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

Canine Play: “That’s Just How He Plays”

“That’s just how he plays” is a phrase that can be often heard at dog parks. Just because “that’s how he plays” that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate play or that your dog is supposed to like it or deal with it! I had a personal experience with this at my local dog park. I was just walking along with my dogs and my dads Rottweiler mix, Mya. Very quickly and assertively a cattle dog mix came running up full speed and tackled Mya, biting her neck and making a lot of noise. Mya very submissively rolled and squealed. I said “Hey!” clapped my hands loudly and shooed the dog off saying “Get out of here!”. From half way across the park a woman yells rudely “She’s just playing!” I chose to walk away rather than have an unpleasant conversation. That dog may have indeed been “just playing” (the dog did not intend harm) but it was extremely inappropriate and very scary for my dog, even though she is quite good with other dogs. So this prompts the question, how do you know what is appropriate vs. inappropriate play? I have included several videos at the end of this post so that you can get a visual of what I explain.

Let’s start off with what the initial greeting should look like. Dog’s should approach each other very loosely and indirectly (well socialized dogs will do a slight arc, never approaching directly nose to nose), without staring or direct eye contact. The greeting ideally should start with butt sniffing and can include nose sniffing as well. During this process you should not see any freezing (dog stops moving completely), the bodies should remain fairly loose, circling, play bowing, etc. Dog’s with poor social skills may not greet like this, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be aggressive, but it does mean to proceed with caution. If I see my dogs approach a dog with poor social skills, I will quickly say, “Ok, lets go” and move away with my dogs. Not only does it keep my dog’s safe, but it helps that dog have more good experiences.

Different dogs have very different play styles. Some are very rowdy with a lot of body slamming and mouthing, while others prefer low to no contact play. Some are very vocal, growling and barking (which is ok as long as the other dog is comfortable with it), others very quiet. This can make it difficult to tell whether or not the play is appropriate. The best way to tell is BOTH dogs continue to be willing participants. If you separate them, they will both come back to play once released. If only one is returning to play, the other is likely done and the dogs should be separated to avoid the dog that is done from becoming frustrated and snapping at the other dog to tell him to “knock it off!”

Good playmates can vary in size, age and breed, but their styles of play should be similar. Good play typically involves chasing, parallel running, rolling around, throwing paws around, and brief pounces at one another. You will also see dogs using their mouths to “bite” one another, but these are play bites and the dogs are using a soft mouth to be sure the other dog is not hurt. If a lot of the mouthing is directed at the dog’s neck, proceed with caution. A little mouthing here and there is okay, but it should not be the dogs primary focus.

Ideal play should involve a lot of pauses. These short pauses allow the dogs to check in with each other to be sure that the other is still enjoying the play. Check out this video.

Now watch this video and note how the dogs are doing a lot of neck biting and are not pausing to check in. The husky decided he was overwhelmed and ran away.

Dog Play Techniques:

Zoom Room Guides to Body Language and Play Gestures:

Inappropriate Play:

Is the big dog trying to play? Probably. Is the other dog enjoying it? Nope. The big dog is not listening to the cues the small dog is giving.

In the video below notice the submissive gestures of the little dog, turning head away, licking lips, & gentle soft body language, and the very rigid behavior of the husky type dog. The second dog that greets the little dog is much looser, notice the soft tail wag and interest in sniffing.

I hope this helps to give you a better idea of appropriate dog play. For more information, here are some additional articles, books and dvd’s that are great resources.

  • Pet Education Website
  • Language of Dogs (DVD) – Sarah Kalnajs
  • Calming Signals (DVD) – Turid Rugaas
  • Body Language of Canine Play (DVD) – Terry Ryan
  • Day Play (Book) – Patricia McConnell
  •  Canine Body Language (Book) – Brenda Aloff

Stress Signals in Dog’s – How to Read your Dog’s Body Language

There are many little things that dogs do when they are stressed. Remember, all of these things are in context, dogs yawn when they are tired, sniff because they smell something, and lick their lips because they want treats, but these can often be stress signs as well.

  • Yawning – Dog’s often yawn as a way to release stress and often to calm you or other dogs as well. The older dog in the picture to the right is likely trying to calm the puppy.
  • Tounge flicking – This looks like they are licking their nose, just a quick flick of the tongue.
  • Shaking off as if they are wet – This is a pretty good indicator that your dog is trying to “shake off” an experience they just had or just release stress in general.
  • Sniffing the ground when there is nothing to sniff – This is typically used as a way to calm the situation they are in, whether with other dogs or you.
  • Sweaty Paws – If you notice your dog leaving paw prints on the ground, they are likely experiencing a fair amount of stress.

Stress isn’t always necessarily bad. Anytime your dog is learning something new, they will likely experience a certain amount of stress, its just important to keep an eye on the stress level and be sure to not push your dog over threshold which might create fears or provoke aggression in some cases. Typically if you are seeing several of these things all together within a minute or two, your dog may need a break. Some dog’s stress more easily than others depending on their social experience and genetics.

For more information about stress signals and other dog body language check out Dogwise’s collection of books & dvds.

Greeting Dogs Politely

As adults, most of us think we know how to greet a dog, but I often see people trying to comfort a dog by saying “Its ok” while moving towards a dog who is growling & cowering (saying please stay away). Another common mistake is something as simple as petting the dog rudely on top of the head (often leading to a dog nipping at your hand non aggressively, but rather to say I don’t really like that) rather than pleasantly on its back or under its chin.

Click Here to view this useful article. There are also posters you can print off to teach your kids or neighborhood kids about how to greet a dog.