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Resource Guarding
It's mine and you can't have it!

(c) 2011 Mary Majchrowski CPDT-KA

Have you ever seen a dog snarl when they have a bone?  Maybe a dog that is protective over their food bowl, or doesn’t like to let other dogs near their owner?  Is it hard to take a chewie away from your own dog?  Any of these could be resource guarding – the technical term for when a dog protects something it finds valuable.  Resource guarding is a natural behavior; without it dogs would never survive in the wild.  Without resource guarding a dog would have his food, breeding rights, even shelter, stolen away by other dogs.

The trouble with resource guarding is that it doesn’t work well with our dog-human relationships.  Dogs that resource guard in a family home are much more likely to fight with other dogs, or bite a family member.  The good news is that resource guarding is preventable, and usually fixable.

Signs of resource guarding vary, but most dogs will exhibit one or more of the following behaviors.  Never approach a dog that might be resource guarding, unless you are completely confident in predicting his reaction.

  • Stiffening body – muscles tighten and movement stops
  • Tail rising to an alert position
  • Hackles rising
  • Lip licking or smacking
  • Snarling
  • Growling
  • Changing position to block access
  • Lunging
  • Nipping or biting

Prevention is the easiest way to handle resource guarding.  It can start when a puppy is only weeks old, and can be worked into day-to-day living.  A good place to start is with the food bowl.  While your puppy is eating, walk up to him and toss a special treat (a piece of chicken, a dog cookie, etc.) in or near his bowl.  Do this enough times and your puppy will see your approach as a good thing, (“Yippee! Extra goodies!”) rather than a bad thing (“oh no, maybe my food will be taken away!”).  As your puppy becomes comfortable, pet him and place your hands in and around his bowl, always offering something special in return for the mealtime intrusion. 

The same thing can be done for toys, bones, or anything else your puppy might someday want to guard.  If you need to take something away from him, come prepared with a treat or toy that is special, and offer that in trade.  You can even practice this when you don’t need to take something away from him – make the trade then offer the first item back.

If your dog is already resource guarding, you may need to manage the behavior until it can be changed.  A dog that guards his food might be fed in a crate or closed in a bathroom while he has dinner.  If he guards rawhide bones, remove any existing bones from the house and yard.  Feed treats only under supervised circumstances.

For mild resource guarding, use the following steps:

1. Offer your dog something he is likely to guard, a rawhide bone, for example.

2. Armed with high value treats (something he likes better than rawhide, like chicken or cheese), approach your dog.  ONLY get as close as your dog is comfortable with.  If your dog starts to react (stiffening, growling, snarling, etc.) you are too close.

3. Toss the treat to your dog and step away.

4. Repeat this exercise.  After a few repetitions you should be able to get closer to your dog without provoking a reaction.  Your dog may even get up and come to you for his treat!

The exercise above works to change the way your dog perceives your approach.  Eventually he should think good things come when you go near his bone.  Keep the good behavior by always trying to offer a treat in trade if you need to take something away from your dog.  You can even teach him a “trade!” cue.

Mild resource guarding may be something you can solve on your own, but if your dog’s behavior concerns you, or if your dog has more complex guarding behaviors (such as guarding a person or dog-to-dog resource guarding), a qualified professional is the way to go.

January 2011

In This Issue:

Resource Guarding
It's mine and you can't have it!

Apple's Bag of Tricks
Carry a basket.

Other News
Events, classes and more.

The Kibble
Tips for stopping puppy mouthing.

Apple's Bag of Tricks
Carry a basket.

At the end of this month, Apple has a job to do.   It is a big, important job, and I want to help her get ready.  On January 28th Apple will perform in front of a live audience: a crowd of three and four-year-olds.  She and Pistol will be circus dogs, and hopefully they will keep the kids entertained!

In anticipation of her act, I want Apple to be able to do some kid-friendly tricks.  This one isn't quite finished yet, but she has been enjoying working on it.  In the video to the right you will see Apple learning to carry a basket. 

When we started I would click for any interest in the basket.  Because Apple has experience learning other behaviors this way, she quickly engaged.  Since I want Apple to pick the basket up, the next goal was to get her using her mouth.  I first clicked when she happened to lick the basket.  A few more clicks for licking and she opened her mouth a little.  Before long she would bite the basket. 

