If your dog growls, snaps at you, or exhibits any other type of aggressive behavior when he is in possession of a toy, food, chew or some other resource as you approach him, this is referred to as resource guarding. Dogs may guard from people and/or other dogs. But they can also guard locations like beds or their own owners!
Many people think that puppies will outgrow this type of behavior. I have never seen that happen. It only gets worse if you don’t work to fix it.
Please, please, please do not punish your dog for resource guarding. This will only make the problem worse and you will be likely to be bitten. It is a serious issue requiring professional help at the first sign of trouble.
Instead of trying to fix this behavior, try preventing it from occurring in the first place. Whenever you get a new dog or puppy, be sure to practice the following exercise, even if you have never seen your dog show any inclination to guard. Think of the following exercise as a way to inoculate your dog against guarding behavior in the future.
Work on getting your adult dog or puppy comfortable with people approaching his food bowl when he’s eating. Follow the procedure below with one adult only doing all the steps. Then the next adult does all the steps, then the various children, starting with the oldest child, etc. Repeat each step until dog is comfortable with your approach to him while eating, or at least 2 days.
A. For the first two days, approach pup while he is eating and drop (do not place) from a distance of a couple feet, a piece of chicken, lunch meat, or some other tasty bit into pup’s bowl. Make sure this item is better than the food in his bowl.
B. Next, repeat the first step, but place tasty tidbit directly in bowl. Don’t keep your hand in the bowl, just place the treat and remove your hand. Repeat for two days.
C. Next, pick up bowl as pup is eating and add the tasty bit, replacing bowl. Repeat for two days.
By this time, pup should be ecstatic about the approach of someone while he is eating.
Repeat this entire procedure while pup is chewing valued bones, rawhides or toys.
During this whole procedure, look for signs of trouble. Does your dog eat faster as you approach? Does your dog freeze or glare at you as you approach? If you are seeing any red flags discontinue the process above and call AnimalSense immediately for a private training session to see if you can nip the problem in the bud.