Sharing Starts Now: Preventing Resource Guarding Issues in Your Baby

It started when she was just three months old – grabbing, grabbing, grabbing at everything! But the real trouble starts when they begin to crawl, and they start grabbing all sorts of illicit items. Suddenly we were snatching away lego pieces, used kleenex, empty pop cans and so on. It doesn’t help that we have a five year old, also known as an Entropy Generator.

 Babies really are like puppies. They get into everything, and everything goes in their mouths.

Of course, as soon as you try to take something away, the baby starts to scream. This is where resource guarding starts. She wants to play with something, and she learns that if she lets go of it, it will be snatched away. So she holds on even tighter.

This does not exactly set her up for a lifetime of sharing and generosity. Empathy and altruism will come later, but in the mean time, we have an active baby who screams if you take something away.

What do you do?

The Puppy Way

Resource Guarding is a serious issue when it comes to dog training. Dogs who resource guard will growl or even bite someone who comes near their precious food/toy/bone/bed. It is dangerous and generally a bad idea, so you start working on prevention right from puppy hood with Object Exchanges.

How Object Exchanges Work

puppy in shoes

Your dog needs to learn that if he lets you take something from him, he will get something in return. By exchanging treats or other toys in return for whatever your dog has in his mouth, you set up a fair exchange instead of simply stealing whatever your dog happens to be enjoying right now.

You wouldn’t voluntarily hand your favourite book or the keys to your car to a thief. But you would give them to a good friend who you feel sure will pay you back or give back the book/car when he is done with it.

Forbidden Objects:

If your puppy has something that shouldn’t be held/chewed by a dog, you need to get it away. But if you try to tug it out of the puppy’s mouth or chase the puppy, then that actually teaches Rover to guard forbidden objects even more closely.

After all, if they let go they lose that delicious shoe/sock/rat poison, but if they run away then they enjoy a fun game of tag, and if they hold on tight, they get a fun game of tug. This is a no brainer! Hold on to that sock as if it were your  most prized possession!

Instead, you say, “Oh, look what you’ve got, can I see that?” and encourage puppy to bring it to you. This sets the puppy up for a lifetime of retrieving, and retrieving is NOT a behaviour problem. A dog who picks up loose socks and brings them to you is helpful, but a dog who steals socks is a problem.

If you coax the dog and get really excited about what he is holding, he will often bring it right up to you. That’s when you offer either a delicious treat or another toy.

The puppy’s jaws will loosen as he is struck by indecision – should he hold on to the sock, or take that yummy treat? Whisk the forbidden object away, give the treat and/or alternative toy, and throw a big fun party.

What the dog will remember is that bringing you the sock led to treats and fun play time, and he will be more likely to give up another sock in the future.

Permitted Objects:

You also need to ask your puppy to give up his own toys/food, since this is often where resource guarding gets the most intense. It’s the whole “MINE!!” attitude.

So, when puppy has a lovely bone to chew or a great squeaky toy, do the same thing as above – say “ooh, look what YOU’VE got, wow! Bring it here!” and then offer a treat or another toy, wait for jaws to loosen, and whisk it away.

Give the treat and/or have play time with the other toy, and then (HERE’S THE MOST IMPORTANT PART) give the original toy back!

This sets up a win-win situation for your dog – he knows that if you take his bone or ball, it’s only temporary. Really, you’re just holding it for him while he eats his treat. then he’ll get it back. Nothing to worry about.


The Baby Way


It’s easy enough to transfer this process over to a baby or toddler. What you want to teach your tot is that handing things to people is GOOD. It’s much better to have your child voluntarily offer you whatever she is holding with a smile, rather than chase her down and pry it from her tightly clutched fist while she screams blue murder.

How To Do Object Exchanges With A Baby

Babies are usually ready for object exchanges at 8-9 months of age, once they have figured out how to open their fists voluntarily.

Forbidden Objects:

When your baby snatches your glasses off of your face, or gets her hands on a fountain pen, you say “Oops! Nope, not for babies! Give it to me, honey, thank you!” and hold out your hand.

Give your baby a chance to hand it over.

If she doesn’t, pry it away obviously, for safety reasons. Then hand over something else, preferably something novel or rare or exciting. Not the toy she has already played with for half an hour, but maybe your car keys, or some other interesting but relatively harmless object.

Then make a big fuss over the baby “giving” you the forbidden object. “Thank you, honey! Look, have some keys! Ooh, they jangle! Fun!”

Permitted Objects:

This is the most important part. It is so great to have a baby who voluntarily gives up toys, especially if you have an older sibling who always wants whatever the baby happens to be holding.

Start by holding out your hand and saying, “oh, a rattle, can I see?” and wait for baby to hand it off. The baby may hold it out for you to see, but resist allowing you to take it. Don’t pry it away! Just accept that that toy is too high value, and start with something more boring.

Once your baby hands you something, say, “oh, thank you!” and pretend to play with it for a second or two, then immediately hand it back. Babies quickly catch onto this game and start handing it to you, then reaching for it again.

Once baby has the back-and-forth game nailed, you can add another toy to the mix. Take the offered toy, thank the baby, and then offer a different toy in exchange. When baby hands you Toy B, give back Toy A. When baby hands you Toy A, hand back Toy B.

This is especially helpful when there is an older sibling. Our five year old knows that his sister will often give her whatever she has if he has something else to give in exchange.

It can also turn into a complicated passing game involving multiple family members where everyone just keeps passing different toys back and forth to each other.

