ITS DISCOURAGING BUT NORMAL
For new dog owners, resource guarding in puppies can be really discouraging. But usually, all it takes is a little time and work to get things back on track.
It’s indeed alarming for most people to see signs of aggression in puppies. In the case of resource guarding – food, bone, bed etc. possessiveness – there’s good news. The good news is you can start addressing it in a young puppy with weak jaws.
A FOOD GUARDING EXERCISE REGIME
The key to a good hierarchy design is small, incremental steps. You want it so that at no point do you see the original guarding problem.
Baseline And Hierarchy
When approached while eating from her dish, does your puppy freeze? If the approach continues would your puppy growl briefly and then lunge and snap? If touched while eating, does she growl along with whirling and biting?
I thoroughly recommend getting the assistance of a qualified and respected dog trainer. In addition here is a step-by-step solution to try. Please keep in mind that there is no quick fix. This will take consistency and effort.
Step 1 (day 1): Instalment Feeding Of Food
Sit on the floor next to your puppy’s dish and spoon in one mouthful. Once she swallows, spoon the next mouthful into her dish. By the end of the second meal, observe if she is happy to see your spoon hand after each swallow.
Step 2 (day 1-2): Overlap
This step is essentially the same as Step 1. The only difference is that the trainer adds the next spoonful to her dish while she is still eating. Offer this form of feeding over multiple meals. If there is no evidence of guarding seen for three or more meals then continue to Step 3.
Step 3 (day 2-3): Approach Overlap
Move into a standing position. Spoon a larger amount into her bowl then withdraw two paces. Re-approach and add the next spoonful while your puppy is still eating. This is a combined approach with the overlap exercise.
Stick with this for three meals. By the end of the three meals look for signs of a happy wag and looking up on approach. These types of signals are a clear Conditioned Emotional Response (CER). Repeat the exercise for one more day. Feed multiple small meals throughout the day to increase practice opportunities (5 small meals). Also increase withdrawal distances and intervals.
At this point, spoon her entire puppy-sized ration into the bowl and withdraw five paces. Wait for 15 seconds then approach and added a (hidden) marble-sized dollop of cheese (or other high reward food). You may need to trial a number of different treats to establish a “Top Five All-Time Foods”. Use one of these food items to add to the bowl. Next, withdraw to six paces and wait for your puppy to continue to consume, then repeat.
On the third trial, look for a clear CER (Conditioned Emotional Response) – withdrawal from bowl on approach, orientation to you and tail wag.
Step 5 (days 4-6): Covering High-Value Base
To up the ante, try some approaches while she is eating a top food, rather than normal meal ration level food. At this level, serve up a top food item and then trump it with higher value stuff (for example, salami). Practice over several trials until you once again observe her happy anticipatory CER.
Step 6 (day 4 onward): Cold Trials
To better simulate real life, initiate random trumping. At least once per meal, from a random direction, at a random time and with a top food, approach and add the bonus. The trick is to make it unpredictable when the reward is coming. The goal is to see a high percentage of an evident “yippee” CER. At no point should your puppy be exhibiting the old guarding behaviour.
Step 7 (day 8 onward): Generalization
Recruit other people to do some random trumps. Watched carefully for any evidence of regression. This includes the absence of “yippee” CERs to their approach.
Step 8 (day 15 onward): Body Handling
Only at the last step, would I recommend commencing patting, grabbing or pushing your puppy around while she is eating. Being handled during eating consists of body touch, followed by a trumping addition. Later the body touch becomes body handling. This can be repeated until the body touch/handling elicites the “yippee” CER such as a wag as well as orientation to your hand. Check to see if you store the bonus in your other hand behind your back and reach with a blank hand, does she would wag and orient to your face.
Continue to periodically place high reward treats in the food bowl and reward a relaxed and happy disposition over time.
Resource guarding in puppies can be both intimidating and discouraging. But don’t lose hope. There are ways to get the behaviour in check. It just takes a little extra time and effort. But, as with any type of training, the end result is well worth it. Good luck!