Many of us have played the inadvertent “keep away” game with our dogs at one point or another. This is when our dog grabs something and refuses to give it back. This can be comical, but can also be dangerous or frustrating for the dog if he grabs something that could cause harm to himself or others. Dogs who are taught to trade will gladly give up the item they have guarded for something more valuable.
Guarding the canine resource
Dogs are naturally inclined to guard resources such as food and toys. They do this because they fear losing the resource. Dogs may feel more comfortable about losing their stuff if they are taught how to trade.
Learning to trade dogs is a great way to make friends with your dog.
Trades can be beneficial for any dog. It’s a multifaceted behavior that has many practical uses in a dog’s daily life. Trades are often used to trade with dogs that have a tendency to guard their resources. However, you can also use trades in order to prevent your dog from guarding any resources.
Trading is also a safe way to play fetch with dogs that are enthusiastic about picking up toys or are reluctant to give them back. A simple way to trade is to have multiple toys, such as tennis balls. The dog will return from fetching one to get a new toy.
How to teach trades to your dog
These are the steps to teach a dog how to trade
Step 1: The dog must be able to accept a low-value object. You can choose a toy he doesn’t care about or an item he isn’t interested in like a book. A large supply of high-value treats such as cheese, hot dogs, and chicken will be necessary.
Step 2: Use a leash to attach the dog’s collar to a doorknob or sturdy furniture piece. The goal is to make the dog feel safe and comfortable. However, the leash allows you to remove the dog from your sight if the dog displays any resource-guarding behavior. Resource guarding behaviors include avoidance, freeze, lip curling growling, lunging, snapping, and lunging.
Step 3: Offer your dog some high-value treats. Take the low-value items out of the dog’s mouth while he is enjoying the high-value treats. If he is interested in having the low-value item taken away, you can make a trail of treats that leads away from it. This step can be repeated several times before you move on to the next.
Step 4: The trade must be simultaneous. You can offer high-value treats to the dog with one hand and take the low-value item from the other. Continue this process until your dog is happy with your approach and takes the low-value item off his plate.
Step 5: Next, approach your dog and remove the low-value object. Then, offer the treats to the dog. Repeat this process several times until the dog is not defensive. Wait a few seconds before giving the treats. Step 4 should be used if the dog doesn’t seem to be excited by your approach.
Step 6: Start practicing the steps above with items that your dog isn’t guarding. You will gradually move up to more valuable items. You could start with a toy your dog isn’t interested in, then move on to a toy he likes to play with occasionally, then to a favorite toy (e.g. an empty Kong, or one that contains low-value treats), and finally to a highly-coveted toy (e.g. a Kong stuffed with peanut butter or canned foods). If your dog doesn’t respond to your approach at any stage, you can return to step 4.
Step 7: Practice with your dog in different locations and with different people to help him understand that trading can happen with anyone and everywhere. You should practice more to help your dog master each step.
Step 8: To keep your dog’s new skills sharp, practice trading frequently.
Work with a dog trainer
If your dog displays any guarding behavior, you should immediately stop training and find a reward-based, force-free dog trainer who can help. To keep your dog’s training fun and to help him stay focused, you should take frequent breaks. You should train your dog to trade over many sessions.
You can take a break if you or your dog become frustrated. Then, when you return to the task at hand, you will go back to the original step. You and your dog will soon be exchanging lots of great stuff, including high-fives.