Like humans, dogs understand the concept of possession and ownership of resources. Perhaps also like some humans, dogs can take excessive measures to guard these resources. The types of resources can be numerous, but the most common and problematic ones are usually food, objects (toys/chews etc) and particular locations such as their bed, your bed or their crate.
Where resource guarding manifests itself in dangerous aggression, you should seek the advice of a professional behaviourist who can make a comprehensive assessment of the causes and develop a detailed corrective programme. This article is intended as guidance to help prevent or aid minor cases of this behaviour.
How can I stop FOOD guarding?
This is the most common type of resource guarding. It is usually easy to spot and occurs when a dog is aggressive (or threatens to be) when approached whilst eating from their food bowl. It can also occur when an owner attempts to retrieve food items snatched or found by the dog. Dogs are also known to guard their empty food bowls.
First things first, disciplining your dog for food guarding, is more likely to aggravate the problem than cure it. Using harsh discipline often results in the dog deciding that it needs to be even more aggressive to retain this resource.
The reason a dog guards its food is the fear that the approaching person is going to take it away. So we need to remove that fear and create positive associations with people approaching its food. The best way to achieve this is to tempt your dog away from its bowl with an even tastier resource (i.e. its favourite treat). Do this in small steps and start by keeping a distance from the food bowl. Let your dog take the treat and return to its bowl. Over a number of sessions, gradually get closer to the bowl to the point where you can drop the treats into its bowl. Further develop this by offering the treats right next to the bowl whilst the dog is eating. Different people should carry out these exercises to avoid the positive associations only being related to one person and the dog continuing to guard when others approach.
Another useful exercise, particularly to prevent food guarding, is to feed your dog in small instalments. This is where you feed your dog a small amount of its food and then take the bowl away to add more food. Repeat this 3-4 times until its meal is finished. Again, this exercise helps build positive associations as your dog soon learns that when the bowl is taken away, it is going to be returned with more food.
How can I stop TOY & OBJECT guarding?
Guarding of this nature usually relates to dog toys and dog chews, but can also relate to more obscure items such as laundry, tissues, food wrappers or objects found by the dog or that have a particular smell.
As with food guarding, we need to look to building positive association around people approaching the guarded objects. We want the dog to understand that approaching people and the removal of objects means more fun, excitement or a special treat.
A good place to start is by approaching your dog whilst near an unguarded low value object. Pick up the object with one hand then produce a treat from behind your back with the other. Then give the object back and walk away. Repeat this, but change the angle of approach and intervals between approaches. Work on this over a number of sessions, then change the exercise so that as you offer the object back to the dog, as soon as they touch it, withdraw it then praise and treat, then give the object back.
Over time, start to carry out the exercise with higher value objects. Then move onto carrying out the exercise when the dog is more engrossed with the object. But always remember to keep it positive and that the removal of resources results in even more positive experiences.
Another useful exercise to help against object guarding is to introduce the concept of sharing. This works particularly well with chew toys and the exercise involves you offering a chew toy to your dog, but keeping a hold of the other end yourself. Allow your dog to enjoy the chew, but after a period, take it away for a spell then offer it back. Your dog soon understands that the resource is not his, but he is allowed to share it. Practice this with different people and objects.
How can I stop LOCATION guarding?
A common behavioural concern of owners is aggressiveness by their dogs whilst in a particular location. The most common locations being their sleeping area, which could be their bed or crate, your bed or the sofa. An interesting feature of location guarding is that the level of severity is not only tied to the value of the resource, but also to who is approaching. For example a dog may allow a child to approach but not an adult. Or perhaps a woman can approach, but not a man.
We always recommend that you prevent dogs sleeping on your bed or on sofas from an early age. Sleeping in the same place as the pack leader (that’s you!) or in an elevated location (on sofa) gives your dog a higher sense status within the pack hierarchy. Not only can this cause guarding, but it can also cause other issues such as difficulties with training and general challenging behaviour. Our article How to be the pack leader provides useful tips to ensure your dog recognises you as the pack leader and that they carry the lowest rank in the household.
