What not to do:
- Don't panic - if you start acting crazy or angry, your dog is more likely to get scared and/or defensive, which is not going to help anything. The calmer you can be, the better your dog will respond to you.
- Don't run at your dog - this is a common human reaction, which usually either scares the dog and they will run from you out of fear or get defensive, OR it can turn the whole ordeal into a big game of keep-away, which is really fun for the dog but not so much for you.
- Don't yell at your dog - many people try to startle the dog by yelling/shouting, but yelling/shouting often does nothing more than make you look like you're barking at and challenging/threatening your dog, which usually results in the dog displaying defensive behaviour. Remember that dog's don't speak English but they do use vocalizations. Therefore, the way you say things often means more to the dog than what you say.
- Don't continue to approach your dog if it is stiffening, growling or showing its teeth. These are your early warning signs and if you keep going, you're likely going to get bit. Also, if you punish your dog for giving these warning signs you are likely to have the dog escalate to harsher displays/aggressive behaviour if not this time then in future incidences. Please consult a qualified positive reinforcement trainer for hands-on help if this is happening. This post is NOT intended as a fix in resource guarding cases.
All of the above scenarios can be avoided by having a reliable drop it cue. You will be less likely to panic, run at your dog and shout if you are confident that your dog will drop items on command. You also won't give your dog a chance to turn it into a game of chase if you teach them to drop items on command (they younger they learn it and less chances they have to turn it into a game of chase, the better). Lastly if your dog is happy to drop items and is expecting to get something better in return, they won't be guarding items in the first place.
Any time you try to take something from your dog while trying to use intimidation you are creating a negative association with the situation, and the next time it happens you will likely see more avoidance and/or defensive behaviour, which will cause it to become harder to get items away each time. The reason I have mentioned to trade for something higher value is that you want the dog to be happy to give the item up - dogs don't guard things when they know they are going to get something better. They do appear to guard more fiercely when they are being defensive and have a negative association with having things taken away. Many owners don't realize that they actually create or exacerbate guarding behaviour by punishing or intimidating their dogs. Once again please consult a qualified positive reinforcement trainer for hands-on help if you are seeing guarding behaviour. This post is NOT intended as a fix in resource guarding cases.
Check back soon for "Drop It" Part II: How to get it!