Seeker is now seven months old and he’s an amazingly cuddly dog that’s fun and challanging to train. A part from foundation training for future important gun dog behaviours we’ve also worked on just hanging around in our every day life. One thing that is important to me is that I want to be able to take (dangerous) things from the dog, if necessary, and that the dog doesn’t run away from me or guards objects.
Most puppies guard things that are important to them, especially before they’ve estblished a trusting relationship with their owner. Seeker did as well, and therefore I rewarded him for coming to me with objects, for being around me with objects and for me walking past him when he was eating a bone without him growling or running away.
If my dog gets hold of something it shouldn’t have I want to be able to get it, without the dog feeling pressured by me (or me getting bitten). Remember growling is good dog language – telling you “I don’t trust you at the moment, I think you’re going to steal my food/toy/do something I don’t want” (of course dogs can growl for many different reasons – being afraid, to guard their stuff, while playing etc, here I’ll only discuss growling connected to resource guarding).
What I do is simply to walk by and throw something really yummy (cheese, ham, chicken etc) at the dog when it’s eating it’s bone, just to change the association so that me walking by doesn’t mean I’m going to “take your bone/food/toy”. I do this even if the dog is growling – I’m not reinforcing the growling I’m simply telling the dog “I know you think I’m going to take that from you, but I’m not, I’m just throwing this yummy treats at you and then walking away”. I continue to do this until I can be close to the dog when it’s eating it’s bone (without pressuring the dog or telling it off – I want to change the distrust to “hey, you’re great because good things happen when you get close”). If I needed to take something from the dog at this stage, I always switch for something better like a yummy treat or a fun toy. The next stage is to gradually get closer and closer, and reward the dog for letting go of the bone and for giving it to you. I trade back and forth a couple of times – take the bone, reward the dog, give the bone back, take the bone etc. When the training session is over I most of the times give the dog it’s bone back and leave it alone to finish it. I also want to be able to hold one end of the bone while he’s eating, or hold the bowl while he’s eating, so that he knows that he can trust me around his food.
You might ask “Why take the bone from him when there’s no need to?”. In order to be able to do this in an emergency situation I train in other situations when the opportunity arises. In a controlled training situation I can be calm and build trust for a longer period of time. If the dog gets hold of something dangerous I want to know that he recognises the game and will give it up. If I only do this in “sharp” situations the dog might rather learn that it’s best to swallow very quickly – something I definietly want to avoid since it could be something dangerous he swallows.
Before I’m sure that the dog knows this game I’m very careful of who gets close to the dog when it’s eating (supervise kids with extra care, make sure no one walks up to the dog or walks too close without doing as stated above). If that’s not possible I feed the dog separately (in another room, in its crate etc) so that it can eat in peace with no one interfering.
So what I did with Seeker was this: When he got his lamb bone he took off into the garden and when I got within four yards he growled and walked further away. Armed with cheese I started throwing cheese at him and within ten minutes he ate cheese from my hand (letting go of the bone to do so), and I could safely take the bone, give him cheese and then give the bone back. He even said “I’d rather have cheese, can I leave my bone here and be with you instead? 🙂 ” (but I wanted him to eat his bone so after this short session I left him to finish it in peace, and when I walked by later he looked at me with anticipation).
In the video below you can see what happened: