Preventing Resource Guarding

No one ever wants to think their sweet puppy may someday growl or snarl when you try to take away his bone or walk past his food bowl, but this is actually a pretty common occurrence.

Does your puppy…

  • Eat REALLY fast!brown-labrador-12
  • Become very still when you approach his food or bone
  • Play keep away with his possessions

Did you know that these can all be subtle signs of resource guarding? Guarding dogs tend to eat quickly to prevent the need to guard. They also appear to freeze when approached, maybe even look at you out of the corner of their eye in this position and sometimes they just quickly run away when you approach. These can all be warning signs that more severe guarding may begin over the next few months with your puppy. It’s important to take action now to prevent this from getting any worse. Here are a few steps you can take to be sure your puppy is happy to have you around his prize possessions.

Practice Trading Your Puppy

Always practice trades for valuable objects. If you are just constantly taking things away, your pup won’t think you are very much fun to play with. Play fetch with two balls, as your puppy drops the first you can throw the second. When your puppy has a bone, you may need to provide a highly tempting treat such as hot dog or cheese to convince him to give up the bone. After bone time is over, consider doing something else with your dog so the fun doesn’t just suddenly come to an end.

Create a Positive Association

Walk by your dog while they are eating or chewing a bone and simply toss them a few treats while they are eating. You may also drop a spoonful of wet food into their bowl. This will make them see your approach as a very positive thing.

Ask for Help

If you see any type of behavioral issue developing in your puppy, don’t wait months or years to address it! Behaviors can be changed much more easily when your dog hasn’t practiced them for a long period of time and gotten good at them. If your dog is already freezing, growling or snarling, it may be time to consult a trainer for help. You should also look for help if your dog is guarding from other dogs as this is a more complex behavior. Contact us and we can help you solve these issues and keep your family safe.


Dog Park Do’s and Don’ts

Dog parks can be a fabulous place for you to exercise your dog and for your dog to socialize, but they can also be a scary place for a fearful dog, or an unsafe place if there are owners who bring dogs who really should not be there. One negative experience with a dog can forever scar your dog and create both fear and aggression (the best defense is a good offense). Dog’s may also learn bullying play styles that can lead to other problems.

I have put together a bit of information for you so that you and your dog can have plenty of pleasant dog park experiences and avoid any potentially negative experiences.

Do: Learn how to read dog body language and learn what is appropriate vs. inappropriate play. Learning to read your dogs social signals is very important for so many reasons, but really is invaluable when it comes to interactions with other dogs at the dog park. The more educated you are, the better you can keep your dog safe. See additional videos & other resources at the end of this post.

Don’t: Try to bring your dog to the dog park to work on socialization issues. Work with a trainer or behaviorist in a controlled environment with well known dogs in order to address any fearful, reactive or aggressive behavior.

Do: Determine whether or not your dog is a good fit for a dog park. Not every dog is a good fit for a dog park, and that’s ok. Fearful or shy dogs may not be a good fit for a dog park during peak hours when there are a lot of dogs there. Young puppies are also not a good fit for dog parks. Not only should your puppy be fully vaccinated before going to a dog park, but they should also be confident enough to stick up for themselves (typically 5-6 mo. or older). If you puppy rolls over and squeals easily during interactions with other dogs, they may not be ready for the dog park.

Don’t: Listen to other attendees in the park who may not understand their or your dog’s needs or understand canine play and body language. Instead, educate yourself from dog professionals and be sure to stand up for your dogs emotional and physical well being. He shouldn’t have to put up with a rude dog just because “He’s just playing.”

Do: Teach your dog to come when called reliably. It is vital that you can call your dog out of play that may be inappropriate. Also, if a fight breaks out, you want to be able to call your dog away so they don’t become involved.

Don’t: Believe that dogs can “work it out” if you just let them do so. If your dog is growling, snarling or air snapping at another dog and that other dog is not listening, protect your pooch and get them out of there before they feel the need to take things further. Young puppies often do not listen to reprimands well. If the other dog respects the warning, that is great, but don’t allow it to go any further.

Do: Check out the entrance before entering to make sure there aren’t dogs congregating there. It can be very stressful for a single dog to come into a pack of dogs right as they enter. Some dogs may also become territorial of the park which can cause fights at the gate.

Don’t: Congregate with other dog owners and chat. Many fights happen when there are large groups of dogs and humans just standing around due to the fact that they don’t have enough personal space and owners are often not paying enough attention to their dogs.

Do: Keep moving. Even if you go to a small park (bigger is better), continue walking the perimeter and encourage your dog to follow you. You may stop for short play sessions with other dogs, but your best bet is to keep moving to avoid altercations.

Do: Remove your dog if it is bullying others or if it appears afraid.

Don’t: Force your pup to play with a dog he doesn’t naturally want to play with. Size is less important than play style, but it’s not safe to bring a very small dog (under 10lbs) into a park with unknown large dogs. Here is a good example of dogs of different sizes playing appropriately.

Do: Leave special toys at home to avoid resource guarding. Even if your dog doesn’t guard the toy, another dog might guard your dogs toy from him/her.

Don’t: Let all the dogs in the park know that you have treats. If you are working on training, only feed treats when no other dogs are near you, bring non smelly treats and keep them in a high pocket. Also, keep your distance from large groups of dogs.

Do: Encourage your dog to walk away from a dog who may be growling, snarling or snapping at him. These are communication signals that your dog should learn to prevent by not bothering dogs who give more subtle cues such as freezing & staring.

Don’t: Assume that a dog is aggressive when he is only trying to communicate it’s discomfort. Growling, snarling and snapping are a dogs way of saying “Please go away!.” That dog has a right to have space and not have to put up with puppy antics or rowdy play.

Overall, the most important aspect is to educate yourself so that you know what to look for when you are trying to spot problems in play. This is the best way to keep your dog safe! For more information, refer to the posts below and check out some of the Youtube videos below.

Additional Resources:

  • Language of Dogs (DVD) – Sarah Kalnajs
  • Body Language of Canine Play (DVD) – Terry Ryan
  • Dog Play (Book) – Patricia McConnell
  • Canine Body Language (Book) – Brenda Aloff

These books and DVD’s can be found on either or

Some good examples of good dog play:


Need help reforming your dogs dog park behavior? Click here to tell us about how we can help you.

Understanding Leash Reactivity

It’s not uncommon for dogs to bark, snarl & lunge at other dogs or people while on-leash. We call this leash reactivity. Generally this problem develops over time either due to fear or discomfort around other dogs or people, a bad experience, because they weren’t socialized as a puppy, or simply because they are frustrated with not being able to greet the dog or person. Some leash reactive dogs are perfectly friendly off leash, while others may have social issues and struggle to get along in general.

Dealing with a leash reactive dog can be very frustrating and down right embarrassing. You may find yourself walking your dog less or at odd hours to avoid dog traffic. Unfortunately, isolating your dog will often make the behavior worse as your dog will be lacking in exercise and social experiences. Creating alternate forms of exercise and doing controlled set up training scenarios with a qualified trainer is the best way to address this issue.

The On-Leash Greeting
I recommend that even non-reactive dogs avoid on-leash dog greetings all together for the simple fact that dogs can often not display proper body language while being restricted on leash, which can cause some miscommunication. Not only that, but you never know if the dog is indeed friendly on leash, even if the owner claims it is! Unrestrained social dogs typically approach one another in an arc, coming together gradually and from an angle, then proceed to circle & sniff and decide whether they want to play or move along. This type of greeting ritual is very difficult to do successfully on leash. Typically as the dogs are approaching they are head on (such as on a walking path) and likely making direct eye contact (which isthreatening in dog language). The dogs are likely pulling toward each other with tight leashes and the strangling sensation of the tightening collars adds to the frustration and tension. If the people walking the dogs become apprehensive of the greeting, they may jerk the leash, again adding to tension and frustration. They are accidentally sending the dog a signal that this situation may indeed be something threatening.

Can this be fixed?
This question is generally answered on a case by case basis. In most situations, yes this behavior can be greatly decreased or go away completely. There may however be some cases where the reactivity is caused by genetics or the dogs physical health. In those cases, the physical health needs to be addressed first, and we need to understand what limits we may face due to genetics. Success with this type of training is highly variable depending on several factors:

  • Genetics – Genetics play a large role in behavior and could potentially limit the amount of progress we can make. A reactive puppy from a long line of reactive dogs is likely to be more challenging to work with than a reactive puppy from solid parents.
  • Level of Fear – If fear is involved, we will need to proceed slowly and at the dogs pace. Rushing things will not help anyone. If you have a fearful dog, it is especially important to our progress that you never push your dog over threshold. Pushing too far could result in significant setbacks in our training plan.
  • How long the behavior has been practiced and reinforced? – Every time your dog barks, lunges, or growls at another dog and they get what they want out of the situation, (typically more space) they are being environmentally reinforced, even if you are not praising, treating or even if you are punishing. The longer the dog has been practicing the behavior, the better he/she is going to be at it.
  • The amount of work you put into training as well as the use of techniques is very important. This means you must main consistency with the techniques used and work at your dogs level to be sure to not push them over threshold and into a reaction.

