When I got Luna, she came with a pretty huge amount of resource guarding. Already the first week she growled at me for getting near something she viewed as her food, she later charged and attacked the cat next door when she was eating outside and she has been in several fights with Hugin already. Food is of very high value to Luna and she will do whatever it takes to ensure that she won’t loose it.
Resource guarding is a normal behavior and has nothing to do with being dominant or bossy. It’s about the fear of loosing the resource (food in this case). In the wild, food is very hard to find for most carnivores. Unlike for herbivores, meat is not growing all over the place. That makes it easy to understand why dogs instinctively finds food so valuable. Fortunately training the resource guarding is often very simple, at least when it is towards people. The only thing you have to worry about is to remove the fear of the food being lost. The earlier you start, the better and easier it is to train.
I started working with Luna’s guarding right away. When she first growled at me I backed up and gave her the space she needed to relax. That way she understood that she didn’t need to go further than to growl. In many cases dogs feel the need to be more extreme and possibly bite if they feel their human isn’t listening. I do the same thing (not the biting part though). If someone I’m talking to doesn’t hear what I’m saying I raise my voice a little bit or try to get their attention in some other way. If the human doesn’t listen and it happens over and over again, the dog might drop the warnings because his experience is that it’s no use anyway, and he will bite right away.
After the first growl, I started teaching Luna that when I got closer to her and her food, positive things would happen: she’d get more food! I do not want her to look at me as someone who takes her food away, but the one that provides her more food. In this way, there will only be happiness when I’m around her food and no tension or needs for guarding it.
Since I want to be able to actually take her food away if necessary (she might get hold of something dangerous for dogs), I started taking her food bowl for a second and rewarding her with praise and slightly more food. We had great progress in this, and after a short amount of tries, I can now take whatever whenever I want. I do not practice this too often. I believe it is very important that feeding times are relaxing for the dogs. This promotes safety and comfort for all parts.
I will post a video from Luna when she was 9 or 10 weeks old and she ate a rabbit out in the backyard and the neighbor cat came to have a look. The cat came back moments later (without me realizing it) and Luna attacked him. She still doesn’t like him at all, and she will react aggressively whenever she spots him outside the window. She used to growl at my cats too, but after a while she understood that they were not interested in her food and she’s therefore now careless of them when she’s eating. If I spotted the cat next door more often I could work on her aggression towards him, but we haven’t had the chance yet.
I am now working on her food aggression towards Hugin. I don’t want to train her guarding totally away. It is her food and she has the right to eat it herself. However, I do want her to be able to relax even if Hugin is nearby, and my goal is to not have to rely on feeding Luna in her crate or having to feed them in separate rooms. More on this training will be written in another post!