Some dogs show guarding behaviours whilst in their bed or crate. This is usually when a person attempts to handle, caress or move them. The reasons for this may be varied, it could be they are just tied and want to be left alone or it could be that they are poorly. Obviously in the later case, you should seek advice from your vet. But in all other cases you need to accustom your dog to being handled whilst they are in these locations. Like other forms of guarding, the best solution is to make this a positive experience. Start by offering the dog high value treats whilst in these locations, and then start to lure them from the location with further tip bits. Keep practicing this over a number of sessions and like food guarding, change the angle of approach, the intervals and the person who does the exercise. Over time your dog will soon learn that positive things always happen when people approach previously guarded locations.
It is a sad fact that dog rescue centres are often full with abandoned and homeless dogs. But thanks to increased public awareness, more and more people are responding and choose to provide a loving home to an adult rescue dog.
It takes about 6 months for a rescue dog to fully settle into a new home, so you need to prepare yourself for a long haul of exciting, rewarding and sometimes frustrating experiences during that period.
From a training perspective, there will be some extra considerations you will need to bear in mind and these, to a large extent, will depend on the good or bad experiences your rescue dog has had in the past. This article is intended as an introduction to these added considerations. It should not be considered a definitive guide or a training guide in itself.
When should I start training a rescue dog?
Training requires a trust between you and your dog. Dogs will be more responsive to training when they have accepted you as their leader and trust you in that role. With a rescue dog, this may take days or even weeks, but you should allow time for this to develop before embarking on a training program.
What preparation is required?
As you are developing your relationship with your dog, you may find that they already understand some basic training commands. With rescue dogs, more often than not, this is usually quite limited and you may have to start training from the beginning. As with all training, you should bear in mind the following:
- Always carry out training in a quiet spot with no distractions.
- Unlike puppies, rescue dogs are likely to be more confident if allowed to run freely. So until you are absolutely certain you dog will return on request, ensure all training takes place in a secure area or using a long training lead.
- Make training a positive and rewarding experience, so never raise your voice or discipline your dog during training exercises.
- Rewards are your dogs primary motivator, so before you start training, experiment to find out which treats or toys they like the most. With rescued dogs, extra patience will be required here. It may even be that your dog initially seems to have little interest in treats or playing. In which case, you may need to withhold treats for a period before starting training sessions. In extreme cases, hand feeding your dog at meal time is also one way for your dog to learn that you are its food source and means of survival.
- Don’t try to achieve to much in one go. All trained behaviour will need a number of sessions to master.
- Keep training for specific behaviours to 3-5 minutes at the most, but repeat regularly.
- Try to accompany all verbal commands with a distinctive and consistent hand signals.
- If you are new to dogs, read up on dog body language so that you understand when your dog is trying to warn you.
- Always stop while your dog is still interested and always stop when you feel yourself getting frustrated.
Are there any specific techniques or equipment?
Most of the training techniques for rescue dogs are much the same as for training any dog. Because of potential mal treatment in the past, extra care should be taken with rescue dogs to ensure training is a very positive and not an intimidating experience. For this reason, clicker training has proved very successful.
Controlling a untrained fully grown adult dog can sometimes be quite strenuous. The use of head collars are now a very popular choice to prevent dogs pulling on leads. These collars control the position of your dogs head that prevents them pulling on the lead. To prevent damage to your dog’s neck, it is important that these are fitted correctly and that you do not pull the lead sharply. For the same reason, because of a dogs ability to gather speed over a short distance, you should never use a training collar with a long or retractable lead. Use of a training lead can also help take the heavy work out of lead pulling.
What about dog training classes?
Dog training classes are wonderful way to develop your training skills and allow your dog to socialise with other dogs. However, rescue dogs may have problems dealing with large groups of people or other dogs, this can cause stress that may manifest itself in aggressive or other unusual behaviour.
Before deciding to take your dog to training classes you need to establish how they will behave in this environment. Make your decision based your experiences of walking your dog in public places, how they react to strangers and other dogs.
Should you decide that training classes are appropriate, it’s a good idea visit a class without your dog, to ensure you approve of their methods (see the article selecting a training school)
Are there any other things to consider with rescue dogs ?
Yes, there are quite a few other considerations to take into account when integrating a rescue dog into your home. It is well worth investing the time to understanding these, before you commit getting a rescue dog. A number of very useful books have recently been published in this area.
