One thing that I noticed even before I was a dog trainer was the fact that people want to be able to take things from their dogs. Things include, but are not limited to, bones, food bowls, toys etc. I mean, I get it, sometimes for your dog's safety you need to take things from him. But the overall idea that you as the human should be able to take something, because you're a human, is the wrong mentality and is what leads to dog bites.
If you haven't caught on yet, I do not recommend walking up to your dog and taking objects from him. This is because it can lead to your dog guarding objects. Guarding objects is what is known as Resource Guarding. A dog typically resource guards something that is of high value and isn't readily available. Resource Guarding is a pretty natural thing. I mean, we do it all the time. With that being said, when we do it we don't bite. (At least I hope not.) When we Resource Guard it typically consists of telling someone or something to get away from our food. It's the same concept for your dog, except he doesn't speak english. When your dog guards, he does it primarily via bodily language.
If your dog has an object, here are some signs to look out for to see if he's trying to tell you to give him some space:
- Staring at you
- Staring in a direction and not moving
- Freezing (Body is still)
- Eyes open wide
- Furrowed brow
- Lips pulled back as far as possible
- Panting (If your dog hasn't just exercised, this is usually a sign of stress.)
- Licking of the lips
- Taking object and walking away when you get close
Some of the signs are obvious, and some are not. A lot of times people are unaware of the signs that aren't so obvious so they're under the impression that everything is fine, until one day, the dog growls and or bites. Once this happens, it feels like it comes out of the blue, when in all actuality, the dog has been warning the people all along.
So with all that being said, it isn't safe in most cases to walk up and take something from a dog. The good news is there are ways to get your dog to view you as a non threat when he has something of value. Once again, dogs guard because they feel that their object will potentially be taken away. So taking that into consideration, if we do lots of repetition of walking up and dropping something awesome when they have said object, they can start to view our presence around their high value object as a good thing, instead of a bad thing. **** I want to put a disclaimer out there right now that if your dog has a serious guarding issue, you need to hire a certified trainer to help because this can potentially be a very dangerous situation. Okay, back to where I left off; If they are viewing our approach as a delivery of something awesome, then they have no concern that the object will be taken away, thus no need to guard. Sounds simple, right? Well, the concept certainly is.
With that being said another great option is to swap out a valuable object your dog has, with another valuable object. If your dog has something that it shouldn't, instead of walking up and trying to take it, offer something to him so you can grab the other thing. The best way to go about this is to show him something good, which should result in him dropping the "bad" thing. When he drops the "bad" thing you can give him the good thing. You will then want to take another good thing and toss it a decent distance away. This should result in him going after the good thing, giving you a window of opportunity to grab the "bad" thing.
The video below is from 4 Paws University and does a good job of giving a visual of the first method I mentioned. Take a look.
Additionally there are cues that you can teach to get your dog to "leave" something when you ask. The video below is one way that I introduce "leave it" to dogs. The video is a couple years old but still works. The only thing that I do differently now than in the video is I recommend waiting to say "leave it" until your dog has started doing the behavior. As you'll see in the video I say "leave it" first and then wait. Teaching this way isn't the end of the world, though the dogs typically get it quicker if you teach the behavior first, and then add the cue.
And finally, here is my favorite video on how to teach your dog to "drop" an object that it has in it's mouth. This video is made by a Chirag Patel of Domesticated Manners. I really like the idea and it can obviously work very well.
In conclusion, the overall idea is to not be confrontational in these situations. The more confrontational you are, the more likely you are asking your dog to bite. Remember that dogs are animals and they do what makes sense to them.