Have you ever seen a dog growl, freeze or snap to protect their food? Puppies learn this possessive behavior, also called resource guarding, when they are very young. Some puppies become assertive to protect their food and toys from their litter mates.
Most puppies, however, don’t behave this way towards people. You can help to avoid potential possessive food behavior if you teach your puppy early on to become comfortable with people around his food bowl. Make sure that you don’t respond aggressively to any possessive behavior that your puppy may exhibit. Yelling at your puppy can actually make him more possessive.
If your puppy shows signs of possessiveness, such as freezing or growling, when you are working through these exercises, stop immediately and contact a professional trainer to help you.
Preventing possessive food behavior
Start working with your puppy as soon as you bring him home to prevent food possession issues. Placing treats in your puppy’s dish while he is eating, teaches him that hands near his food bowl are a good thing.
- Sitting on the floor, occasionally drop treats, such as small pieces of liver, chicken or cheese, into his food bowl while he is eating.
- Repeat step 1 three times. Then leave the puppy alone to finish the rest of his meal.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 for a few meals.
- When your puppy shows no sign of being bothered by your hand near his food bowl, repeat steps 1 to 3, except place your hand in the puppy’s food bowl and hand-feed him the treats in step 1.
- When your puppy shows no sign of being bothered by your hand in his food bowl, gently stroke the puppy’s back and sides while he eats out of your hand. Gradually work toward stroking his head as he eats.
- Repeat step 5 every day until your puppy begins to wag his tail and look up from his bowl when you approach. Continue performing step 5 a few times per week until your puppy is mature and then occasionally throughout your dog’s lifetime.
- In addition to stroking and hand-feeding your puppy, you should occasionally lift up his bowl while he is eating, place a special treat in the bowl and then return the bowl to your puppy.
When your puppy is completely happy having you touch him and his food bowl, have other adults perform steps 1 to 5.
Early signs of possessive behavior
Common signs of possessive food behavior include:
- rapid eating which gets faster when someone approaches
- hunching up or freezing over food or toys when someone approaches
If your puppy is showing any of these behaviors, you will need the help of a professional trainer. A trainer can work with your puppy and help to modify his behavior.
Puppies can be possessive of anything, such as toys, laundry baskets or even a piece of facial tissue. To prevent this behavior, you need to teach your puppy that everything belongs to you. Control your puppy’s access to toys by leaving only few out at a time. Play the “Give and Take” game to prevent your puppy from being possessive of his toys. Consult a professional trainer if your puppy becomes possessive of furniture, as this could indicate more serious leadership issues.
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