learn or be prompted to guard resources to one extent or another. We can develop this behavior by commission or via omission during the first few months of a puppy’s life. A common reason this behavior develops is due to limited resources or repeated encounters with people that are not considered trustworthy. Genetics and previous learning gives opportunities for the guarding behavior to develop, but the environment we establish gives the dog the opportunities to develop and practice this behavior thus strengthening it. Those things practiced become habits and/or patterns of conduct that are hard to break.  One of the first questions I look to the dog for an answer is, how does the dog perceive their role within the environment and what are the dog’s expectations of how to behave?

Guarding 1.jpg

When a dog wishes to maintain possession of something of value (from the dog’s perspective), they may hold an item in their mouth, or cover the item with their paws, head, neck, or chest when approached. This can be followed by a stiffening or freezing, mouth closed, hard stare, lip lift, or a dog may look away avoiding direct eye contact. If someone is too close for the dog’s liking they may react by escalating to a snarl, growl, snap, or bite. We should always attempt to recognize a dog’s non-verbal communications long before the dog feels the need to growl, bark, snap, or bite.  When we compare how perceptive dogs are of all our signals both overt and unconsciously, they must believe us to be unfathomably dull or indifferent to their communication. Dogs will sometimes (but not always) issue a verbal warning to those who have either missed or ignored their previous signals letting you know they may be serious about biting if you continue in the same manner. When “reaction” will not accomplish the goal of getting someone to back off, “action” almost always will. It’s important to understand that all reactive/aggressive behavior is caused by the need to establish control.

Dogs can be selective on what they will guard and it can include just about anything. Some guard anything they consider theirs whether they are in possession of the thing or not, and others only items in their possession. With many the guarding behavior is reserved for special items e.g. soft toy, food stuffed toy, bone, tissue, something they retrieved from the trash, or other special “trophy” they got hold of. Often times people gave the item importance by overreacting and started a conflict over something that was not really important to begin with.

Resource Guarding Food

Just as is the case with guarding items/possessions, guarding food from others is the result of a lack of trust. This behavior can get its start before 8-weeks of age and is dependent on how the puppies were feed and given access to food. (see The Dog Vinci Code, chapter 4 “Feeding”) This behavior can also unintentionally be trained by placing your hand in the bowl or removing the food bowl when the dog is eating. Both of these approaches can teach your dog you are competing for the food and cannot be trusted, or at the very least you or other humans are annoying and disrespectful. Dogs prefer to have space and be left alone while eating. 

A dog may guard a food (and water) bowl and/or any food items in or out of the bowl. Early signs of food bowl guarding can be a dog that eats faster, closes mouth, and stiffens/freezes at the bowl or around food on the ground. If we miss or ignore this behavior it can escalate and continue with a hard stare, head lowered and/or covering the food bowl when someone is approaching or is in close proximity and further escalate to a snarl/growl/bark, snap or bite. When “reaction” will not accomplish the goal of getting someone to back off, “action” almost always will.

In extreme cases a dog that will leave its bowl and go after someone in the same room to get them to go away.  Some dogs can be so possessive that they will go after someone if they walk by a single piece of food on the ground.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/history-of-word-companion

If a dog does not guard their food bowl but does guard stolen food (taken from the table, trash, or found while out walking) its likely an indication that the owners previous reaction (or over-reaction) has unnecessarily raised the value of such items. And the owners are not seen as providers but rather an adversary that cannot be trusted.

People are often surprised I share almost everything I eat with my dogs as long as it is safe and they do not have a food intolerance / sensitivity to it. Since I consider my dogs “companion” animals I share what I eat with my dogs. But just sharing food with your dog won’t prevent or resolve the problem on its own. Resource guarding issues have at their foundation a lack of trust.  A lack of trust is a serious foundational issue. As with other possession guarding the first thing we need to do is fix the relationship, build trust, and act trustworthy.

If your ultimate goal is to have a dog that does not guard its food/water bowls from you or others it would be far better before any bad behaviors develop to approach the food bowl while the dog is eating and toss in something far better (in the dog’s point of view) into the bowl. This way your dog anticipates good things from a person’s approach rather then suspect the worst possible motives of people near their food bowls. This will have a dog lifting its head with the anticipation of receiving something better, rather than feeling the need to lower its head over the bowl to guard it from people they do not trust.


What to do?

  • Status or Affiliation?

