Ask the SPCA: Preventing resource guarding in dogs - BC SPCA
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Ask the SPCA: Preventing resource guarding in dogs

January 14, 2019

My dog doesn’t give me the ball back when we play fetch. How do I fix this so I’m not playing a game of chase?

There are ways to teach dogs to drop the ball consistently. More importantly, teaching a dog to “drop” or “share” goes a long way to prevent resource guarding. Dogs should learn that good things happen when they share their toys with you.

Let’s be clear from the start: if your dog lunges or bites at treats from your hands, you will first have to work on teaching him to accept treats gently. But, assuming he is just a little stubborn about sharing, you can start with the “give it” or “drop it” game.

Begin by offering, but not throwing, a ball he likes. When he starts to put his mouth around it, say something like “grab it” or “take it.” As he does, give praise, “good boy!” Immediately offer a high value treat but hold it in your fingers so he has to nibble at it. As the ball drops from his mouth, say “drop” or “give.”

A terrier and his human playing fetch

The nibbling gives distraction time for you to slowly and calmly pick up the ball with your other hand. If he eats the treat too quickly, he will race you for the ball. This can actually cause resource guarding as you compete for possession. You need to avoid this.

You want your dog to learn that he will always get his ball (or other toy) right back if he drops it on command. Now offer him back the ball and say “grab it.” Repeat the same process a few more times. Take a break and then continue playing the “drop” game until he drops the ball without hesitation in lots of different situations and places.

Advance to real fetching, giving treats and praise as he drops the ball at your feet using the same method. Occasionally give a jackpot of treats. The “bonus” keeps him motivated. In your dog’s mind, he’s thinking, “I am having fun. I get my toy back when I give it up and sometimes I get lots of treats – life is good!”

Learn more about preventing resource guarding in dogs.

Get more tips on pet care and behaviour.

Need a dog trainer? Learn what to look for in a trainer.

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