Have you ever seen a dog pick up an object, glance at you and run away? What do you think they are doing here? It might be their way of instigating a game with you, trying to get your attention or does it show that they have started to worry that you might try and take their ‘precious’ find as they feel the need to move away from you?
If it’s the latter, then may I encourage you to start working through this potential problem. Resource guarding is a totally natural dog behaviour. Why wouldn’t they protect and guard something they find valuable? Doesn’t matter if you are a dog or a person. Food, toys, socks or even a piece of litter they have just come across. Gundogs in particular have been bred to pick up and hold onto objects, so although all breeds can resource guard, some breeds are more predisposed to it.
I understand why you feel the need to take the item off your dog. It’s your sock and you don’t want it chewed; it’s the TV remove control and that is expensive; it’s a stone and therefore might be dangerous if swallowed. There are many ‘human’ reasons why you take the item from your dog’s mouth. However, that is human logic and not canine. Canine logic is ‘finder’s keepers’! If they found it, it’s theirs. When we take it from them you are teaching them you are a thief! You are the one that steals – and there you were thinking your dog was the one that always steals things!
You have given your dog 3 options:
All of these responses are not what we want from our dogs, but we have to accept that this behaviour is usually made so much worse by our lack of knowledge of how to read our dogs behaviour and that we need to understand their motives.
Let’s talk body language. One of my favourite topics and I will only go into some basics here. In short, it’s our responsibility that if we want to share our lives with our dogs, we must learn how they communicate with us and learn to understand them.
Signs that your dog is feeling uncomfortable are:
Freezing: your dog is very still, possibly crouching down and very stiff.
Whale eye: you can see the whites of your dog’s eye looking at you. Usually whilst they are freezing.
Growling: maybe an obvious one, but if your dog is doing a low growl, then they are very clearly saying, back away, I am worried.
Snarling: lifting their lips and showing their teeth.
Biting: using their teeth is the last step on the aggression ladder. The final step. The other steps haven’t worked and therefore there is no other choice.
When you see your dog communicating that they are uncomfortable please listen. We don’t want them to have to progress to using their teeth. No one wants that. If you have children at home, can you see how easy this situation could lead to a bite? However our responses to them showing any guarding behaviour are usually to punish them as they are ‘misbehaving’ so we remove the item they are guarding as a consequence of this unacceptable behaviour.
Please stop. Think. From your dog’s perspective, what has just happened?
They felt uncomfortable with your presence, they tried to communicate to you to ‘please stop, please move away’ but we didn’t listen. The thing they were worried about happened – they lost their precious ‘find’. The learning occurring here is that you are a thief, you are threatening and therefore next time they find your slipper or TV controller they won’t give any low-level communication such as freezing or growling, they will have to defend with their teeth.
Can you see how this is actually just a miscommunication? Your dog is doing their very best to say that they aren’t ok. However, we don’t listen. We actually can make it much worse as we take away their special prize.
Take time to train your dog to understand drop and leave cues. Use reward-based training so show them that they don’t need to feel threatened and can then happily respond to your requests of drop or leave. Take time to show them that when you approach them when they have food, toys or anything else, that they don’t need to protect this item. Sharing is a human concept that dogs don’t understand. Dogs are scavengers so very likely to want to pick up lots of items, so it’s our responsibility to train so dangerous situations do not arise.