    • Cooperation or Submission?

  • Management

  • Leave it & Drop it

  • Trading

  • Learning to share

  • Food guarding

  • Prevention

  • Give Your Dog An Abundant Life

Understand like any serious behavior issue there is a element of risk working with dogs. For this reason I highly recommend you find a qualified trainer to evaluate and help with any food guarding/aggression issues for everyone’s safety. Just be certain the trainer understands how to work with resource guarding without the need of shock collars, choke chains, prong collars, or other heavy handed methods.

There are several ways to work through guarding/possessive behavior. The challenge we have is there are many differing opinions and approaches that can be taken and we often get conflicting advice even from trainers. We all have the same goal; be sure people are able to safely be around a dog when they have possession of something and being able to remove the thing when necessary. Some misguided methods are modeled after the very approaches that gave root to the problem in the first place. How we approach this problem is based on our beliefs and values. 

Status or Affiliation?

What is important to us, status or affiliation?  Generally speaking those approaching the situation with a “status” mentality often come with the mindset of not "wanting the dog to get away with that" so the relationship and focus is based on power and submission.  I place this approach in the alpha or boss category. Bosses (Alpha’s) are people we would rather not be around, and dogs like humans don’t want someone bossing them around. Often the end result of the “Alpha” approach is a dog motivated out of fear, so the dog’s primary motive is to avoid punishment by submitting.  If we take the, I’m bigger than you and I’m taking charge route, we potently leave everyone else vulnerable (people and dogs) who are not as large or as capable thereby contributing to the every problem we were trying to prevent or solve.

Affiliation on the other hand is not about winning, but rather about being part of a group, on the same team and not treated like an adversary. Our dogs should be treated like a member of the family. That doesn’t mean we treat them like humans, they are not our peers, but we should be their best friend. After all, we were the one who chose them. When living with, working, or training dogs, it is important that we act like a leader, not an adversary, or a food dispenser.  A leader’s focus is on taking care of those their charge, not being in charge. We should be exercising the most influence and control in the relationship but if a person believes they need to show the dog who is boss, act harshly, or use force as the basis of their training, they are misguided. Leadership is about relationship as much as it is about position and that relationship should be built on a positive foundation of trust, respect, and desire.

  • Trust - You need to act trustworthy if you expect to be trusted. You must be safe to be around, not harsh, abusive, overbearing, etc...

  • Respect - The dog understands that you provide, and have control over all the great things in life – not in a domineering way, but the way a loving parent richly supplies all things to enjoy.  

  • Desire - You’ve instilled in your dog a desire for the giver, not just the gift. You have a positive relationship; you are not a boss or food dispenser.

Leadership starts by being in control, not fighting for control. Leaders have consistent rules and structure, and reasonably manage the environment for successful outcomes, but most importantly they lead so they can influence and control behavior. Leaders have followers, not prisoners. Acting rudely undermines the relationship and our goal should be cooperation, not submission. You will know you are becoming the leader you desire when the vast majority of the time your dog is cooperating with you, not just submitting.

For a roadmap on how to gain control & cooperation I highly recommend Suzanne Clothier’s 59 page e-book “Finding A Balance”. A book by itself won’t “fix” resource guarding issues but it can provide guidance on laying the foundation to start the process. This book provides a guide to teach your dog to be attentive and cooperative in return for real life rewards . Easy, quick interactions throughout the day create positive changes in the dog/human relationship.  One important point to keep in mind is that training should not just be techniques and stimulus/response interactions. When I watch others train I look to see if the training looks like drills on inflicting punishment, or a feeding disorder. If food is being used is it a lure, reward, or bribe?  Is the dog motivated out of fear or to avoid punishment? Is the training based on fear, food, or fun? Am I observing a sterile transaction with no emotional connection, and just binary feedback?  I want to see people smile, praise, and stroke (if the dog enjoys this) their dogs to let them know they are pleased with their behavior.  After that it’s fine to give permission or offer a surprise reward or treat.

If a dog grabs something that is not dangerous to them or of no importance to the humans, there is nothing wrong with letting them have it or at a minimum don’t get excited and turn this into a big ordeal. With some dogs it starts as a way get attention and to get someone to play with them. Often times they have learned once they grab a sock or other item, the game is on! When a dog grabs something children will often run after dogs screaming with excitement and many dogs view this as a fun game, but some will find this threatening and respond accordingly. It’s important to teach and supervise children so this does not occur.

