I recently started puppy lessons with a client who has a 3 month old female terrier. This is a great puppy except for one thing. This puppy is already, at 12 weeks of age, guarding her food bowl and resource guarding stuffed Kongs.
One of my client’s young sons was bitten on the hand as he innocently reached down to pet his puppy. Those razor sharp teeth can be pretty lethal. The puppy thought the child was going to take her Kong and defended her “rightful” possession.
Historically dogs expended a lot of predatory energy finding food and so they have developed strong instincts to guard things of value – food, space, toys you (the love and affection you provide.)
While you don’t see this very often, it can occur and will usually occur in the more strong willed, leader type puppies. Being a terrier, along with the strong willed temperament, just raised the bar of concern a little higher.
This type of behavior should raise a very large red flag that this is a growing problem which needs addressing immediately. So what do you do to get this under control?
In addition to putting this puppy on a learn-to-earn program – that is earning everything by doing sits and downs, there are specific exercises to do to work on “resource guarding.” We put the pup on my 5 Step – 30 day Food Bowl Guarding Program – a progressive program beginning with hand feeding the puppy next to her empty food bowl and progressing from there.
The next exercise is designed to teach the puppy to release a high value article (chew bone or Kong Toy) on a command like “Drop it!”, “Release!” or “Give!” This too is a progressive exercise program.
We first get the puppy to release her end of a shared, high value article and then progress to releasing the article on command – once she takes 100% possession of the article. The puppy must not aggressively guard the article once dropped.
They have a long way to go with their puppy but with consistency and repetition, by as many family members that can participate in these supervised and controlled exercises, the benefits will provide the family with a lifetime of good memories with a great family dog.
Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are the teacher of your children. And remember, “Opportunity Barks!”
Jim Burwell, Jim Burwell’s Petiquette