The importance of playing with your dog
How you play with your dog (and how you don’t) makes a big difference on how your pet behaves, both in and out of play sessions. Playing can enhance your relationship, increase your dog’s willingness to do what you ask, teach emotional control, and in general make life a lot more fun. However, inappropriate play can also teach bad habits and create dogs who are emotionally out of control.
Many games with your dog should involve toys. Some of your dog’s toys should be of hollow, indestructible rubber into which you can stuff food, called Kongs. These are great at keeping your dog occupied when you don’t have enough time to play with him and it will encourage your dog to play by himself. There are many interactive toys out there that can entertain your dog for a long time. Have plenty of toys around, but only leave 3 or 4 out at a time and rotate it with some ‘new’ toys every week (even though you bought them months ago).
Although all dogs should have toys they can play with by themselves, the best kind of play is interactive play with you. It’s not only fun for both of you, but it’s full of opportunities for your dog to learn and become more responsive and better able to control himself when being emotionally aroused. It’s also a great way to enhance the bond between you and your dog.
Teaching your dog to fetch
This is an excellent way to exercise your dog. You can stand in your back garden enjoying your morning cuppa, while your dog runs its tail off – well, as long as your dog brings back the ball so you can throw it again (otherwise, that is chasing not fetching!).
To get started, practise in an area with few distractions. Start by waving the ball in front of your dog. It’s usually the movement that interests the dog, not the object. When he’s focused on the ball, throw it 4 to 5 feet away. When he grabs it, that’s great, but resist the urge to say “good boy!”. You can now clap your hands and start running away from your dog. This will encourage your dog to move towards you with the ball in his mouth. Don’t worry if he doesn’t bring it back all the way. As soon as he drops it, pick it up and throw it again immediately. Don’t ask him to sit after he brings it back, that won’t make him bring the ball back and might even feel like a punishment to him. You want to reinforce your dog for bringing it back by immediately having it again.
Repeat this a few times, but be careful about asking for too much too soon. Don’t worry if your dog loses interest after 3 or 4 throws, this is common at this stage of training. Gradually, over a period of months, throw the ball more often, ending either before your dog gets bored with the game or before he gets too tired. If your dog at the end fails to chase after the ball, no problem, game over. Don’t coax and plead, just walk away. Otherwise, you are being taught to fetch the ball yourself and be forewarned: dogs are really, really good at teaching humans to retrieve!
Teaching tricks to your dog
Teaching tricks is another wonderful way to play with your dog. Trick training has the advantage of being enjoyable for both of you, while still teaching your dog that it’s fun to pay attention. Teaching a trick is also a great mental exercise, and dogs need mental exercise as much as they need physical exercise. It makes sense if you think about it: Our dogs’ ancestors were problem-solving, strategic hunters who had to plan and coordinate their activities based on a complexity of factors. Many of our dogs are woefully under-employed, and teaching tricks is a wonderful way to engage their brains.
The tricks you can teach your dog are limited only by your dog’s physical condition and your imagination. You can teach your dog to sit pretty, to look sad, to take a bow, spin, roll over, shake, pray or even roll himself up in a blanket when you say “night night”. It’s a good idea to use a clicker when teaching such tricks, as it gives the dog feedback with such precision. There are many books out there in the market that take you step-by-step through clicker training on some of the more popular tricks.
There’s no reason not to think of ‘sit’ and ‘lie down’ as tricks too, and that might be a good thing. People seem to be more relaxed and cheerful when they are teaching their dogs ‘tricks’ rather than ‘obedience’. They also have more realistic expectations about tricks, rather than expecting their dogs to obey out of respect and submission. Remember you get back what you put in. If you want your dog to be enthusiastic, then be sure to be enthusiastic yourself.
Good dogs are made, not born, and they rely on you to be their coaches, supporters and benevolent leaders. So, here’s to a long, wonderful life for both you and your dog! Keep practising and playing together to forge the relationship you want.
Teaching your dog the right way
Self-control is part of growing up and your dog needs to learn, from an early age, that he can’t always have what he wants when he wants it. It will teach your dog patience and not just play. He will be a calmer and much more content dog, and so will you! Here are some excellent tips and exercises that are a must to teach your dog self-control.
