Preventing Resource Guarding: The Protective Puppy

If you notice that your puppy is beginning to protect her toys, bed, balls, food, and other prized worldly possessions, she is starting to do what animal behaviorists call “resource guarding.”   As with many behavior problems, the best solution for resource guarding is prevention and doing early training to keep the behavior from happening in the first place. If not stopped early, the protecting of possessions can escalate and you may find yourself with a puppy on your hands who is willing to snap or bite rather than give up a treat or her stuffed animal.

dv1909019Since resource guarding is a problem that is often accidentally shaped over time, watch for any signs that your puppy is being over protective of her possessions. Plan activities throughout the day that give you a chance to handle your pup’s toys, dishes and bed. If the puppy ever objects by growling, do not give in. This starts you down the dangerous slippery slope of having a puppy who will growl, then snap, then bite to protect her possessions.

Some exercises you can do with your puppy to avoid having a resource guarder are:

1. Develop your mindset. Start by understanding that basically, you are the human and everything in the house, yard and car belongs to you. It is all on loan to your precious puppy.

2. Life is about give and take. During puppy playtime, occasionally ask your puppy to, “Give.” Take the toy away for a few seconds. Then give it back and praise the puppy. When you are teaching this skill, you can exchange one chew toy for another, or exchange a toy for a treat. In the beginning, as soon as the puppy releases the item and “gives” as you say the word, give the puppy a treat.

3. Don’t let food become an issue. With a puppy, you can start early by handling the food dish and adding something to it so that your puppy learns good things come from you. If you’ve adopted a shelter or rescue puppy, know that prior to being rescued, these dogs may have been in a situation where they had to guard their food if they wanted to eat. You might need a behavior plan to address food guarding.

4. Compliance training on basic good manners skills will help you address your pup’s problems with possessiveness.  Sit and down as well as sit-stay and down-stay are all behaviors that can be used to manage your dog while your work on possessiveness issues.

From AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy: A Positive Behavioral Approach to Puppy Training (

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About Canine Good Citizen

AKC Canine Good Citizen Director, Author of the AKC's official CGC book, "CITIZEN CANINE"
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2 Responses to Preventing Resource Guarding: The Protective Puppy

  1. Make a list of the items (or people) your dog guards.

    “The Motivator.” Figure out what motivates your dog to comply. This can be a ball, a toy or a really yummy treat. (Boiled chicken can get a dog to give up most anything.)

    Ask yourself some hard questions. Do I pet my dog every time it comes up to me? Does my dog nudge my hand for petting? Does my dog shove a toy into my hand or against me to tell me “play with me right now!”? Do I feed my dog if he goes and picks up his food bowl and drops it or brings it to me? Do I give my dog a treat if he whines at the treat cabinet? If you answered yes to any of those questions, stop that!

    Initiate the Premack Principle or “Grandma’s Rule.” This is commonly referred to as the Nothing in Life is Free “NILIF” protocol. In other words, no petting, no food, no play, no going for a walk, no going outside, unless they have “earned” it. Now, this is simple. They don’t have to jump through burning hoops or take out the trash. A simple, sit-wait or sit-stay, or using whatever “request” you have taught them to go outside will suffice. Working for what they need to survive is natural to a dog and makes sense to them.

    Teaching the Cue “Give” or “Drop.” In this section I will be describing a “trade off” method. Start with objects that your dog does not consider “high value.” This sets the dog up for success. You must work your way up to the items that are guarded more intensely. You can entice your dog with a treat or another toy to drop the item. (The Motivator.) The second the dog drops the item, pick it up first, and then deliver the motivator and praise lavishly and calmly. Return to your dog the prized item you have asked him to relinquish immediately after he has given it up happily, or finished chewing his treat if that is what you are using.

    Repeat this process until you are certain that the dog knows the cue “give” or “drop” and is doing it reliably every, single time, with no protestation. This teaches the dog that giving you the resource is a good thing and often means something even better is coming their way.

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