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Help! My puppy is growling around food!

Dog growling while person holds onto collar, dog shows severe stress sings, whale eye and teeth barred

Resource guarding is a serious concerns for caregivers.

Everyone dreams of a dog that is so laid back you can do “whatever you want to them even while they are eating.” People who say this are exceptionally lucky and likely have a dog that has been gifted this temperament (genetics, environment and learning) as opposed to it being constructed by humans.

This dog has likely not competed for resources as a puppy and has adequate resources available to him now. He likely does not feel threatened or scared of anything much at all. He has had a great upbringing from his nurturing canine mother and feels secure and content in his home. His breeder has not engaged in rearing techniques where puppies competed with others for food and some missed out.

This is not the case with all dogs.

Resource guarding usually begins very early ( seen in dogs under six months of age ) and is a sign that a dog has had a rough start, has had to compete excessively from the beginning and is in the process of learning very strongly effective strategies such as aggression to maintain control over his resources.

As a scavenging, social species there is a level of normal about wanting to have resources to yourself. Just think about humans during covid and the toilet paper debacles in super markets!

A guarding dog is the kind of young dog that needs the right help early to make sure this behaviour does not worsen rapidly. Sadly the humans in the picture are often apt to worsen this problem with misguided beliefs that the dog is trying to dominant them and the solution is to make sure the dog knows who is “boss”. People may attempt to do this in many ways around a dog’s food - such as touching while eating, placing hands in food bowls and taking things from a dog. If you have the resilient dog he will let you do this and won’t bat an eye but if you have the insecure red flag puppy you may be met with growling or biting and definitely see a dog who is rapidly losing trust in his human caregivers. This is a pivotal time. Get help NOW!

This is not a dominant dog but the complete opposite. This is a dog who is desperately trying to control his access to resources that he sees himself in danger of losing. This dog, above all, must be made to feel safe.

If people think being “harder” on the dog is the solution to the dog’s behaviour of guarding they are severely mistaken and this treatment usually sees the guarding escalate and bites of increasing intensity can certainly follow.

So what should you do?

  • Stop! whenever the dog is growling. Give dog space.

  • Do not take stuff from the dog.

  • Do not interfere with his food.

  • Do not touch him while he is eating.

  • Feed him somewhere safe where he learns he is safe and is not going to be threatened.

  • Do not let children near him while he is eating.

For a period of time ( unknown length when the treatment plan begins ) he needs to feel he is safe. He needs to be taught at other times (when well fed and calm) how to exchange items for high value and how to be calm around low value foods. But it may be a step wise process to change a guarder to a non guarder and to feel safe around such a valuable resource that has previously felt under threat. A positive reinforcement trainer should be enlisted to help caregivers.

Resource guarders bite because they are not having lower level signals listened to. Often a growl has been punished and has been replaced by a bite. Always remember that a growl is celebrated as the dog’s signalling he is uncomfortable and needs more space. If everyone hears and respects a growl then bites will not follow.

No one wants to be growled at so the caregivers job now is to work more slowly so no growls occur. What is the distance that people need to be at for the dog to feel safe when eating? Perhaps initially the dog needs to be fed behind a closed door with no one in sight.

Not till a dog shows, through his body language, that he is calm and comfortable with people in his presence whilst eating should any further attempts be made to make him feel the same ease with decreased proximity. Children do not teach this. Parents teach this.

Humans with resource guarding dogs should seek the assistance of a veterinary behaviourist as other anxiety related issues are often present in these individuals.

Please see our bookings page if you need our help with this serious problem.

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