Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Dog/Dog Resource Guarding, Part Two: Structure and Training

I know I said it in Part One, but I feel like it bears repeating: you must, MUST have a good management plan in place before attempting to train your resource guarding dog. A good management plan will minimize the number of times your resource guarding dog goes over threshold. It's extremely important to keep your dog from practicing resource guarding not only because dogs get better at what they practice, but also to keep your other dog(s) safe. Resource guarding can ruin a relationship, and relationships are hard to fix once they've been broken.

Many dogs resource guard because they are insecure about resources. They doesn't understand what food belongs to them and what doesn't, so they're going to try and make sure they gets ALL the noms! Just like with any other anxious or reactive dog, structure is HUGE. It helps them to understand exactly how a situation will play out and how they can influence what is going on. So starting now, your dog no longer needs to worry about missing out - you will tell them exactly when there are cookies for them. To help your resource guarder learn structure:

Teach a nonverbal "leave it." Teach it HARD. Your dog doesn't understand what food belongs to them and what food doesn't. How does your dog know if the potato chip in your hand is going to them, or to you, or to your other dog? You're going to teach your dog that if there is food, the default is that it won't be going to them. To teach a non-verbal leave it, put a cookie in your fist, and show your fist to your dog. Let them paw/lick/maul your hand. When they get exasperated and move back to glare at your unrelenting fist, open your hand. When they move back in, close you hand again. Keep doing this until they stay backed away when you open your hand. When this happens, take a treat out of your palm and hand it to them with your opposite hand. If they move toward your hand at any point, close your fist again. We're teaching them that if they move toward the food, they won't get it, but if they control their impulses and stay away, the food will magically appear in their mouths. Pretty neat, huh?

Bonus of resource guarding training: you end up with a lot of pictures of dogs sitting still
and staring at you.
The nonverbal "leave it" is your foundation behavior, so proof the heck out of this before you even think about bringing another dog into the room. Your dog should be able to leave food if you drop it, if you're sitting on the couch or bed, if you hold up food in your hand, if you get up and leave the room - and they should do it without any real cues from you. Teach a nonverbal leave it to your other dog(s), too, while you're at it. If your resource guarder is trying to leave something, it'll be a bajillion times harder for them to keep their cool if they're being good and another dog tries to steal the resource.

Institute a "no more free food" policy. I'm not saying you can't share your food with you're dog if that's something you enjoy doing. I'm saying that your dog needs a cue to know that this piece of food is going to be for them. It can be as simple as "sit," although I prefer to ask for a behavior that is incompatible with resource guarding. My favorite is a "go to mat" while I eat. The dog can't be on the mat AND chasing another dog away from food. This also gives the advantage of increased distance. Remember, when you're working with resource guarding, you have two triggers: the resource and the other dog. Distance can help to reduce the intensity of the triggers. Personally, I've noticed that my dogs won't resource guard something if they're not the closest dog to the resource. For example, if I'm eating on the couch with Rubi next to me, and another dog approaches, Rubi may grumble. If I'm eating on the couch and Rubi is on her mat and another dog approaches me, she won't be bothered. She knows that her food will come to her on the mat.

Teach a "none of this is yours" cue. This is probably the least important of these three structure items, but it can still be beneficial. I teach it by giving my dogs the "go away" cue when I sit down to eat, and then ignoring them for the entire meal. This can be really frustrating if your dogis used to getting food when you eat, so be sure to teach it away from your other dog(s) so your resource guarder doesn't take their frustrations out on others. If you choose to teach this, it's important that when you cue it with more than one dog present, none of the dogs get food. There have been studies showing that dogs do have some rudimentary understanding of fairness, and I think that it's particularly important to be fair when working with resource guarding. It certainly can't hurt.
In addition to providing structure, you can also actively train resource guarding dogs to love it when other dogs get food! To do this, I already have a reliable nonverbal leave it - when I hold my hand out with food in it, I want my dogs to understand that the food in that hand is not for them unless I drop it directly into their mouth. The reason for this is that I don't want two dogs moving toward the food at the same time. Then we practice: non-resource guarding dog gets food, resource guarding dog gets food. It's your basic counter conditioning; the other dog eating becomes a predictor of your resource guarder getting a cookie. I call this the "give a cookie/get a cookie" game. Management of distance it particularly important for this game, though. If I'm not certain my resource guarder can tolerate seeing another dog get food, I'll tether my resource guarder on the other side of the room or put a baby gate between them. This should be a fun activity for both dogs - not a stressful, tense event.

Once the dogs are able to consistently enjoy cookies in fairly close proximity without becoming uncomfortable, start generalizing. For example, sit on the couch, and give the non-resource guarder a cookie. If your resource guarder doesn't try to steal it, then give them a cookie. Basically, start transitioning your training sessions into real life situations. Play the give a cookie/get a cookie game in all the places you want your resource guarder to behave, and then practice it with a bunch of different dogs (one at a time - if you have more than two dogs, make sure your resource guarder is comfortable with each of the other dogs individually before asking them to be okay with more than one dog at once). If there are other humans in your house, have the people play this game with coaching from you. The more you generalize give a cookie/get a cookie, the more your resource guarder will understand the concept, and the better they will feel about other dogs getting food. You can even counter condition your resource guarder to other dogs "stealing" food: give your other dog a meal or plate of food, and give your resource guarder super awesome cookies for watching them eat.

Group relaxation protocol. Remember when I only had four dogs?
Yeah, me neither.
 When working with household aggression cases where the dogs have already gotten into fights and I'm worried their relationship has been damaged, I'll often recommend doing parallel relaxation protocol with the dogs. To do this, I start by working through the first few days of the relaxation protocol with each dog individually so that they understand how it works. Then, I set up each dog on their mat far enough apart that the resource guarding dog isn't likely to go over threshold (using a barrier or tether if I'm not 100% sure my resource guarder will be okay). Once I have everyone set up, we work through the tasks in relaxation protocol, starting at an earlier "day" than each dog has been working on individually so that both dogs will find the work easy.

You can even counter-condition with the relaxation protocol: do the task, give your non-resource guarder a cookie, and then give your resource guarder a cookie. Soon, your resource guarder will learn that your other dog getting a cookie predicts that they will get a cookie. I like using the relaxation protocol because it provides more structure than the give a cookie/get a cookie game. You're also teaching the dogs to be calm and relaxed with each other around food.

Now that I've gone over some of the tools I use for dog/dog resource guarding cases, next I'll show you how I put it all together. When I got her, Rubi had no trouble at all sending other dogs to the emergency room over chew toys. Now, she cheerfully co-exists with six other dogs. Come watch how I made that happen in Part Three!



  1. Very informative post and great photos! We have two rescues and they don't resource guard about food and regular treats, we can feed them and treat them together. Sometimes the recently adopted one will get finicky about her raw bones, though. My leash reactive dog doesn't take it personally when his sister gives him a growl and he backs off, but we're trying to be vigilant about taking away her bone whenever she gets too protective of it. We'll definitely give some of these techniques a try. We work on the non-verbal leave it a lot already, it's invaluable!

  2. I nominated you for a Liebster award! It aims to spread appreciation for the blogs we like to read, in this case spreading the dog blog love! - check it out here :)

  3. Man, you have the BEST PHOTOS EVER! (the information is beyond priceless too!) Thanks!