Some dog behaviors are perfectly natural for dogs in the wild but potentially dangerous for a dog living in a domestic situation. The inability to share toys is one of these. While most warnings a dog might give when guarding a toy are not directly aggressive, if someone approaching ignores the signs, they could lead to an altercation that could leave a person or another dog injured. As a result, domesticated dogs need to learn to share high-value items with other people and dogs to prevent potentially dangerous situations.
Training sharing behavior is most manageable when approached early and continuously throughout a dog's life as a part of appropriate socialization. Once guarding behaviors have taken hold, the process of training them out of your beloved pooch can become considerably more time-consuming and complex. In especially severe or complicated cases, it can become necessary to enlist professional assistance. This effort is significant for harmony in the home, so don't be afraid to ask for help in achieving your goals.
However, by adding structure, consistent training, and opportunities for successful counter-conditioning and desensitization, it's possible to transform your companion into the easy-going pup you know they can be. Some basic principles to keep in mind during your training effort include consistency, generalization, and patience. Your dog will let you know when they're ready to move on to the next level of training, so be observant and attuned to your dog's reactions, and you'll know precisely the moment to move forward.
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The essential basis for refusing to share toys is resource guarding behavior. In the wild, protecting critical resources is necessary for a dog's survival. As a result, it's a naturally ingrained instinctive behavior to warn other dogs to stay away and react aggressively when they don't.
Resource guarding can apply to a wide range of objects and locations. A dog may protect food, treats, areas, beds, furniture, and anything else to which they feel the need to stake a claim. While toys are seldom present in the wild, a dog's favored possessions may take on the characteristics of any other high-value resource within the dog's consciousness. This perception can result in the dog actively working to prevent anyone else, dog or human, from contacting the toy.
Resource guarding comes in the form of a flash of aggressive body language. When directed at a dog who understands canine interaction, this body language will be taken as a warning, and the approaching dog will back down. Unfortunately, there are times when the approaching dog either doesn't understand the body language or is a fierce resource guardian themselves. At these times, the dog will approach the guarding dog anyway, resulting in a violent confrontation if it is not forestalled.
Signs of Resource Guarding
There are several actions signaling resource guarding for which a responsible owner should watch. Freezing up is a prevalent signal dog's use under these circumstances. They will suddenly tense up their entire bodies as a person or dog approaches. Glaring is another indicator. A dog may also crouch over the toy in a non-play posture to prevent access. A raised upper lip, growling, or snarling when approached offers another signal. Finally, some dogs use air snapping, which is a bite made without intent to contact to get their point across. In the worst circumstances, when every other warning is ignored, the perceived intrusion might result in an actual bite.
Causes of Resource Guarding
While resource guarding is a natural behavior, several other triggers may increase the dog's guarding activity. In addition to natural, ritualized body language signals, a dog may develop a possessive attachment to specific items or people. Bored dogs who lack sufficient stimulation throughout the day may also engage in guarding behavior as a form of entertainment. The dog parent can prevent this by ensuring that the dog gets plenty of physical exercises, along with a heaping portion of training and enrichment activities. It also may be that tension exists between two dogs in the household for some other reason. When this happens, it sometimes results in guarding behavior. Finally, at its base, resource guarding arises from fear and insecurity. So, if the dog has some cause to be fearful or understand scarcity, it may resort to guarding toys and other objects.
Proper Socialization and Its Impact on Resource Guarding
One of the most significant benefits you can give your dog is adequate socialization. Through routine and generalized exposure to various humans and other dogs, your dog will become more used to having other beings in their space. This basic level of desensitization helps curb resource guarding behavior by normalizing the proximity of dogs and other humans. A dog parent accomplishes thorough socialization through the supervised and controlled exposure of the dog to people and humans. Ideally, the dog becomes used to a wide range of other animals and people so that positive behavior becomes generalized, rather than focusing on an individual human or dog, such as those that live in the dog's home. Taking walks in busy neighborhoods, going to restaurant patios, and heading for the dog park are all good ways to begin getting your dog used to their neighbors. Keep in mind that the dog should remain under control at all times, so the dog should always be leashed except when at the dog park, and even then, if they are not under voice control, they should remain on the leash.
Insufficiently socialized dogs are not used to the presence of other canines and humans. This fact makes them more likely to have adverse reactions when a being approaches some high-value object in the dog's possession. The more isolated the dog, the higher the potential for resource guarding behavior and the possible aggressive side effects.
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The Importance of Sharing
Teaching your dog to share should be a critical part of their education. It has a range of benefits that contribute to a happy home and social existence for you and your dog. First of all, it prevents the risk of injury. While most resource guarding behavior comes as a warning at first, it can escalate to aggression under certain circumstances. So, establishing good sharing behavior creates a situation that prevents even the cause of possible aggression. It also contributes to a peaceful home environment. Having snarling dogs around can contribute to a severe detraction from one's peace of mind. In addition, a dog that shares generously is less likely to have a negative association with other group behaviors, which prevents acting out in different circumstances. Finally, it's a good idea to teach the dog to share with both dogs and humans. This effort prevents resource guarding behavior with dogs from transferring to human companions.
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Sharing Toys With Humans
Foremost in any dog parent's mind is the safety of other humans around their dog. It's a real problem when toy guarding escalates into an aggressive reaction. Luckily, there are some great ways to encourage sharing with humans.