As I rewarded this behavior I also worked to discourage her from pawing at the basket or grabbing it in places other than the handle.  This can be done in two ways - by clicking before the unwanted behavior (clicking when she bites the handle, but before she has time to paw at it) or by ignoring the unwanted behavior and withholding a click (if she bites the basket instead of the handle I don't click).  Both these can be effective, as long as they don't mean she goes too long without a click.

Once Apple was taking the basket in her mouth we moved on to getting her to lift the basket, and eventually to carry it a short distance.  When working on this portion of the trick I need to click before Apple drops the basket, so I reward the "carry" instead of the "drop."  This can be a challenging mission - initially Apple would only lift the basket for a fraction of a second!  There were a few late clicks, but she has started to get the idea.  That makes my job easier because I have a little longer to get the click in!

If you want to try this trick find an object that is light, safe and easy to work with.  The basket I used was purchased at a craft store for $1.  Take it slow - different dogs have different strengths, and this is a challenging trick.

For more information on teaching tricks, or anything mentioned in the article, email Mary at

Other News

Dogs, by Tim Flach, is a new book in my collection, generously given to me by a client this Christmas.  The book is a stunning look at various breeds of dogs, both common and rare.  The photos are bold and filled with the emotion of each breed, capturing everything from the electric energy of a team of huskies blazing across a snowy field, to the calm, stoic expression of a medalled bomb-sniffing Labrador.  The cover dog, if you are wondering, is a Puli, a Hungarian breed most commonly seen with a black coat (this one is naturally white).  The funny hairdo is called "cording," sometimes even done with poodles.  You will get an appreciation for a corded breed if you see Falch's photo spread of a Komondor standing beside a Leicester Longwool sheep - the two are mirror images. Dogs is available through
The Kibble
Tips for stopping puppy mouthing & nipping

  • Have LOTS of toys, and keep them handy.  A toy should be the easiest thing your puppy finds to chew on. 

  • Replace your hand with a toy - show your puppy what is okay to bite.

  • Freeze and remove attention. If your puppy is nipping, cross your arms across your chest, stand up and turn away.  Your puppy will soon learn that biting ends play.

  • Try not to yelp.  Flailing arms and squeaky noises make a puppy think you are joining in on the fun.  Try a firm "NO" or a sharp "Oww!" followed by stillness.

  • Teach your puppy "leave it."  A puppy can learn the "leave it" cue in a controlled training session, then the cue can be applied to mouthing behavior.

  • Address the behavior.  Even though mouthing and nipping are normal puppy behaviors, if a puppy is not trained otherwise the behavior will not likely disappear with age.
All Content Copyright 2011 Mary Majchrowski CPDT-KA
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Group Classes

The first round of group classes is underway.  New classes will be enrolling soon; contact Mary if you are interested.

Classes are held at
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in Plantation, FL

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Coming Up: Doggie-Palooza

Join us January 29th 2011 for Doggie-Palooza at Happy Tails Dog Park in Plantation.  Bravo Dog Training will have a booth at the event, and there will be plenty to see and do.  The event runs from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM.  The $1/person entry benefits Grateful Paws Inc., a local rescue group.

Prizes for:

  • Best Dressed Pooches
  • Pet/Owner Look-A-Like Contest
  • Best Pet Tricks

Demonstrations by:

  • City of Plantation Police K-9 Unit
  • Storm Riders Flyball Team
Wellness Dog Food

For several years I fed my own dogs Wellness brand dog food.  I try to offer them the best, and usually recommend the same to my clients.  Recently I have come to loose my faith in the quality of Wellness dry dog food.  Several incidents have prompted this.  I still use the Wellness treats and have had no issues there.

If you are looking for a good quality food for your dog, there are many options out there.

My dogs are currently eating Fromm Gold. This holistic food is corn and wheat free and made with human grade meats.  Fromm also makes grain free diets.  In south Florida Fromm can be purchased at a variety of smaller pet stores, or can be ordered, with free, next day delivery to your door, from Pawsch.
January is National Train Your Dog Month!

Help celebrate National Train Your Dog Month.  Spend some extra time working with your dog, talk to a friend about the benefits of training, or take a shelter dog for a walk - the exercise and positive experience will help make him or her more adoptable!