So how do we fix it?

I wish this was an easy answer as many dog owners deal with this sort of behavior. The truth is, it will take a serious commitment from you to learn how to rehabilitateBelle your reactive dog. You will need to learn a few things yourself such as reading you dogs body language, what are your dogs strongest triggers, at what distance can your dog handle the trigger? You will also need to manage your dogs reactive behavior by preventing it and only work on it in controlled training scenarios.

What do we do in the controlled training scenarios?

The techniques we use for training involve desensitization and counterconditioning. We will not be using punishment. We use desensitization by exposing your dog to their trigger at a distance they can handle without reacting. We use counter conditioning to teach your dog that another dogs presence (or a strangers) makes great things happen! We will be working to change the dogs emotional response from one of anxiety, fear or frustration to one of happiness. This process involves a lot of repetition in order to re-condition the feelings they already have about another dogs presence. We will also work on focus related behaviors, polite leash walking and more.

A note about punishment:

Punishing reactive behavior is often ineffective and doing more harm than good. Your dog is trying to communicate their discomfort with the situation by growling, barking and lunging. If you punish those communications, you are left with a highly unpredictable dog that instead of giving warnings, he tolerates as much as he can, then goes straight to the bite, skipping all warning signs. This makes for a dangerous dog. We are not looking to suppress the behavior, we are looking to change the dogs emotional response to people.

Below are a few additional resources to continue learning. If you are ready to get help with your dogs reactivity, contact us to schedule some Private Training.

  • Help For Your Fearful Dog – Nicole Wilde
  • Scaredy Dog! – Ali Brown
  • Feisty Fido – Patricia McConnell and Karen London

When your pooch doesn’t want to share…

It is very natural for a dog to guard its valued resources, in fact, we as humans are also resource guarders. We lock our doors, some people keep a weapon in case of an emergency, and if someone does try to steal our things, we are likely to try to protect them if possible. Dogs are the same way. They guard their valued resources because they are important to them. We as owners also tend to compound this issue by taking away those objects without offering something in return.

Many people think that if you take the object away and give it back enough, the dog will learn that it will come back eventually. This often actually makes the problem worse. Consider someone taking your valued possession, giving it back the next day, and then taking it again over and over. It’s inconvenient and irritating and would likely provoke a response from a human as well.

Trades: It is always a good idea to teach your dog or puppy that you will trade their valued resource for another, even if they don’t already guard resources. I typically will use a piece of hot dog or cheese as the trade (so the dog can eat it quickly) for a high value bone. Your dog will not be likely to give up a bone for kibble, and if they do, they will likely regret it and not do it next time. If someone offered you $10,000 for your car, you might give it to them… if of course your car was worth around that amount, but if they offered you $500 (the equivalent of kibble), you probably wouldn’t give it up.

If you already have a resource guarder, there are a few things you can do. If your dog is a mild resource guarder that may freeze (seems to stop breathing momentarily) or growl, but not bear teeth, snap or bite, I would suggest that you simply try to associate your presence with a good thing. Ex. When Fluffy is chewing his favorite bone, instead of trying to take it away, simply walk by and throw him a few pieces of hot dog. Repeat over and over again (across multiple days) until your dog comes to expect hot dogs when you approach. To remove your dog from a resource, try pouring food in his bowl, or asking if he wants to go for a walk or outside to see if you can get him away from the resource. Once you have him away from the resource either put him outside or in another room while you go to pick it up (he should be out of sight). This is what we call management. Dogs will often get wise on this trick, so try to make it fun when your dog leaves the resource (give a special treat or play with your pup). Over time, you will begin doing trades with this dog, once he is comfortable with your presence. If your dog is bearing teeth, snapping or biting it is a good idea to consult a behaviorist or trainer to help you along with the process. It’s important to understand that even the most friendly dogs may bite in the wrong scenario, so don’t try to push it. No matter how small your dog, resource guarding is not cute. Even small dogs can do serious damage, especially to a child.

If your dog is guarding from other animals check out this article from Whole Dog Journal.