One strategy is to associate giving up a toy with receiving a treat. This activity begins by simply distracting the dog with a high-value treat for long enough to retrieve the toy. The goal of the exercise is to give the dog sufficient incentive that it doesn't have an adverse reaction to losing the toy. To progress with this training, you will work for the point where the dog gives up the toy before receiving the treat. As the dog begins to associate leaving the toy in favor of the treat, it will develop a positive association with the process. Eventually, you will be able to taper off the treats and be left with a dog that is more willing to part with its toys.
It's also a good idea to offer rewards when the dog allows others within its proximity while it is in possession of a high-value toy. When a dog does not react negatively in this situation, offer them a high-value treat to reward the calm behavior. Gradually, the dog will become used to the proximity, and their guarding behavior will begin to go away.
Use toys in association with training, particularly training that involves the dog parting from the toy. This training reinforces the idea that being apart from the toy is not necessarily bad. It might even be good.
Teach the dog to "leave it" and "drop it." When your dog ceases guarding behavior on the "leave it" command, reward them. Likewise, reward them when they release something they're holding in their mouth after the "drop it" command. These commands instill a method for recovering a toy without resulting in an aggressive response.
It's a good idea for multiple humans to participate in these training exercises. It results in the dog having a more generalized positive response to all humans instead of particular ones.
Sharing Toys With Other Dogs
It's also essential for dogs to share with other dogs, especially when more than one dog lives in your home. This process can be a little more complex than teaching the dog to share with humans but is well worth the effort as it drastically reduces the likelihood of fights.
To prevent an impression of scarcity, take turns with which dog is given treats and high-value items first. If a dog perceives they're being left for last consistently, it contributes to insecurity, resulting in guarding behavior. On the other hand, when humans treat all dogs present equally, this reaction is less likely.
Another way to reinforce sharing between dogs is to train them to give their toys to others. Reward them when they voluntarily surrender their toys to other dogs as an invitation to play.
Help your dog to associate other dogs with rewards rather than scarcity. Reward them for interacting appropriately with other canines.
Note that when you're working with multiple dogs, safety measures are sometimes necessary. Leashing, tethering, baby gates, and other methods of discouraging negative interaction allow you to protect all the dogs involved in the training session.
Another suitable method for training with two dogs involves proximity desensitization. One dog is designated as the guarding dog, while the other is the approaching dog. The guarding dog is either tethered or secured with a leash by another handler. It is then given a toy. It's best to start with a low-value toy and work your way up to higher-value resources. Once this situation is in place, begin to bring the other dog toward the guarding dog. Stop well outside the danger zone to start. Treat the guarding dog for not having an adverse reaction. Treat the approaching dog for not going for the toy. The goal is to remain in the zone of appropriate behavior at all times. Advance the exercise by gradually coming closer with the approaching dog, rewarding both dogs each time they react positively. If, at any point, there is an adverse reaction, go back to the last safe distance and begin the process again.
Basics of Positive Reinforcement
While it should be evident from the examples above, it's vital to stick to positive reinforcement when training your dog. This mandate means that you reward the dog for positive behavior with treats, attention, and encouragement rather than punishing them for bad behavior. It ensures that you are promoting positive behavior rather than establishing new negative behaviors. Use plenty of high-value treats and positive attention when your dog does something well.
One excellent technique for positive reinforcement is clicker training. This strategy allows for an instantaneous reward response to be issued, even if the reward itself isn't immediately to hand. It works by clicking the clicker then giving the dog treats so that the clicker's sound becomes a temporary substitute for the reward itself. This means that when the dog does something positive, you can click the clicker to represent a reward and then get the reward without worrying that the dog will associate the treat with some other behavior. Some trainers also use the word "yes" in a similar way.
Counterconditioning and Desensitization
Counterconditioning and desensitization are essential principles when working with your dog on resource guarding behavior. They are the principles that ultimately lead to the problem's solution, so it's essential to understand both.
Counterconditioning is the gradual process of encouraging your dog to react oppositely from its current default. This process means creating an environment where the dog gets positive reinforcement for positive responses to stimuli. That is, you reward the dog when they react non-aggressively. The process conditions them to a new, positive response.
Desensitization is the process of reducing an animal's sensitivity to certain stimuli. In the case of guarding behavior, it means making the dog more used to the proximity of other humans and animals with a cherished toy. Trainers accomplish this through rewarding positive reactions.
Importance of Generalization
Generalization is a critical aspect of this type of dog training. By exposing the dog to multiple situations with multiple people, dogs, toys, and environments, it's possible to establish guidelines that mean the dog will react similarly across the board. This principle is important because dogs can have trouble associating appropriate behavior in one instance with proper behavior in all cases. By exposing them to multiple variables, it's possible to overcome this resistance.
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Dangers of Negative Reinforcement
As mentioned above, avoid negative reinforcement at all costs. This type of reinforcement includes smacking, hitting, physically relocating, or yelling at your dog. Many people think these methods can be used as training tools, but they just make them distrustful and afraid in reality. Developing fear in a dog can result in a range of negative behaviors, including aggression.
Training your dog to share can be a work-intensive process, but it's well worth preventing the headache of resource guarding behavior. Using the principles discussed above, gradually begin associating sharing with positive outcomes like treats, and you will be well on your way to success.