Resource Conservation: Why Dogs Protect Their Stuff (And How to Get Them to Stop)
By: Beverly Ulbrich, Guest Writer
Most people have heard that you should mess with your puppy’s food when he is young to make sure he doesn’t growl at you or bite you. But did you know you need to keep doing this throughout your dog’s life?
You never know when you need to grab something dangerous from your dog’s mouth, or when someone might try to pet your dog while it’s chewing something. So you need to make sure your dog knows it’s okay.
You need to make sure your dog doesn’t react to any of the following:
- Put your hand in his bowl and remove the bowl while he is eating
- pet him while he eats
- petting him while he chews on bones or other chew toys
- take away anything he is chewing or playing with
- Once you’re sure he’s safe, ask another family member or friend to do the same
If you can do all of these things, great! Just practice occasionally to make sure your dog stays in shape.
If you don’t feel safe trying these things, then Do not do this! But you deserve help. The Pooch Coach can help train your dog so that he feels comfortable and even likes having someone to hold his food bowl for. You can also teach your dog to put anything in its mouth. In fact, Here’s The Pooch Coach Teaching ‘Drop It’ On Live TV To the shelter dog who protected her bones.
The bottom line: Just as you should be able to easily remove your child’s toy or food dish, you should be able to remove whatever your dog is eating.
In nature, it is “survival of the fittest”. If an animal does not protect its food, shelter or offspring, they may be taken from it. So it’s actually quite natural for a dog to defend his food or bones by growling or biting. However, this is unwelcome behavior in our house.
Companion dogs should trust us to remove dangerous objects from their mouths and listen to us when we ask them to leave the furniture. We should be able to easily take away food or toys; just like a child shouldn’t be mad at you for taking his dinner plate away, your dog shouldn’t mind you taking his bowl away.
How Resource Conservation Gets Started
Normally, puppies don’t have resource guards. If they do, you want to address it right away. Most owners generally know to take things from their puppies to test and train them. When they see the puppy just backing away and looking confused, they think they are safe. But if you don’t continue to mess with your dog’s food or chew toys throughout his life, it’s easy for him to develop protective behaviors because it’s in his nature to do so.
Once a dog realizes that growling or snapping will stop people and/or other dogs from taking his prized possession, then it’s all downhill from there! People back off, the dog becomes more confident, and it’s his role and responsibility to protect what’s his.
This cycle needs to be broken as soon as possible. Otherwise, you’re all going to get more and more frustrated until someone gets hurt.
Many different experiences and situations can lead to resource conservation. Most dogs rescued from the street have problems securing items. In fact, their survival depends on defending their territory and food.
Not surprisingly, many dogs never learn to trust humans. Also, if a human or other animal does accidentally take a dog’s food or a bone, the dog can learn to react and try to protect those items.
how we are affected
Naturally, we as owners feel intimidated or frustrated with our dogs. We show fear when we try to take a bone away. Or we avoid it when the dog eats. Or we separate our two dogs into different rooms during meals.
This actually helps create stress. It starts a cycle where we expect our dog’s reaction and become almost as sad as he is! It is often difficult to break the cycle without outside help.
how to stop it
When a dog is protecting a resource, usually he is most important in (re)establishing trust between the dog and the owner. Even if the dog is wary of another dog, it’s still related to the owner, who ultimately owns all the property.
Just as it is a parent’s job to teach two children to get along and share, dog owners also need to teach their dogs. We need to let them know that they can trust us and that it’s not actually a bad thing if we need to take something from them. Once the surrounding negative energy is removed, the dog will actually love it when you bring him his bowl, and he won’t wait to drop a bone from her mouth. Two dogs can learn to respect each other’s space, bowls, and toys, so they no longer need to fight over possessions.
If you feel your dog may have resource conservation issues, schedule an appointment with a professional such as dog trainer for further assistance.
Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for professional training. If your dog is a resource protector, make an appointment with a training specialist for one-on-one training with your dog.