Our first goal is to help your dog feel more relaxed around you when he has something that he likes. Just to exist in the same space comfortably and to be okay when you talk and walk nearby.

Step 1: Create Your Set-Up

  • We need to work in a safe space where we can remove our dogs if needed. There are two set-ups to choose from. (Please use the one we practiced, and let us know if you’d like to change!)
    • Option 1: Place a barrier, such as an exercise pen, around the area you want to work. At first, we’re going to set this up in the same place every time. During training, the area in this gate is your dog’s safety zone, and humans should not enter the safety zone. (This makes it really predictable for him!)Have your dog drag a leash. This leash is on him so that if we need to move him somewhere, we can grab the leash and not his collar or harness.
    • Option 2: Use a long leash and back tie your dog to a sturdy, reliable object. The leash should be at least 15 feet long. Someone should be able to walk to the tie without walking close to your dog and the valued object. Another human can also hold the leash instead of tying it, as long as you and your trainer agree it’s safe for your individual dog. (This person should not interact with your dog unless it is to move him away from the person doing the behavior modification.)
  • Any other pets should always be outside or securely left in another room/enclosure when your dog is doing his resource training.

Step 2: Give Your Dog the Object

  • Choose an object that you think he will willingly be able to look up from and take your chosen treat for. You’ll use more valuable objects over time, but we want to start *easy*!
    • For dogs using a barrier like a pen, have your dog away from the area while you put the object in the safety zone. Then, with no one in the pen, let your dog walk in and shut the door.
    • For dogs using a back tie, have one person hold the dog’s leash while the other places the object on the floor where the dog will be able to reach it once released. (Ideally far from the place the leash is tied.) Once the object is on the floor and the person has moved away, they can let the leash out and your dog can have it!
  • Let your dog enjoy and investigate the object for a few minutes. (Or eat several bites of food, if working on food dish.) This helps him start to feel satiated. (Can you imagine you JUST got your plate at a restaurant and your friend starts trying to eat from it?!)
  • Humans should stand behind the gate/out of reach of the leash, acting casually. (It can be helpful not to be facing and staring at him.)

Step 3: Interact and Reward

  • Our goal is for our dog to spend most of his time feeling really good about people around him while he has an object he values. To do this, we need to go at their pace and stay in their comfort zone. We’ll get closer and more interactive as our dog is successful.
  • Most of the time, you’ll just be hanging out! Occasionally, you’ll call your dog’s name or move closer.
  • You’ll toss a treat into the safety zone when:
    • Your dog looks up at you on his own.
    • Your dog responds to his name.
    • Your dog happily approaches the edge of the safety zone (with or without the object).
  • Watch your dog’s body language. This is key!
  • Your dog is ready to move to the next step when he consistently shows positive body language:
    • Lifting head away from or leaving resource
    • Soft eyes
    • Relaxed, wagging tail
    • Loose body
    • Open mouth
  • Go back a step if you see any guarding/stress behaviors:
    • Picking the object up and taking it to the corner/away from you
    • Freezing/holding his body stiff
    • Staring at you
    • Body blocking: Placing his body between you and the object
    • Growling
    • Being unable to move away from the object
  • Start working with distance first.
    • Find a distance where your dog is comfortable with you being near him while he has his object. (This should be outside of his zone or beyond the reach of his leash.)
    • Watch his body language: Is he relaxed? Great!
    • Call his name, can he look up from his object? If he does, toss him a treat!
    • Take one step closer to his safety zone. Watch his body language.
    • If he stresses, move away.
    • If he seems relaxed, toss a treat in!
    • Call his name, can he look up? If he does, toss him a treat!
  • If your dog shows signs of stress, you want to help him! You can:
    • Move further away
    • Use a higher value treat
    • End the session by letting him have the object until he’s satisfied, then following the directions below. Use a lower-value object at the next session.
  • Move near your dog, hang out for only a short period to call his name and toss treats, and then retreat and give him some peace.
  • As he progresses, you can spend more time near him. It’s a good idea to use a chair to relax in.

Step 4: End the Session

  • Keep sessions short, sweet, and relaxed.
  • When the session is over, encourage your dog to leave his “safety zone” by doing the Hansel and Gretel method of treat tossing. As long as his body language looks happy, pick up his leash and go have a PARTY out of sight of his safety zone.
  • Secure your dog behind a gate or door, or with another person, then go and pick up the object you were working with and collapse the gate. It’s important that your dog doesn’t watch you pick up the object and especially that you don’t take it from him during the session.
  • If your dog is guarding the object and will not leave it for treats, try not to go inside the safety zone. Instead, either let him have it and chew it until he’s satisfied and leaves it himself, or encourage him to leave it by inviting him to go outside with you/for a walk.
  • We encourage you to take some video clips to send to us so we can review your dog’s progress with you.
  • If you’d like to give your dog something he really values outside of the context of a training session, it should be done in a location where you don’t approach him and it’s safe for him to chew/consume the entirety of what you give him. A crate is generally a great choice for this. (If your dog guards his crate, we want to come up with an alternative location and use that.)

Tips and Troubleshooting

  • Aim to practice at least 2 – 3 days per week. (But also be sure to give your dog a break some days!)
  • Stress is additive! If your dog had a stressful day, don’t do a session with him the same day. (This sets him up for failure, not success.)
  • Once your dog is doing well with the safety zone in place, let your trainer know. We’ll guide you with how to progress to not having the leash/gate if it’s appropriate for your dog.
    • For some dogs, our goal is to reduce the likelihood of serious injury just in case they are ever put in a situation where they would normally guard. For these dogs, we will not intentionally put them in a situation where they would be likely to guard.
    • For some dogs, our goal is to make them more comfortable in the situations where they have started to show signs of guarding.
    • If you aren’t sure where your dog falls, let your trainer know! We want to make sure you have accurate expectations of your dog’s potential.
  • With any form of aggression, there is always a risk that the behavior can re-surface at any point during your dog’s life. A behavior plan can significantly decrease the chances of aggression, reduce the intensity of your dog’s response, and lower her stress levels, but it is not a guarantee. Many dogs need lifelong management in order to maximize safety and minimize risk.
Need some extra guidance? Have more questions? Please email your trainer; we’re here for you!