Management

Don’t focus on trying to correct inappropriate behavior, but rather mange every interaction so the dog does not have the opportunity to practice the wrong behavior. The tactic or approach we use to work through these issues will depend on the circumstances and the dog we are working with. It’s important to understand not every method or tactic is appropriate for every dog. By using the wrong method we may be creating the very problem we were hoping to prevent. How we work with a dog is dependent on the dog’s sociability, biddability, social tolerance, level of fear, arousal levels, intensity of the behavior, and context.

The first thing to do is to remove the opportunities for the dog to continue to practice the wrong behavior. Remember behavior that is practiced becomes stronger and creates a pattern of conduct that is hard to break. When a negative behavior is predictable, prepare by limiting the chances of the behavior occurring. It all starts with management not confrontation. So immediately remove anything your dog is likely to guard to remove any chance of further conflict or aggression. Attempting to use physical force on the dog can be seen as a confrontation and the dog may accept your challenge. The goal is to “take control” and not “fight for control”.  Taking control steers away from being confrontational but still places you in control.

The first rule is to only do what is safe and things you are completely comfortable doing. You are ultimately responsible for your own safety. If you think your dog is likely to bite when guarding a resource don’t try to show the dog “who is boss” or escalate the conflict in an attempt to win the confrontation.  Find a professional who understands how to work with resource guarding without the need of shock collars, choke chains, prong collars, or other heavy handed methods. Anytime there are behavioral issues it is always good to rule out any health issues that may be contributing to the problem which can result in irritability or anxiety.

We should be exercising the most influence and control in the relationship but styles of leadership are not limited to just two choices; permissive or harsh. Leadership starts by being in control, not fighting for control. In short you need to be a “leader” not an “alpha”. Leadership is not obtained with aggression or intimidation. Leadership is obtained by others desiring to follow. Leaders have followers, not prisoners. An excellent article to start with is Leadership Basics by Suzanne Clothier https://suzanneclothier.com/article/leadership-basics/

Where to start? Your first overall goal should be to build trust with your dog. Changing the relationship and gaining control is accomplished by being fair to the dog, controlling and providing all the things that are important to the dog, and just as important being fun to be around and being your dog’s best friend.

Leave it & Drop it

Teaching a dog a “leave it” and “drop” cue is important. “Leave it” and “drop” are great exercises to work on, but often times the owners have a history of over-reacting by shouting commands which can add to the dog’s level of arousal and commitment to maintaining possession. So once the dog has possession of the item for any length of time often that train has already left the station. When confronted there are dogs that will swallow almost anything that will fit in their mouths and this can start as a guarding behavior. It’s the only way the dog can keep possession of the item and this can be very dangerous when the item is a small bone, chew, or other potentially hazardous item. In many cases the owners gave the item importance, and started a conflict over something that is not important thereby contributing to the intensity of the guarding behavior. I find way too many owners are good at giving “commands” but many need to learn to smile more and just make their requests in a normal tone of voice and generally be pleasant to be around.  You don’t need to be loud,  harsh, or show the dog who’s boss to fix this issue. You need to be trustworthy, fun to be around, and be your dog’s best friend.

For non-dangerous items it’s better to give the dog distance and express interest in what the dog has in a pleasant tone of voice that is inviting and encourage the dog to bring the item to you. This will often work better if you get down on the floor while you are encouraging them to bring the thing to you. If he willingly brings it, he should be greeted with lots of praise and petting he enjoys. If it is an attention seeking behavior just ignoring the dog or walking out of the room may be enough for the dog to lose interest in the object. Most times these situations can be handled without creating a confrontation. Many times it is best to ignore the dog and create a diversion that peaks the dog’s interest in what you might be doing. e.g. getting down on floor and looking under the couch, looking behind a door, or at some imaginary object just out of their view while exclaiming “what is this!” in a happy tone of voice. Once they leave the item to see what you are doing or what the diversion was, casually go over to where they left the item and get it without drawing undue attention to yourself.

Trading?

Guarding 2.jpg

As a general rule I would not start with the trading game (offering the dog something more valuable) but this is dependent on the dog, circumstances, and how it’s done. When a dog has possession of an item that could be harmful or dangerous (chocolate, chicken bones, medications, chewing gum, etc…) by all means offer up whatever it takes to get the dog to relinquish possession. Excitedly tossing his favorite toy to chase, favorite treats, your dinner, pouring out a whole bag of chips or crackers on the floor; use whatever it takes to motivate the dog to leave a harmful item.