Have rules for games
It is very important to have rules for games. It is perfectly fine to play tug with your dog, as long as he is willing to
give up the toy when you say “give” or whatever word you choose to use. If this is not the case, then you need to teach your dog to give on command, before you use a reward (such as giving him the tug).
Reward your dog
It is important to always reward your dog with whatever he sees as a reward. For some dogs this will be treats, others enjoy a chase for their ball, and some may just be happy with a little fuss. Try different things with your dog and decide what he likes best. Remember, the harder the exercise, the higher the reward you will need to offer. For example, letting him sit next to you, a happy “good boy!” and a caress will do, but for a sit at a 20 foot distance, perhaps a small bit of sausage will make it more worth his while in concentrating on getting it right. Remember, the more we ask of the dog, the more he has to concentrate and the harder it will be for him – always make it worth his while, make it successful for him and progress in little steps.
Teach through games
Teaching your dog through games is the best way for him to learn and it will form a strong bond between you. So, when practicing these exercises, always make it fun for you and your dog. Give him the command and seem genuinely happy when he gets it right – just imagine how it feels when you crack a difficult problem and how wonderful it felt when others congratulated and acknowledged you!
Exercises you can try with your dog
Here are some great exercises that are a must to teach your dog self-control:
Walking on a loose lead
Your dog needs to learn that you dictate where and at what pace you explore the world. You certainly do not want him dragging you around on a walk – that’s a sure way to spoil a walk! Rather grab some nice treats and when your dog is walking by your side, mark it by saying something like “yes!” (or use a clicker), then give him a treat. If he gets ahead of you, stop and wait for him to look at you – do not entice him, just wait silently. He will eventually look at you – hurray! Mark it with a “yes” and give him the treat. Repeat. You can also turn the other way when he gets ahead of you. He will catch up with you and when he’s by your side, reward him. Slowly increase the number of steps you take before you reward him. Make sure you do not put the treat by his nose, but rather hold the treat (or ball) in your hand close to your chest, quite high up, so that he does not jump up to get it. As you get better at it, you will be wanting to hide the treat in your pocket or in a treat bag. When you decided to reward him, mark it with a “yes!” and then either give him the treat or throw the ball for him.
The trick with lead training is to be 100% consistent. That way, your dog will learn that he needs to stay close to you when his lead goes on his collar. If you do not have time to train him, then use a harness or a head collar to get you where you need to go without him pulling you. However, a great idea is to use your walk as a training session and only get to your destination with a nice, calm and controlled dog. How far you get doesn’t matter as much as how you get there. Your dog will soon learn that he gets there faster if he sticks near you. If your dog is walking calmly on a loose lead, he is going to be less likely to over-react to exciting things or other dogs on a walk. He will realise you are in control of the situation and he will feel safe and happy.
Give and Take
This is pretty much one of the most important things you can teach your dog, mainly because it will help avoid any possession issues, which can escalate to aggression, and secondly that you will be able to get hold of anything dangerous that he may get hold off without any conflict. Thankfully, this is one of the easiest exercises you can do. All you have to do is to simply exchange what your dog has in his mouth with something he wants more. So, start with a boring a toy, say “give/thank you” or whatever word you choose, and then swap it for a titbit. Really praise him, and let him have his toy back. Repeat, over and over again, until you see your dog being really happy about swapping the toy. Once this happens, do the same, but don’t let him see that you have a titbit; put the titbit in your pocket, let the dog come and give you his toy, praise him and then give him the titbit. It’s important that there comes a point in training where the dog cannot see the titbit, otherwise they will only exchange it only if they see a titbit. This applies to all training.
Once you’ve mastered this with one toy, move unto a toy the dog likes more. Master the exercise with that toy, then move unto another one. Practice with anything you can think of and always keep a happy tone, so that the dog doesn’t think he’s going to lose his toy – it’s just a swap. He will soon learn that it’s better to give something up than to keep it. Needless to say, if your dog gets hold of your most expensive shoes, do not tense or shout at him, that will just make him nervous and want to keep hold of it. Call him to you in a calm and happy tone, and then do a swap. This is much better and faster than challenging the dog and putting yourself in danger of getting bitten. You should never challenge your dog in an aggressive manner, it’s a guaranteed way to make the problem worse!
