Will Peeing On Your Dog Fix His Resource Guarding Problem?

Yes, this is something I actually heard a trainer say at a workshop I was giving overseas.

In fact, having the unique opportunity to travel the world, giving talks about working with and modifying aggressive behaviors in dogs, I've been privy to some really interesting viewpoints when it comes to dog training.

"Spitting in your dog's food to claim ownership" is another one that ranks up there in the bizarre — and appetite spoiling — category.

While it would seem obvious that urinating on a dog will not fix a resource guarding issue, there are still a plethora of erroneous recommendations being doled out as gospel online and by well-meaning dog enthusiasts.

Some of these include:

  • Reaching into a dog's food bowl while they are eating so they "get used to it"
  • Taking their food bowl away while they are eating so "they know you own it"
  • Petting the dog while they are eating so they "get used to it"

This "advice" actually creates a lot of business for dog trainers and behavior consultants who work with resource guarding in dogs. A fair amount of my cases involving dogs who guard food bowls or other ingestible items have a history of being exposed to these annoying human attempts of well-intentioned, but ultimately doomed, proactivity. 

Now, there are some dogs who habituate to these interruptions during what should be a peaceful meal time — but why risk it? 

Resource Guarding is all about associations...

 If the association for the dog is "when humans approach while I'm eating, they are going to annoy the heck out of me, or take something that I like away," then we can reasonably understand why an aggressive response might occur — quite normal for the repertoire of canine behavior.

Eating faster when people approach; moving to position themselves between the person and the resource; freezing; growling; snarling; snapping; lunging; and biting are all behaviors that can fall under the resource guarding umbrella. If the goal is to modify them OR to be proactive to prevent resource guarding in the first place, then it's all about creating a positive association for when humans (or other animals) approach.

Concentrating on changing associations keeps it simple for the owner, and often removes a lot of unnecessary ancillary recommendations that can be found in some resource guarding protocols.

Approaches must predict wonderful things for the dog. The proverbial $100 bill should drop when the dog is "munching on a bowl full of nickels." This is crucial in resource guarding cases as the item being delivered during the approach must be of higher value than what the dog currently has in their possession. The association we are looking for is "humans (or other animals) approaching means I'm about to get something really good! Fugget about the thing I have now!"

Common Resource Guarding Advice: What does it do?

Besides the awful advice of using our dogs as a fire hydrant, let's look at a couple other common recommendations for modifying resource guarding behavior.

"Hand feed the dog so they (insert a variety of reasons here)." 

This is one I see as part of well-intentioned resource guarding protocols, though when we dig a bit deeper, what is the association we are changing or creating here? Is it that hands are safer? Is it that people approaching sometimes have food in their hands? Is it that food only comes from the owner, so they are in control of the resources?

The negative association that we want to address — people approaching when the dog has a resource — really isn't being changed here, right?

Let's look at another common recommendation.

"Cue the dog to sit to control their excitement and slow them down before they eat so they are less likely to guard the food (or again, a variety of other theories)." 

This one's not a bad idea if we have a dog who jumps up on their owner during meal times, knocks the food bowl out of their hands, or otherwise engages in undesirable behavior before the meal.

But again, what is the association being changed or created here?

We aren't truly addressing the negative association that is currently in place after the dog has the resource.

When working with a dog who exhibits resource guarding behavior, it is crucial to change the associations for the stimuli that immediately precede the undesirable behaviors. Focusing on creating positive associations for the dog in the contexts they respond negatively will keep the behavior plan simple and effective.

So, if you happen to run into someone peeing on their dog, ask them what association they are creating in that moment.

* If you are experiencing resource guarding issues with your own dog, seek out the guidance from a professional that has a background in modifying aggression in dogs using positive reinforcement, differential reinforcement, or desensitization and classical counterconditioning. (Those are the key words you will be looking for!)

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