Because many dogs do steal and guard different items found in our homes, I wanted to give you some tips on what you can do. As object guarding in dogs can be frightening at times my first priority is to prevent anyone from getting bitten. Although object guarders typically guard bones, valued chew toys and forbidden objects such as plastic wrap, kleenexes, stolen laundry items and garbage on the ground. Some dogs are compulsive in nature to their guarding while others seem triggered by their owners sudden interest in taking the object away. It can be a difficult choice for an owner. Ignore the dog and allow him to pick up and even ingest all kinds of junk or increase the value of the item by showing great interest in taking it away from him.
The best solution for all object guarders lies in priming and practicing the problem scenarios in advance of an emergency. The dog needs to have done numerous exchange exercises in preparation for the one day he truly has something dangerous. If he is relaxed and confident when you approach he will relinquish his prize, but if he is tense and nervous, he will not. The below exchanges are to be performed only by an adult or supervised older children.
Basic object exchange exercises:
1. Give the dog an object that he is unlikely to guard.
2. Say “give” or “leave it” to the dog.
3. Take the object away from the dog.
4. Give a nice yummy treat from your pocket to the dog.
5. Give the same object back to the dog and repeat the exercise several times.
Do 5 or 6 sets, varying the time between repetitions, and then walk away. Do several sets of repetitions a day, varying the object each time. Note, only use low value items in the first few days. When you have a history of successful exchanges you can increase the value of the item you want the dog to relinquish. Remember the higher value item the dog has, the higher value your treat must be. For example, if you are trying to exchange a bone, try old cheddar cheese or turkey.
For severe guarding including any bite history try the following exercise:
Begin by offering the dog with an item a handful of bonus treats. This will teach the dog that when a hand comes near his mouth good things will happen! Offer Bonus treats several times a day until your dog begins to lift his head and wag his tail when you approach. Once your dog is not growling anymore, you may begin exchanges.
1. Do exchanges with objects of no interest, several sets of 5 a day for 3 days.
2. Do exchanges with a slightly more coveted object, again several sets of 5 a day for 3 days.
3. Try exchanges with hot objects, using extra special treats, several sets of 5 a day for 2 or 3 days.
4. Exchanges with low to mid-value objects the dog has spontaneously taken possession of do several in a row, then leave the dog with the item unless it is a Object Guarding in Dogs forbidden object. In this case give an extra handful of treats on the last trial and replace the object with a chew toy.
5. Exchanges with hot objects the dog spontaneously has taken possession of do several in a row for extra special reinforcers, then return the object to the dog or replace with an interesting chew toy.
6. Maintenance of exchanges are called “cold trials” when the dog has an object and only one reinforced repetition is done, then give the toy back or replace the forbidden object with a well liked chew toy.
7. These trials should be practiced for the day when you find yourself in an unplanned situation at the park, in your car or while visiting a friend.
8. While young children should not do exchanges, they should have the dog in a NIFF (nothing is for free) training program.
Common Unfortunate Situation in Guarding Dogs:
When the puppy is under the table with a forbidden object a human comes in, pulls him out and punishes him. The puppy learns that a human hand reaching towards him is very scary and possibly painful. The next time the puppy steals something because it is fun, he heads under the table for safety. The human comes in and offers a treat in his hand, the young dog remembers the punishment and refuses to come out. When the human tries to coax him out, dog whines because he is anticipating the punishment. The human reaches for the dog, the dog growls because he is afraid. The dog gets slapped or cuffed for growling, the dog learns that growling didn’t make the scary human go away. The next time someone reaches under the table, the dog knows growling doesn’t work but he is still very afraid so he tries biting! Wow, that worked, the human backed off quickly. The dog has now learned how to make the scary stimuli go away, bite!
The only way to change the dogs association with a hand coming at him is through POSITIVE REINFORCERS. Hence offer food from your hand as often as possible in a day. When the dog is guarding an item, in the beginning, the hand only offers or tosses yummy goodies, it doesn’t take away until the dog is no longer afraid. This time table depends on how much consistent positive reinforcers are given!
My Favorite Guarding Resource Progression is by Jean Donaldson, Author of The Culture Clash