Dogs love to play tuggy! It’s what they do with their playmates, and sometimes it can be used to test the other playmates strength or to establish their authority. So, it is important that before you use tuggy as a game or a reward for doing well, that the dog has learnt to give things up. To achieve this, do exactly the same as the ‘give/take’ exercise, but tug the toy a little bit, stop tugging and keep your hand still (do not pull) and happily say “give”. At first you will need to use high-reward treats and you may even need to put it in front of the dog’s nose. Repeat 4 to 5 times, then stop the game, give your dog a titbit and put the toy away. Keep practising tugging a little bit more each time, but remember to not get your dog too hyped up at first, until he is giving up his toy as soon as you say “give” in a happy manner. As with all training, set it up so that your dog always succeeds.
This is another exercise that’s extremely important to teach your dog. Especially if your dog travels in your car. We have all heard so many stories of dogs launching themselves out of the car and being run over. If the dog knows that he is not to move until you say so, then you will be able to clip the lead on, have a look around to ensure it’s safe and then ask your dog to come out. This exercise is also one of the most important in teaching your dog self-control.
There are 2 parts to this exercise, one is duration and the other is distance. You will need to work on each of these parts independently, until each part is mastered. At first, ask your dog to sit, then say “wait/stay” or whatever word you want to use in a soft, calm manner. After just 1 second, give him a titbit. Repeat this over and over again slowly increasing the time the dog has to wait to get his titbit. Ensure he stays sat down. Also, don’t always increase the time. Make it a fun exercise, so that the dog doesn’t realise how long he has to wait to get the titbit – sometimes 2 seconds, sometimes 5, sometimes 10. Once you see your dog totally relaxed during this exercise (some dogs will actually lay down or shift their hip down), then you can move onto distance. Now, you will just move one step back and immediately come back and give your dog a treat, do not wait, walk back to your dog immediately. Then take 2 steps and move back to give him a titbit. Slowly increase the distance you move away, but always come back to reward your dog. Again, make it unpredictable – sometimes move 5 feet, then 1, then 10 feet, etc. Once your dog looks totally relaxed at this stage, you can incorporate both parts and move away a short distance, wait 1 to 2 seconds and then move back to reward him. Again, make it unpredictable and variable. You can increase difficulty by changing where you practice this exercise. Remember, if you move into a new environment, you will need to start from the beginning and progress slowly.
You will notice that you will progress faster each time. Just because your dog can stay in your kitchen, does not mean he will be able to stay in your back garden. There are more distractions and it will be difficult for your dog to concentrate on the job at hand. Always make it successful and enjoyable for your dog and start from scratch in each new place. Slowly add distractions and you will soon get a dog that will stay in any environment. Practice getting your dog to wait in doorways, in the car, while you prepare his dinner, before and after putting his lead on, etc. In fact, the more situations you can practice this in, the more experienced and relaxed your dog will become.
Waiting to get his food/treats
This is another great exercise to teach your dog self-control. Once you have taught your dog to ‘wait’, you can also ask your dog to sit and stay before getting his food or treat. Place his dog bowl far from him, go back to him and reward him for staying and then release him to get his food. Do the same with treats, but place them far away and ensure you can get hold of your dog or the treat if he decides to break his stay. You do not want your dog to learn that he can get hold of the treat quicker than you! Slowly move the treat nearer to him, say “leave” calmly, ensuring you can cover the treat if need be. Always reward your dog for staying, either with another treat or the same treat you put down. If it’s the same treat as you’ve placed down, you need to take it yourself and put it in his mouth. He is not to break his stay and get it himself, as the point of the exercise is not to get the treat himself. You will be able to slowly move it closer and closer, until you can place it in your dog’s paw, say “leave” and then give it to him after one second or so. This is a real winner for kids – they love to show this trick off! You can also try this on his nose, but remember to master the easy ‘leaves’ before you ask such a difficult thing from him.
Dogs are impulsive creatures, but that doesn’t mean you cannot teach them some self-control. Try these exercises with your dog – it’s a great way to improve your pet’s general behavior. Start slow, always offer a treat, and don’t forget to have fun!