Dog-Human Object Guarding


Object guarding is a little more complex than food bowl guarding because of the fact that some dogs will consume the object, opening themselves up to a choking hazard, a bowel obstruction, or poisoning. We often have to choose between getting bitten or heading to the emergency vet. Not a fun choice to have to make. 

If during your work with your dog, they show any of these signs, it it a cue for you to stop, back off, reassess your plan. 

  1. Freezing, sometimes accompanied by side-eye
  2. Accelerated consumption
  3. Growling
  4. Snarling (showing teeth)
  5. Snapping
  6. Bite without damage
  7. Bite with damage

Punishment, such as scolding, yelling, hitting, spraying water, etc... will only cause the dog to escalate much faster and skip the warnings next time. 

The foundation behaviours that are recommended to have mastered prior to working on this plan are listed below. Click the toggle below to learn how to teach your dog each of these helpful behaviours/concepts. 

Drop it

“Drop it” is a cue that asks your dog to drop an item out of his mouth. This could be anything they have picked up off the ground: a sock, a shoe, potential dangers, or a ball to be thrown again.

Ideas for verbal cues: “drop it”, “drop”, “out”

  1.  You will initially train this behaviour when your dog has nothing in their mouth. Arm yourself with 5-6 small treats behind your back. Say “Drop it” once and freeze for one-second. Bend and scatter the treats on the floor in front of your dog. Use your hand to point them out silently. Practice at random times throughout the next few days and, ideally, when your dog least expects it. Make sure to try this step while you are both standing and sitting.
    The order is important so make sure you are saying “Drop it” before you scatter the treats. You never want to say the cue at the same time or after you scatter them. You need to have a solid conditioned response in order to move forward.
  2.  Repeat Step 1 but now you’ll say “Drop it” in different situations. For example, try saying your cue while putting on a coat, pushing a cart, carrying boxes, and when you are carrying a garbage bag. Be especially aware of the situations where your dog tends to pick up items.
  3.  Repeat Step 1 but vary the positions that your dog is in when you say “Drop it.” Practice while your dog is lying in their bed or beside you on the couch. Also, continue to add new situations. For instance, say your cue while you’re sweeping the floor or unlocking your door. The possibilities are endless. The more positions and contexts you practice, the greater success you’ll have with “Drop it.”
  4.  Start to train “Drop it” around objects. For instance, practice around shoes or bike helmets that are on the floor. Next, try the cue around your dog’s toys. Gradually increase the value of the items you’re working around. When it’s going well, say “Drop it” when your dog has a toy in their mouth (start slowly – make sure it’s not their very favourite). Drop food immediately after saying the cue, regardless of your dog’s actions. The cue always equals treats. Move to Step 5 when you’re getting a solid response.
  5.  Gradually make the toys higher value. For example, use squeaky or tug toys versus a boring stuffy. If you use a tug toy, stop tugging once you say “Drop it.” If your dog is more interested in the toy then your treats, make the treats more interesting. Play with them instead of the toy. Practice for a few days before moving on.
  6.  Continue practicing you “Drop it” indoors and slowly increase the value of the dropped items. You will start using your cue outdoors, as well. Start slowly in quiet, barren areas and gradually increase the value of the items. Choosing your battles is important, as well. Let your dog munch an occasional leaf or pick up an occasional twig. 

We are NOT using "drop it" with anything on your hierarchy list yet - this is just practice!

Look at That

The object of this exercise is to simultaneously build focus while changing the dog’s attitude toward a trigger (a dog, a person, an object, etc.). We want to teach the dog that it is safe to look at the trigger. By rewarding a dog for looking at something or someone they are worried about, we not only change their behaviour. We change the dog’s emotional response, as well.

This exercise teaches your dog that good things happen when the trigger is present. Your dog learns that those good things come from you and all you want them to do is look at their trigger. In time, the environmental trigger can then become the CUE to return their focus back to you!

Ideas for cues: “look at that”, “check it out”, “who’s that?”, “where’s your friend?”, “what’s that?”, (OR you may choose not to name this one at all.)

It is extremely important that the dog is not anxious or stressed when implementing this exercise. This is called keeping the dog ‘under threshold’. If the dog is reacting to the trigger, then you need to increase the distance between the dog and that trigger.

  1. Begin by placing a neutral object (a can, a pen, a cell phone, or any small easily managed object) in your hand and keep it behind your back. Bring the object out where your dog can see it. When your dog glances at the object, click or say “YES!!”, then reach into your pouch and feed a treat. Put the object back behind your back. Repeat until your dog ‘gets it’ and begins to purposely look at the object to get clicked.
  2. Now, move the object to a table a few feet away. When the dog glances at the object, click or say “YES!!”, and then reach into your pouch and feed a treat. Repeat until the dog seeks out the object on their own.
  3. For this step, we will use a moving target, such as a person, a dog, a cat, a car, etc... When your dog glances at the target, click or say “YES!!”, and then reach into your pouch and feed a treat. Repeat until your dog looks to you expectantly when they glance at the target.

Muzzle Training

Muzzle Training is an excellent way to protect your dog from ingesting the object that they are guarding. This is ideal for Sidewalk Scavengers, poop-eaters, and other object guarders. 

Certain membership levels get our Muzzle Training course included in the Membership - click to visit your dashboard to see if you're one! 

Join our Muzzle Training course if you are not a Member of our Academy by clicking the button above.

The following training plan has two tabs - one for CC/DS and another for DRI. 

CC/DS is short for counterconditioning and desensitisation - creating a positive emotional response and gradually getting closer to the target. 

DRI is short for Differential Reinforcement of an Incompatible behaviour - replacing the unwanted behaviour with something that cannot occur at the same time, like a "drop it" and a "look at that"! 

Work through the CC/DS first and once successfully completed, move on to the DRI plan. 

Download your Dog-Human Object Guarding Training Plan below:

When you click the button above, you will be asked to make a copy of the document for yourself to keep and use. It is a Google Spreadsheet. You do not require an account to use this.

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