Resource guarding can show up in even very young puppies. Here’s one game we play to help decrease the chances of it happening AND help puppies who have started to show some signs of guarding already.

This example uses kibble, but you can also do this with toys.

Step 1: Create Your Set-Up

  • Prep your puppy’s food and put it in a dish or slow feeder bowl. (It can be helpful to put in a portion rather than the whole thing if your puppy eats quickly.)

  • Choose a place to set the dish where you can give your puppy lots of space.

  • Any other pets should be somewhere else, where they are comfy and can’t put unwanted pressure on the pup.

Step 2: Play the Game!

  • Our goal is for our puppy to look forward to us approaching them when they have something of value, like their food dish. 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.

  • Put the dish down and walk away. Let your pup eat at least a few bites. 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?!)

  • Now, you’ll “Approach, Treat, Retreat!”. Walk just a few steps towards your pup, toss a high-value tidbit to them, and then walk away.

  • Watch your dog’s body language. This is key!

  • Your dog is ready to move to the next step when they consistently show positive body language:

    • Lifting head away from or leaving resource

    • Soft eyes

    • Relaxed, wagging tail

    • Loose body

  • Go back a step if you see any guarding/stress behaviors:

    • Eating faster

    • Freezing/holding their body stiff

    • Staring at you

    • Body blocking: Placing their body between you and the object

    • Growling

    • Being unable to move away from the food bowl

    • Tail extra-high or extra-low, with or without wagging

  • If your dog shows signs of stress, you want to help them! You can:

    • Move further away

    • Use a higher value treat

    • End the session by letting them eat. Use a lower-value food or toy at the next session.

  • As your pup is successful (not stressed!), you’ll work your way up to trading for the bowl. Do this very gradually.

  • Getting just a few (2-5) “Approach, Treat, Retreat” repetitions in per meal is perfect! You don’t want to stress your pup out by constantly approaching them while they’re eating.

Tips and Troubleshooting

  • Aim to practice at least 2 – 3 days per week. (It’s important not to ALWAYS do this when your pup is eating.)

  • If at any point you aren’t sure what to do, or if you see guarding getting worse instead of better, stop this game and email your trainer for guidance.

  • Some puppies do best if they get to eat half their food first. If you suspect your pup is very hungry, give them half their food and let them eat it, then use the other half to practice with.

Need some extra guidance? Have more questions? Please email your trainer; we’re here for you!