Bringing home a new puppy can bring joy, excitement, and stress. It is important to start your puppy off on the right paw and develop a proactive plan of action. In our series, Puppy Problem Prevention, we will discuss how to reduce the chances of developing behavior problems like separation anxiety, reactivity, resource guarding, and socialization issues. By intervening early on, you can help your pup grows into a well-mannered dog.
Part 1 – Resource Guarding
Resource guarding occurs when a dog is protective of a resource it values like food, rawhide, a person, or a location. For wild or feral dogs, guarding is a highly adaptive survival trait. Guarding is a normal behavior. However, now that dogs are sharing our home it is not desirable for them to guard their resources.
If you have just brought a new puppy into your home, you can help your pup learn to share at an early age and prevent any issues around their resources. The general rule of thumb with pups is to always be giving and never taking. You want to start off by trading instead. If your pup is chewing on your shoe and you go over and take it away, he learns that when you approach, you take things away. The more effective method is finding something he really likes (i.e. squeak toy, kong, bully stick, etc) and make that more enticing than the shoe.
Another activity you can do with your puppy is a fun food bowl exercise. At your puppy’s regular meal time, grab his empty food bowl and set it down. Your puppy will check out the bowl and look at you like “Hey, where’s the food?” Place a few pieces of your puppy’s food in the bowl and when he gobbles that up and looks at you; place a few more pieces of food in the bowl, and repeat. Try to do this with your puppy 2-3 times a week.
Lastly, teach your puppy a reliable “Drop It” and “Leave It” cue. The "Drop It" cue is used when your pup has already gotten a hold of something already and you want him to release it. "Leave It" means your pup is near or on his way to something he wants and you want him to ignore it and come to you.
If you see any of signs of guarding, it is important not to provoke or punish the dog and to seek professional help. The more pronounced the signs are, the better your dog is trying to communicate with you. For example, a dog that stiffens up, blocks the resource with his body, and growls is painting a clear picture that he does not want you to come any closer. If you were to correct the dog using force, it is highly likely that you would only get rid of the overt signs of guarding but not the actual guarding. This can lead to a dog doesn’t growl but just bites.
Check back next week for Puppy Problem Prevention: Part 2 – Separation Anxiety
CPDT-KA and Animal Behavior Consultant