Author: Diane R Mitchell
Originally Published in GPSSC Der Schnurrbart Winter 2007
Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking when you go to take a bone, food, or even something they have of yours away from them? How about them protecting a location or person in your house to the point where the other family members can’t go near that person and no one can go near the location? Do they growl, bark, even threaten to bite, or do they just drop the item and leave it for you?
First, let’s cover what level of guarding your dog is at. There are usually ten recognized levels (Rodier, Lisa, 2007).
The first two levels are nothing to worry about. The dog is relaxed and will let you have the item (Rodier, Lisa, 2007). There are no teeth showing or growling. The dog may keep eating, but will let you have the item it is chewing on (Rodier, Lisa, 2007).
Level 3 shows tension in the body that can be seen by the speed of the tail as well as the tension in the muscles (Rodier, Lisa, 2007). The dog is starting to guard its food a bit. You will probably still be able to take the food away, but the dog won’t be as happy about it. If you continue to have this little bit of tension and it does not escalate, then I would not be too concerned about your dog’s manners.
Level four would begin to worry me as the dog is definitely tense and stops eating to protect it’s food (Rodier, Lisa, 2007). This is the beginning of trouble. Level five is where the dog will gulp their food to keep you from getting it and will hover over the food bowl without moving until he is done (Rodier, Lisa, 2007). Six escalates to a low growl and moving the item to a more protected place to eat it (Rodier, Lisa, 2007). In level seven, the teeth come out and the dog is snarling at you (Rodier, Lisa, 2007). Not a pretty sight for any owner to see. Levels eight through ten are where the teeth really come into play. The amount of teeth you would feel on your skin would escalate from barely touching to drawing blood (Rodier, Lisa, 2007). The bites are swift and the dog goes back to protecting its food, but you have been warned to stay away.
If your dog is between a 4 and 7, I suggest you start with some training techniques. These DO NOT include yelling at your dog, hovering over the dog, stomping your feet or waving something to hit the dog with, nor any kind of physical correction (Rodier, Lisa, 2007). I know this because my first show dog was a resource guarder and I got her from the point of grabbing food and running away and snapping at me when she had a bone I wanted to take away to where she would let me take food from her bowl and hold her bone or take it away as I chose. The training was not easy and it took a long time to get to the point where she would let me do these things, but with constant attention to what is going on in the house and what the dog has, it can be done.
Food guarding is the most common type of guarding and from level 4-7, there are things you can do to help keep things from getting worse. The first step is to keep things the dog guards away from their reach until you are ready to let them have the item. The second step in food guarding is to make sure the dog thinks you are eating the same food they are and ALWAYS make them think you get to eat first. Don’t let the dog eat before you do. The pack leader would never let a lesser pack member get the first or best bites of food. If you only put a small amount in the bowl and then gradually add the food as the dog is eating, this can help as well, just be careful that the dog is not getting worse as you do this.
For location guarding, first try keeping the dog away from the place they are guarding. Evaluate the location to see if they are really guarding food that you may not have noticed. Often dogs will protect the place where their dog food is stored. On the other hand, if the dog is guarding the bed or a couch, the first step is to make that place less desirable for them to be. Let’s say the dog won’t let you on the couch to sit next to your loved one. The first step I would take would be to have everyone sit on the floor or the person the dog is protecting to get up and sit elsewhere every time the dog guards that place. If the dog is on a person’s lap when they are guarding, that person should stand up every time the dog begins to guard them. These techniques can work with consistency and effort. If the issue gets worse, I suggest consulting a professional trainer for more advice.
For a dog who is an eight or higher, I recommend speaking to a professional from the beginning as that dog will need more work and the trainer can figure out what the main problem is. It could, after all, be you and not the dog causing the problem. Reference: Rodier, Lisa; On Guard?; The Whole Dog Journal Volume 10 Number 10 October 2007