Leash Reactivity & Aggression

It is not uncommon for dogs to develop fear, anxiety or frustration about other dogs while on leash (or while behind a barrier such as a fence or in a car). The behavior can develop even in the most well socialized dogs. This behavior is very frustrating for dog owners, but the good news is that it can be fixed! I offer Day Training programs for basic obedience as well as many other behaviors, but leash reactivity is one of the most common behaviors I see. Day Training helps to get the dog “over the hump” as I call it, when owners have been having difficulty addressing the behavior. Leash reactivity can range from a low growl or a little barking and some pulling on the leash to a full blown barking, screaming, lunging intense display. Whether the dog is displaying mild or severe leash reactivity, it is possible to create a dog who is well mannered around other dogs.

Pictured is Brenna, a Toy Australian Shepherd who will be finishing up her leash reactivity Day Training Program this week.

Desensitizing your Dog to a Head Collar

If your dog is particularly resistant to wearing a head collar try using the steps below to help your dog associate it with positive things. Some dogs may require more time on certain steps, while others will move through very quickly. Every dog is different.
1. Start by showing the dog the head collar without actually putting it on. Give the dog a generous portion of several small treats or reward with something your dog finds rewarding (play, petting, praise). Do this several times per day for at least 2 or 3 days. At this point your dog should be very positive when it sees the head collar and anticipate its reward.
2. Once you see the positive reaction, start by treating the dog for touching the head collar when you present it to him (not for biting at it, only for sniffing or bumping it with its nose). Do this several times throughout the day.
3. The next step is to lure the dogs nose through the nose loop. Have the nose loop properly fitted (or close to it) and hold the nose loop up luring the dogs muzzle through the loop. Treat the dog when it puts its nose through the loop. Then remove and repeat. Do this several times for a day or two increasing the time the dog has the loop on his nose each time but only be a few seconds. If your dog is pawing to get it off, take a step back and leave it on for a shorter period of time.
4. Adjust the neck trap so that it would fit very loosely if it were on. Lure the dogs nose through the nose loop and snap the neck strap on. Immediately reward (treat, play, praise) then remove the collar. Over the next 3-4 days do this several times, slowly leaving the collar on for longer periods of time and tightening the neck strap slightly each time. If may be helpful to use an attention command to keep your dogs attention on you and off the collar.5. If your dog is reacting well, fit the neck strap properly and follow the above instructions for a couple days to make sure that your dog is still doing well with it on.
6. Continue to associate the head collar with good things. Put the head collar on then have an extra fun play session or feed the dog a special meal.
7. You can now attach a leash to the collar and walk around the house with your dog keeping the leash loose. If your dog is reacting well, bring it outside to encounter distractions with the head collar. When your dog begins to pull it will feel slight pressure on its nose which may cause him to fuss about the collar. Ignore any fussing and reward good behavior (walking nicely without pulling or pawing).
Never leave any type of training collar on a dog when you can not supervise.

Clicker Training Your Dog

Clicker training uses operant conditioning which is a scientific term that describes the way animals learn from the consequences of certain behaviors. Positive reinforcement is a type of operant conditioning often used in dog training. There are different types of clickers, but I prefer the small and quieter iclick.

Clicker training, a common form of positive reinforcement, is a simple and effective training method. The clicker is generally a metal strip inside a plastic case that makes a distinct clicking sound when pressed. The click is much faster and more distinct than saying “good dog” and much more effective than using treats alone. To teach a dog the meaning of the click, a treat is given immediately after clicking. Once the dog learns the positive effects of the clicking sound, the clicker itself acts as a conditioned reinforcer.

Here are the steps to teach your dog clicker training:

• Start off with your dog in a room with minimal distractions.

• Have a handful of treats or a treat pouch ready

• Click the clicker and give your dog a treat (Repeat this process while walking through your home or about the room)

• After 20-30 repetitions, test your dog by waiting for him/her to be distracted or looking away and click the clicker to see if he/she turns their head expecting a treat. If the dog turns their head expecting a reward, you are ready to begin teaching behaviors with the clicker. If not, do 20-30 more reps.

• Once your dog is responding to the click, start clicking when your dog gives you a good behavior, for instance, ask your dog to sit and as soon as the butt reaches the floor, “click!” You can also click during a specific behavior such as while your dog is walking nicely by your side without pulling.

Once your dog has learned what you are trying to teach them, you can begin to wean them off of the clicker by just using it less often when you are training. Once your dog is really good at the behavior, you won’t even need the clicker anymore!