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Trading for Treats

Give-and-take is a good game for all dogs to learn.

You can help prevent resource guarding in a dog that does not display overt signs of the behaviour by teaching him the give-and-take game.

  1. Offer a toy that he likes but is not extremely valuable to him. When he opens his mouth, say “Take It!”  Give him the toy.
  2. Show him a treat and say “give,” (or “trade,” or “share”). When he drops the toy let him nibble at the treat while you pick up the toy.
  3. The nibbling part is important. If you let him eat the treat and then try to pick up the toy he might race you for it.  This could encourage resource guarding.
  4. While he is nibbling, slowly and calmly pick up the toy. Let him finish eating the treat, then offer him the toy again and say “Take It!” as he puts his mouth around it.
  5. Practiced several times a day, a few repetitions at a time. Rhis game will teach your dog the very useful behaviour of “give” on cue. He will also learn that if he gives something up to you, odds are good that he’ll get it back again or something even better.

Troubleshooting

He won’t take the toy

Find a toy that he likes more. If he is only a mild resource guarder you can even use a toy such as a Kong with a cookie inside it. Use a low-value treat (a bland cookie or cracker) in the toy, and a much higher-value treat (a piece of cheese or roast beef) for his reward.

He won’t drop the toy for the treat

You need a much better treat. Don’t be stingy here; hard dry cookies and bits of dog kibble just may not be exciting enough to convince him to give up a toy that he likes. Even the toughest nut will usually crack for something like a piece of sardine or a hot dog.

After a couple of times, he just looks for the treat and ignores the toy

Good! You’re convincing him that the stuff you have is better than the stuff he has. That’s what you want him to think. You can either plan to do just a few repetitions each session, or you can gradually increase the value of the object he shares with you.

Beyond toys

Once your dog has learned to play the give-and-take game, you can use it for objects other than toys. When he grabs something he shouldn’t have, such as your new Nikes or the remote control, instead of playing the “chase” game, go get a nice treat and ask him to share. He should be happy to trade.

If your dog won’t trade you his object for the treat in your hand, or worse, starts to guard it aggressively, toss high-value treats on the ground away from the object.  When he drops the object to eat the treats, wait until he is far away from it and have someone else pick it up, or leave him a large pile of treats and calmly walk back to the object and pick it up yourself.  If necessary,” Hansel-and-Gretel” him with a treat trail into another room and close the door before you pick it up. You might need to re-evaluate your training program. It could be you need to progress more slowly.

Take it slow

Don’t rush this training. Sometimes your dog may back-slide or seem to be stuck at one level – don’t worry, continue with the training until he improves. If you find you can only get your dog so far in this training and he is still guarding the important objects, then it is time to consider calling in a professional to help you.