When a dog has possession of an inappropriate item like shoes, socks, remote control, etc. trading can be a viable option. For trading to work the thing you wish to trade must be considered equal or higher value then what the dog currently has possession of. When time is on your side you can use a combination of diversion and trade to get your dog to relinquish the item. Walking to the closet and opening the door where the leash is kept, or opening the cabinet door where treats are known to be kept can be enough to entice your dog to come in anticipation of a walk or a food treat. If your dog comes to you in anticipation of something more valuable then what they left, smile and tell them how thankful you are for them coming but don’t offer the trade yet. First with a smile and good attitude ask them to comply with your request to; sit, lie down, stand, shake, touch, speak, spin, wave, etc… Ask for a total of two or three behaviors. (Any time you do this ask for a different set of behaviors or at least in a different order.)  If they comply smile and praise them and then offer the reward. The reason for delaying the reward is that we want to put a disassociation time between the possession of the item and the trade or reward. This way the dog is getting the reward for complying with your requests and not for trading up. You can practice trading games with your dog but be sure that you are initiating and in control of the game so the dog does not learn that things he takes possession of can be reliably used as currency to get better stuff. It’s important to play games with low-value toys but I would make the goal less trading games and focus on teaching dog’s to share.

Learning To Share

CHAPTER 8 “TEACHING RETRIEVE”

CHAPTER 8 “TEACHING RETRIEVE”

Every dog regardless of its age should learn the concept of sharing.  How do you teach a dog to share? You teach them to retrieve, which is the concept of sharing something they have possession of with you.  (The Dog Vinci Code by John Rogerson - Chapter 8, Early Training The Basics, page 40 “Teaching Retrieve”) This is especially important for owners of guarding breeds, and terrier breeds since we did not develop them to naturally share. There are numerous ways to teach a dog to retrieve. The number one rule is to be a fun playmate and make the game fun. The “toy” or item you use has no magic on its own. Rule number two is when the dog brings something back to you don't reach to take it from the dog. Wait for them to drop the item on their own without making a request. Once they do you can create excitement with the item and continue the game. Start with something the dog likely considers low value so they are less inclined to want to maintain possession.  I’ve used everything from a plain sheet of paper, a dollar bill, and all sorts of dog toys. You must make it fun! Understand some dogs will only be entertained with the game for a few minutes and others will enjoy this game for hours. Here is a great article that includes instructions on teaching a retrieve.  (“How Does My Puppy Learn”)

Food Guarding Guidance

The safest way to feed dogs is generally done by using good management allowing your dog to eat in peace in a secure area unbothered. The one challenge we all face is that at some point in time management can fail for a variety of reasons.

CHAPTER 47 “FOOD AGGRESSION”

CHAPTER 47 “FOOD AGGRESSION”

Understand like any serious behavior issue there is a element of risk working with dogs. For this reason I highly recommend you find a qualified trainer to evaluate and help with any food guarding/aggression issues for everyone’s safety. Just be certain the trainer understands how to work with resource guarding without the need of shock collars, choke chains, prong collars, or other heavy handed methods.

Understand that depending on how strong the behavior is any approach taken that is successful in changing behavior may need to be continued for the life of the dog.

When a decision is made to work on resolving a food guarding issue I generally recommend feeding the daily food in several feeding each day. (Not just one or two meals a day) This gives you several times a day to provide your dog with something of value. I than would only work on a new feeding protocol after the dog has recently ate a meal to help lower the intensity his behavior around food. Working on food guarding issues may require using several food bowls and many times it prudent to use a new and differing type of bowl which lacks the same association as the bowl you are currently using. John Rogerson’s book “The Dog Vinci Code provides guidance on how to work with food guarding at various levels. I recommend it be used as a compass to keep the process pointed north and steer the approach away from the dark side of confrontation when working with food guarding issues. Remember the overall goal is to build trust, not show the dog you are boss. Chapter 47 “Food Aggression” The Dog Vinci Code by John Rogerson.

