Guarding Behavior in Dogs

'Barkley' and Shelly, Chris Fayles 4.6.2013

Case Study: Barkley the Beagle


Barkley the Beagle is emotionally bonded to pumpkin-shaped chew toy.  Barkley’s love affair with his toy has become so intense, he will launch an all-out offensive attack the moment his guardian enters the room.

Barkley has bitten FIVE times in an attempt to guard his beloved toy. Other than that, he is an affectionate and friendly Beagle.

Understanding Guarding Behavior

Before working with a toy guarding issue, it is important to understand that guarding behavior–although totally unacceptable, is not uncommon canine behavior.

Do you guard any of your resources? Do you lock your car, do you lock your front door?  Like any form of life, it is not uncommon for dogs to guard resources. This behavior starts the moment we enter the world.

Nursing Mama DogHave you ever watched new born puppies suckle from their mother?  The moment puppies come out of the womb, they compete for a sacred resource—mother’s milk!  They quickly learn that the most fattening, high-caloric, colostrum-rich tits are located towards the lower end of the mother, and there is a mad scramble to push, crawl, and shove away their siblings to get at the prized jackpot of nutrients.

Puppies with the most enthusiasm are usually the most successful in their attempt to get milk. By week three they have more strength to out-maneuver their siblings for milk.

The more puppies the mother has, the greater this competition.  And sadly, it is not uncommon for some of the puppies to pass away during the initial few weeks of life.  They’re just too weak or passive, and when competing against their more confident siblings, Mother Natures favors the more pushy, confident pups.Assess a Hand

What to do about Resource Guarding

Despite biological tendencies, BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION WORKS.

How do we do it?

Every time we approach Barkley with his toy, he receives something BETTER. In Barkley’s case, a tasty morsel.  The faster Barkley relinquishes his toy, the faster he receives a morsel.  Barkley quickly learns that guarding is pointless, and not only is the approach of a person a bad thing, it’s actually a GOOD thing.

As the guarding behavior dissipates, the frequency of the treats is reduced until they are no longer necessary.
Simple, yet effective.

'Barkley' and Shelly, Chris Fayles 3.12.2013If you have a pet with guarding issues, send us a message.  We highly recommend working with a professional dog trainer for this issue, especially for dogs who have threatened to bite or have bitten before. While this is a simple exercise to get started, exercise caution. Your dog likely needs a thorough training plan to mitigate it entirely.

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