Resource guarding is a normal but generally undesirable behavior concerning something the dog considers is in his possession. Guarded objects may be food, treats, toys, bones and furniture, or may even be a person, since a person can be a valuable resource to a dog. The “guarding” may take the form of a stare or growl, or it may be a more serious response such as a bite. If your dog exhibits resource guarding behaviors but has not yet shown a proclivity to bite, I highly recommend the book "Mine! A Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs” by Jean Donaldson as an excellent resource for owners who seek to understand and mediate these types of behaviors in their dogs. Your breeder may also be a good and knowledgeable resource, and should be contacted if you notice signs of resource guarding. However, if your dog exhibits resource guarding behaviors and has already shown a willingness to bite, please seek the help of a qualified professional. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers is a good place to locate a qualified trainer: http://www.apdt.com/petowners/ts/default.aspx.
Resource guarding is not unique to Tollers but I do believe it is more common in our breed than in some others. For this reason, we incorporate resource control into the socialization work we do when raising a litter. Some examples of resource control exercises we practice are:
- Trading toys and bones or other desirable chewing objects with puppies
- Being present during the puppies mealtimes and adding tidbits to their bowl so they associate the approach of a person at mealtime as a positive event
- Turning away from puppies who are too pushy in demanding attention and deciding when to focus attention on a puppy
When the puppies leave for their new homes the groundwork to mediate resource guarding has been laid but is not complete. In fact, it is something that should be incorporated into your training throughout the life of your Toller. To remind new owners of this and to facilitate the learning process, we send out a handout to our puppy people which includes exercises to continue in the puppy’s new home, even when no resource guarding behavior is present.
Here are some additional links you may find helpful:
http://www.chazhound.com/forums/t5923/ (the last two posts)