How we work with a dog is completely dependent on the dog in front of us. There are no methods or 12-step programs that are appropriate for every dog. Much depends on the dog’s arousal level, behavior history, environment, and context. The information here is provided to help you understanding some of the methods used to work with dogs with the goal of building trust. They may not be appropriate for an individual dog so it is recommended you seek the help of a knowledgeable and qualified profession before attempting any of the methods outlined here.  The methods for more serious cases are not outlined here and can be found in John Rogerson’s excellent book The Dog Vinci Code.

It is often best to start by changing as many associations as possible with regards to feeding guarding/possessive dogs. This can be changing the times of day we feed, where we feed, feeding multiple times a day (not necessarily more food just spread out of the course of the day), and even changing the type of bowls they normally eat from.   

Another point to stress is that I find way too many owners are good at giving “commands” but many need to learn to smile more and just make their requests in a normal tone of voice and generally be pleasant to be around.  You don’t need to be loud, harsh, or show the dog whose boss to fix this issue. You need to be trustworthy, fun to be around, and be your dog’s best friend and not an adversary.

In multi-dog households it can be important to feed alone with no chance of the other dogs coming around, watching, or competing.

For low leveler cases where the dog is not a bite risk and to date has only ate faster in the presence of people and/ or has not progressed passed the stiffness phase these methods may be appropriate depending on the dog.

Food Toss

Approach the food bowl while the dog is eating and toss in something far better (in the dog’s point of view) into the bowl. Back away and wait a couple seconds and repeat. Use an extra-large bowl so there is room to toss the special food treat into the bowl.  There are no commands or request of the dog. The goal is for the dog to start to anticipate good things from a person’s approach rather than suspect the worst possible motives of people near their food bowls. The goal is to have the dog lifting its head (without prompting) with the anticipation of receiving something better, rather than feeling the need to lower its head over the bowl to guard it from people they do not trust.

Hand Feeding

Hand feeding can be an option to build trust around food. You can sit in a chair and smile and be pleasant about offering the dog his food in several feeding each day. Hand feeding is a great place to start but it is imperative that you smile and tell the dog how pleased you are with his behavior when he is acting appropriately. Hand feeding can play a role in helping to prevent and turn around guarding behavior but I would not place my hope in this if the dog has already growled, snapped or bitten someone at the food bowl.

Bowl feeding at feet

Once the dog takes food gently during hand feeding it may be appropriate to add a new food bowl to the feeding time.  I would place the food bowl between my feet as I sat in a chair. Again, smile and using a pleasant voice reach down and place a small amount of food in the bowl. To extend the feeding time and increase the amount of time we are next to the bowl while they eat we can add some water to the food and freeze the meal. When they look up at you, smile and tell them how happy you are and place a few more pieces of food in the bowl. This may continue over the course of a week with several feeding a day in this manner.

Multiple Bowl Feedings

Multiple bowl feeding is where I will often start with dogs with guarding issues. Multiple bowl feeding can be implemented several ways. The basic premise is the same. We want the dog to see humans as non-threatening and bringing value when we approach. I start by changing all associations and I remove the existing food bowl(s) and I start with 3 ex-large food bowls that are different from the one the dog was previously eating from. (I prefer stainless steel bowls) Next I locate a new location for the feeding. In some situations that can mean simply moving the feeding location to the other side of the kitchen. In other cases it is moved outside or another part of the home.

At feeding time all 3 bowls are placed on the floor about 6’-8’ apart from one another in a straight line or triangle. If the dog is reactive with the bowls at 6’ part you will need to move even further.  For clarity I’ll call the bowls 1, 2, and 3. (left to right. 2 always being in the center) A rock can be added to each of these bowls to slow down the dog. To start have just a small amount of food in each of the bowls placed on the floor before allowing access and permitting the dog to eat.  Remember to smile and give the dog permission to eat.  Move completely out of the way from the bowl the dog is eating from. (No hovering)

While the dog is eating out of bowl 1, place a few pieces of additional food in bowl 3 and move away from the bowl. (no hovering)  When the dog gets to bowl 3 and starts to eat place the remaining food in bowl 1. When the dog moves back to bowl bowl 1, place a super special food treat in bowl 3. When the dog moves to bowl 3 place the last special food treat in bowl 1 and move out of the area. To start bowl 2 is not refilled so we keep our distance from the dog while the dog eats at either end. (e.g. bowl 1 or 3)

The only time I’m speaking to the dog is the initial permission to eat with a smile. The other times that I add food to the furthest bowls I just smile and tell them I’ve delivered food to the bowl and walk away. I continue this process each feeding and only start adding food or special treats to bowl 2 when the dog is comfortable and looking with anticipation for me to approach a food bowl and add food.  I want the dog to see me providing for his needs and bringing  value when I do approach a food bowl. I want to remove any thought that I’m trying to be competitive, controlling, or dominating.

