Hannah Richter (aka Mary Puppins) is a certified dog trainer and current instructor at Andrea Arden Dog Training in NYC. If you have something you want to ask Mary Puppins be sure to email us at [email protected]!
Dear Mary Puppins,
I’m currently at my parents place with my dog, Chip. My sister’s dog and my parent’s dog are here as well. My parent’s dog, Billy, is 13 years old. They’ve never been besties, but get along fine! We were giving them some leftover human food and Billy began to get closer to Chip as he was eating. As a result, Chip went after Billy. Billy tried to fight back, but by the time we separated them Chip had bitten Billy’s ear. Luckily, both dogs are otherwise fine!
As time has passed, both Chip and Billy are civil with one another again. However, I was wondering what is the best way to discipline Billy and Chip when either of them becomes possessive of food or growls at other dogs, even though they don’t do it often, They both really are sweet boys!
Dear Nervous Dog Mom,
I’m so sorry to hear that this happened. Resource guarding is often a bit scary and upsetting to witness. I’m glad to hear they are doing a bit better already. When working on dog to dog resource guarding, it is important to consider management of the space above all else. Keep the environment free of high-value items such as bones, toys, food, and water when both dogs are present. I would suggest feeding meals with a lot of distance between them or in separate rooms.
I urge you and your parents to shift your focus from disciplining Chip to focusing on ways that you can prevent him from guarding in the future. Examples include management and working on a positive training plan. Disciplining Chip will likely result in him having a stronger negative association with other dogs around his food. Why? He will learn that when another dog approaches his food that his owner also gets very angry with him. This can really escalate the issue. A double whammy!
What Actions can be Taken to Remedy this Issue?
When you are ready to work with Chip and Billy on resource guarding you will need:
- Two handlers (doesn’t need to be hired professionals, however that may be good for the first session), leashes, and a variety of super high-value treats.
- One handler with Billy and another with Chip on opposite sides of the room.
- Cue both dogs to sit and they each will receive a reward. Continue doing so by feeding a couple of treats to each dog.
- Then have Chip’s handler toss a treat to Billy and then reward Chip with a jackpot (multiple tiny treats in rapid succession). Repeat 10 times.
- Have the handler escort Billy to leave the room, which will allow Chip to relax for a few seconds and then repeat this exercise.
In this practice, Chip is learning that it is GREAT when Billy gets a treat because it results in a big jackpot for him. Practice this routine a few times each day. Try to provide him a treat randomly versus sticking to a routine/rhythm as he will begin to predict when the treat will come and it will lose it’s meaning. As Chip gets better you can move him closer to Billy and repeat the same exercises. You can reverse this process if Billy begins resource guarding
Next practice giving Chip high-value treats anytime Billy enters a room. This will start to teach Chip that once he sees Billy coming in that it is a good thing! Seeing Billy equals a treat party for him.
The final step is to replace those high-value treats with a chew toy or food puzzle that Chip can work on. This way he will still associate something positive with being near Billy but you won’t have to constantly give him high-value treats (which might not be great for his doggie waistline!). If Chip resource guards the food puzzle or chew toy, go back to the treats for a while.
In case the method above does not work, you can also train Chip to stay on a mat or bed while Billy eats. This helps Chip relax and keeps him away from Billy when there is a resource they could fight over. To do this you will need to teach him to go to bed and stay. Be sure to use very high-value treats for all of these exercises. You want something novel and mouth-watering for Chip so he is more likely to want to learn. My recommendation for high-value treats would be:
- ground beef
- hot dogs
Remember that resource guarding is instinctual for many dogs. This is especially true for those that came from a shelter and may have been a stray at one point. A lot of the time stray dog’s may only get a bit of food every day, and they take some time to adjust to you giving them more food (and will defend what you give them like it’s their only food for a week). The takeaway here is that resource guarding is highly ingrained in some dogs, which means you need to be very patient and have a consistent training regimen in order to get rid of the behavior. I hope this helps you and Chip avoid any future food fights!
The takeaway here is that resource guarding is highly ingrained in some dogs, which means you need to be very patient and have a consistent training regimen in order to get rid of the behavior.