Play is an important part of a puppy’s development, providing both mental and physical stimulation. Not only that, it’s also a great way for you to establish a bond with your puppy.

In some cases, you may find that they are reluctant to give back their toys. This type of behaviour is a form of resource guarding. It might be tempting to let them get their way, but it’s not something we want to encourage. By addressing it earlier – at this stage – it can prevent the problem from escalating and causing more serious consequences in future.

There have been reports that lockdowns have increased behavioural issues in dogs. So it is all the more important that ‘lockdown puppies’ have good manners and behaviours instilled in them from the start. 

What exactly is resource guarding?

Resource guarding is when a dog exhibits behaviours to tell people and other animals to stay away from a resource they deem valuable. This might include food, toys or certain areas of the house. It is a natural canine behaviour and stems from an instinct to protect resources crucial for survival.

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However, the extension of this behaviour into the home setting is inappropriate and unnecessary. Since the behaviour can be fear-driven, the goal is to create an environment in which your puppy doesn’t feel threatened by others approaching objects that are valuable to them.

What are the signs of resource guarding?

There are wide-ranging signs of resource guarding. The most obvious sign is aggression. A puppy may snap or bite if someone tries to take away a toy. Some may give off threatening signs by tensing their body, baring their teeth or growling. Others may display milder avoidance behaviours that aren’t as easy to pick up on. This includes positioning their head or body so that they maintain control of the toy or running away with it and hiding. 

Why is early recognition of resource guarding important?

As with most behavioural issues, it is far easier to prevent resource guarding in dogs when they are young than try to fix the problem further down the line. A study showed that owners are very good at identifying resource guarding aggression, but are less likely to recognise avoidance and threat behaviours.

By having an awareness of the more subtle patterns, early intervention can take place. This will reduce your puppy’s stress and fear levels and, in turn, take away their need to ‘protect’ themselves with aggression. These problem behaviours aren’t something your puppy will simply grow out of. If anything, they may become more ingrained and cause potential harm to others, especially children or other animals.

What are some ways to prevent or stop this behaviour?

Lockdowns have greatly reduced opportunities for puppy socialisation and access to training classes. Proper socialisation and training are fundamental for preventing a range of undesirable behaviours. Fortunately, there are training techniques that can be carried out at home to teach your puppy that is inappropriate for them to be possessive of their toys.

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Training should always be a positive experience for both you and your puppy. Spending some time each day to do this will provide your puppy with mental stimulation, as well as teach them essential skills. Remember consistency is key. 

Teach your puppy that your proximity is not a threat

Firstly, establish that your proximity to their toy isn’t a threat. You can do this by walking past your puppy as they play with their toy and toss them some treats. Gradually, they’ll understand that your presence means good things will happen.

Teach your puppy that it’s okay to have their toy taken from them   

Before you try to take a toy from your puppy, give them something they view as equally or more valuable. For example, you could offer them a piece of chicken or a toy they enjoy playing with more. By trading the toy for something better, they learn that having something removed from them can be a rewarding experience and that there is no need to be wary or fearful. You should return the toy to them soon after.

Teach your puppy to ‘drop it’

Teaching your puppy to give you the toy in their mouth on command is very useful. It will also come in handy if they have ‘stolen’ something or found something potentially harmful. 

  • Take a ‘low-value’ toy that your puppy hasn’t guarded in the past. 
  • When your puppy is holding the toy, offer them a ‘high-value’ treat.
  • As they open their mouth to release the toy, say ‘Drop it’ and reward them with the treat. Repeat these steps several times.
  • Next, hold the treat a further distance from them and as they are about to release the toy, say ‘Drop it’ and reward them.
  • Once they are getting the hang of it, keep the treat hidden when you say, ‘Drop it’. As soon as they drop the toy, give them the treat. 
  • You can repeat these steps with toys that are of increasing value to your puppy.
  • As time goes by, you won’t have to reward them with a treat every time they drop a toy on your command. But you can still give them plenty of praise, fuss and cuddles. 

During the training process, it’s important to remain calm and patient

Go at your puppy’s pace and don’t try to fit too much into one session. Reprimanding or punishing your puppy will only increase their fear and inclination towards resource guarding. Trying to forcibly remove a toy from them will also have the same effect. 

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By using reward-based training and positive reinforcement, you will be encouraging relaxed behaviours to take precedence over fear or anxiety in your puppy.

Summary

So that was our whistle-stop tour of resource guarding in puppies. Here are a few of the key takeaways;

  • Resource guarding is a natural behaviour but it is undesirable in the home setting 
  • Prevention is better than cure! 
  • Learning to recognise subtler signs of resource guarding allows you to take steps to ‘fix’ the problem while it isn’t as severe.
  • Making trades with your puppy and teaching them to ‘drop it’ helps to prevent your puppy from becoming possessive over their toys.
  • Consistent and patient training produces better results, setting the foundation for good behaviour in your puppy. 

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