Understand that depending on how strong the behavior is any approach taken that is successful in changing behavior may need to be continued for the life of the dog.


Prevention

Prevention should start with the puppies in the litter when the puppies are 4-weeks of age. There should be a multitude of toys and other novel items that are rotated every day or every other day at most. By having a great multitude of toys and novel items for all the puppies we have reduced the chance of the puppies learning that things are a scare resource that need to be guarded from others. Toys can be as important to a dog’s development as they are for children. Toys can do more than keep pets entertained and occupied. They can assist dogs with their social and emotional development and the all important game of fetch a.k.a. sharing. The puppies gain more confidence exploring and interacting with new toys.  They also learn to play with other dogs with toys, rather than using the other dogs as a toy. Use toys to play with your dog to strengthen the social bond between and to assist in training so that you are not limited to using treats.  

Teaching “leave it” and “drop” skills are important for every dog. (Teaching Your Dog to "Drop" https://youtu.be/ndTiVOCNY4M )  This training should start when the dog is not in a high state of excitement/arousal. A mistake many people make it that they try teaching this with loud and forceful commands instead of making training fun and using a normal spoken voice. And when the dog does not comply with the command people generally repeat the command louder. When a dog is in a high state of arousal, loud and forceful commands serve to heighten arousal and can create a sense of competition for the item. When teaching and training is not made fun, the problem from the dog’s point of view is that the owners are competing and taking stuff away. Would you enjoy hanging around people when all they seem to do is take from you? Neither does the dog!

Give Your Dog an Abundant Life

It’s important that every dog is getting all their needs met (attention, social interaction, exercise, mental stimulation, rest, food) and we are making their life more interesting. Variety can be the key to an enriching life for dogs. Engage all five of the dog's senses, to make their days more interesting. Anything that is unchanging is no longer unique and loses its value quickly. Dogs engaged in enrichment activities are less likely to develop the inappropriate behaviors that are the result of boredom, stress, and frustration. 

https://www.homeskooling4dogs.com/enriching-your-dogs-life

It’s also important that the dog be getting out of the home (unless there is a reason they shouldn’t) and getting good exercise. Part of enriching a dog's life is engaging in fun activities with the owner which helps build a good relationship that is the foundation for training.  Regardless of age I want to use toys and activities the dog enjoys to strengthen the social bond.  

Toys

A toy for me is anything the dog considers fun as long as it is safe and large enough that it cannot be swallowed, or destroyed and ingested.

I place toys in three categories and like for dogs to have three sets of toys.

Chew Toys: Access to all the time to satisfy the need to chew.

Entertainment Toys: Interactive treat dispensing toys to entertain and keep them busy.

Game Toys: A set of toys that they only have access to when they are playing with their owners.

Especially for young dogs I have one set available for them all the time to chew, investigate/explore and play with.

I encourage the owners to provide several safe toys that are rotated every day to keep the dog entertained. Example would be to place 2 or 3 toys out in the morning and place maybe 2 more down later in the day to help entertain the dog with safe items. Then every day a differing set of toys. The same toys can be rotated back in every third day so they stay novel. When a dog has resource guarding issues it’s important that we only give them access to low value items they are not likely to guard.  

The second set of toys are food/treat dispensing interactive toys to entertain the dog and provide a challenge and mental stimulation.

The third set of toys they only have access to when humans are playing with them.

Games with toys between people and dogs help strengthen social bonds, and exercise both minds and bodies. For me these “toys” range from a plain sheet of paper, junk mail, up to squeaky plush toys. This third set of toys is what I use to teach dogs to retrieve. It’s important to use low value toys/things with resource guarders to start. With many dogs you may need to find a way to make the toy interesting by being playfully with the toy and moving it along the ground or moving it like prey.

Owners often times need to be taught how to play with their dog’s, but this will not include tug games yet. Games of tug should not be played until the dog has learned to share a.k.a retrieve. It’s important to have good control over the dog before playing tug. We want to avoid the possibility of strengthening their possessiveness. This is especially important with guarding breeds.


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