Case Study: Dao’s Resource Guarding

I’m trying something new today, and if you like it, I might do it more often: I’m going to tell you about a dog I have worked with.

I made a video about Dao’s training a while ago and shared it with friends, but I haven’t shared it publicly before. I’ll add some background in this blog post.

Meet the dog:

Dao is a 5-year old female Czechoslovakian Wolfdog. She was bred and lives at Siam Crown Kennel, where she used to be part of an amateur study on working with Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs. She’s a kennel dog, not a house dog.

The behavior I want to change:

Dao will guard food. That is to say, when she has something edible, she will let you know that you cannot touch it. She does this eloquently by flattening her ears, protecting the food item with her head/body while looking up at you so the white of her eyes is visible, showing her teeth, and growling. It is a clear warning, delivered in beautiful body language and in just the right intensity to be unmistakable: “Don’t touch this.”

A friend and colleague challenged me to teach Dao to let me touch her food items. She doubted it could be done without intimidation. I, on the other hand, was sure it could be done without intimidation, and I videoed most steps so I could show her my training process.

Training steps:

I’m narrating the training steps and Dao’s reaction in this video. In short, I used classical counter-conditioning, and I built a relationship based on mutual trust. Or, in other words: I taught Dao it was safe to trust me around her food. There was no reason for her to worry about me stealing it. What I found most interesting is not that it worked, but how extremely well Dao responded to it, and just how much trust and affection she’d soon show me. None of our sessions lasted longer than a few minutes.


6 thoughts on “Case Study: Dao’s Resource Guarding

    • clickforjoy says:

      I trained 4 or 5 days a week, mostly one and sometimes two sessions a day. Most sessions didn’t last more than a few minutes. The time frame was about 4 weeks. Another dog might learn faster, or take longer – it depends on the individual.

  1. Christa Wendlandt says:

    thats awesome nice breakdown… I wonder what the protocol could be for a dog which resource guards one of the humans in the household? He also did resource guarding around his food and they never worked on it. Probably would work very similar, starting with his bowl and then with the human there?

    • clickforjoy says:

      Thank you, Christa!
      Guarding a human is more complex than object guarding. The basic principle and goal would be the same though: you’d want to turn someone approaching the coveted human into a predictor of good things. Dogs guard things (or people) because they worry. We want to respect their worries, and then show them that actually, there’s no reason to worry.

  2. g2-3152b312430f29bf6de3f7c342ca14bd says:

    Thank you for sharing this excellent video and for the detailed breakdown of the DS/CC steps.

    When she was doing the have-her-cake-and-eat-it-too behavior with the raw hide in the kennel, you did not try to control the situation by restricting her space, or putting her on leash with a smaller radius so she would not be able to take it to a corner, etc.. right? You basically let her take the raw hide to her corner because that was the level of comfort she was at at that stage. Did she get over this on her own in subsequent sessions as she started trusting you more?

    Neat stuff about the relationship building that occurred in parallel to your working with her on the resource guarding. Did you ever worry that by introducing the relationship into the mix she might find it hard to generalize the resource guarding behavior modification. i.e. that she might not resource guard in your presence but that she might still do so with other humans?

    • clickforjoy says:

      Exactly – I let her take the rawhide to the corner because I wanted her to learn to trust me of her own free will. It only took her two sessions to get over it.

      You are right that her relaxation around food won’t automatically generalize to other people. However, that’s not because I built a relationship. Generalizing the acceptance of hands near a coveted resource rarely just happens without systematic training. Several people need to work through the protocol (with or without relationship building) in order for it to generalize. No matter what kind of training approach we choose – there is no shortcut to generalization. We need to systematically train for it.

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