2/25/2014 - 5:49 PM

Protocol for working with dogs who guard

Protocol for working with dogs who guard

Guarding Protocol


Guarding (aka, possession aggression or resource guarding) is a natural instinct that is stronger in some dogs than others. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong or unusual about your dog. Your dog is not trying to dominate you or take control of your relationship. Guarding is only a problem for humans. Dogs who can guard and hang on to their possessions are more successful dogs.


The most effective and safe way to work through guarding is a 4-part plan:

  1. Management: Do not take things away from your dog. Avoid leaving items your dog will guard out for her to find on her own. Do not allow her to take possession of items she will guard.
  2. Teach her to trust you with her stuff.
  • Hold the Toy Game
  1. Don't take stuff from your dog. Instead, teach her to give you her stuff.
  • Give and Take Game
  1. Generalize to more and more objects until your dog trusts you with all her valuables and will give you any of them when asked.

DO NOT "work on" guarding with something you know your dog will guard.


  • Keep items picked up.
  • Try not to let your dog take full possession of the items she might guard.
  • If your dog gets an item, you may have to be willing to let it go.
  • If you want your dog to have an item she might guard, then set up a situation so she does not feel like she has to guard and make sure everyone in the house knows the rules.

Teach her to trust you with her stuff

Play the "Hold the Toy" game (also good for mouthy dogs):

  • Using her favorite toy, get her interested in it so she will put it in her mouth.
  • Pet and praise her as long as she has it in her mouth.
  • If she drops it, stop and ignore her. Wait to see if she will pick it up again. If she does not, get her interested in the toy, and resume petting and praising when she is holding it in her mouth.
  • Generalize: Practice this with all her toys and possessions. Anything she will put in her mouth that she can have, practice this game.
  • If she brings you a toy, immediately drop what you are doing and praise/pet her.
  • Do not play tug with your dog while you are working this protocol. Do not compete with her for her stuff.

You will find your dog will bring you stuff and soon will be dropping it readily without you asking ("Mom! I don't wanna hold it anymore!"). She won't try to pull it away or play Keep Away. She will act comfortable with you petting her and the toy while it is in her mouth. Then you are ready for the next game.

Teach her to give you her stuff

Play the "Give and Take" game.

  • After you dog will readily drop items without you asking, start saying "Give" right as you know she's going to do it.
  • When she releases the item, praise and give her a treat, and also give her back the item. Say "Take" as you treat her and again say "Take" as you return the item.
  • Repeat dozens of times with this and every other object you played with in the "Hold the Toy" game.
  • Remember: she ALWAYS gets two "Takes" for every "Give" (overdo the reward).

Your dog will learn that giving up what she has always earns her something better, and she gets to have her stuff back. And on those ocassions that she cannot have the item back, that's okay. Grab something she can have and play the game with that a few times so she forgets about her lost item.

Generalize and Be Consistent

  • Be consistent with all rules and boundaries
  • Catch Your Dog Doing Something Good - constantly look for opportunties to reward your dog for doing what you want her to do, even when you didn't ask her to do it
  • Practice these games with all her stuff, and other items you don't mind if she has in her mouth
  • Practice in all areas of the house, especially in areas where she is more likely to guard
  • You may periodically experience setbacks or lapses. If that happens, then examine where you can tighten up rules or practice trust building. Play the games again.
  • Seek the assistance of a professional trainer, especially if your dog is growling at or biting you.