Our own baby is 11 months now, and she has pretty much mastered the Object Exchange game. Sometimes she even offers us her special lovey, a stuffed lamb that she sleeps with.

Usually the first time she offers it she changes her mind and we let her hold on to it. Then she tries again and actually lets go. We make a fuss, cuddle the lovey briefly, and hand it right back, and she and her lovey have a joyful reunion that usually involves several seconds of intense making out. Then she offers it to us again.

We did this same game with our son when he was small, and by the time he went to daycare he was very good about letting other kids play with his toys, or, as they called it at daycare, “sharing”.



Loving Homework: Making Things Good By Contrast

My son is now five, and in kindergarten. He doesn’t get proper “homework” each day, but he does have a little “home reading” workbook which he is supposed to do at home, at his own pace.

It consists of little lessons in phonics. We work through the phonics lesson and when I feel that he has mastered the particular sounds in this section, he takes the book to school and his teacher tests him on a few simple words. If he passes, he gets the next lesson.

So, it is low-pressure, go-at-your-own-pace homework, but it is still homework. My goal is make him enjoy it, because I want him to love reading the way that I love reading.

I made a mistake a couple of weeks ago, shortly after he brought home the first lesson. He and I had been playing on the computer before dinner. After dinner, he asked to go back to playing the game. I was paying attention to the baby at that moment so I replied absently, “no, honey, I don’t think so. We should do your reading.”


Immediately he responded with, “I don’t WANT to do my reading!”

What I really meant was “No, we don’t play on the computer this close to bed time,” which is our usual household rule. The reading thought was separate in my brain. But what I communicated to my son was: we COULD have played on the computer but HOMEWORK got in the way.

This is not how I want him to think about homework.

If you want to get your kid to do something, never contrast it with something they like better.

You can bet I won’t make that mistake again.

Fast forward two weeks – we have just finished dinner. We tell him, “time to clean up all the toys!” Then, I add, “unless you think we have time to do some of your reading first?”

Of course he decided that we DID have time for some reading, and he happily settled down on my lap and we went through several pages of reading before I sighed reluctantly and said, “well, I really love reading with you, but it’s time for us to clean up toys and go to bed.”

He begged for more reading time. Which he didn’t get. But the difference is clear.

When his reading was contrasted with something he hugely enjoys, like playing computer games with me, it seemed very unappealing. But when it was contrasted with a chore, like tidying his toys, it suddenly seemed very appealing indeed.

If you want to get your kid to do something, contrast it with something they like even less.

We use the same principle to get him to do those chores in the first place – while he doesn’t like tidying his toys, he REALLY dislikes going to bed. So he will clean up his toys, help fold clothes, help put laundry in the washing machine, all to stave off bed time.

Now I have him doing homework to stave off chores, then follow that with chores to stave off bedtime, and so he does each one more or less happily.

Much better!

Too Young For Operant Conditioning

My new baby will soon be four months old, and she is not sleeping through the night. Some people might suggest letting her cry it out.

Crying it out makes a lot of sense from a dog training standpoint.

After all, when someone brings a new puppy home I always recommend that the puppy be crated during sleep, and I warn them NEVER to let the puppy out of the crate if it whines or cries. Tire the puppy out, and when he’s ready to nap, pop him in the crate and let him whine himself to sleep.

By refusing to reward the behaviour (crying), you train the puppy to wait quietly in the crate and go to sleep instead.

So, it makes sense to do it with a baby, right?

Not really.

After all, puppies only go home with their new owners (or SHOULD only go home with their new owners…) once they are fully weaned. They have a full set of milk teeth, are able to run and play, and consume only solid food.

Developmentally, an eight week old puppy is more like a two year old child. My baby is still nursing, not on solid food, and can only move through useless squirming. She’s the equivalent of a week old puppy – eyes open, but still completely helpless.


No one would suggest letting a puppy that young lie all alone while crying for attention. Mother dogs are highly attentive at that age, barely even leaving the bed. The puppies nurse on demand, day and night, and are still completely dependent on their mother’s care. So is my baby.

So, no, I will not be “sleep training” my baby yet. Some day, when she’s older, maybe, but not yet. That doesn’t mean that I can’t nudge her in the right direction.

When adults have sleep problems, doctors recommend using classical conditioning. 

“Classical conditioning” refers to the building of associations in the body. I once dated someone whose mother used to spank him with a wooden spoon when he was bad. He told me that to this day, the sound of that drawer opening in the kitchen made him shudder. That’s classical conditioning.

In order for us to sleep, we have to build physical associations. That’s why doctors recommend that you avoid doing work in bed. You’ll start associating your bed with work and that will make it harder to sleep. On the other hand, if you play soft music for yourself every night at bed time, your body will begin to recognize it and that will help build an association, until the sound of that music makes you feel drowsy.

I can do the same for my baby.


Right now, all I’m trying to do is help break the nursing-to-sleep association. Nursing makes both of us feel drowsy and it’s her favourite way to get to sleep. That’s pretty normal at this age, but I remember that my son maintained this association through to his second year of life, and breaking that habit was pretty hard work.

I’m going to just keep popping her off the breast while she’s awake to give her the chance to fall asleep without it. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’m not worrying too much about it for now, because she is still such a tiny puppy baby.

What kinds of classical conditioning help you or your children fall asleep?

Back in Action!

Sorry, folks, for the long delay.

My son is almost five now and at the age when you can communicate through words and ideas, and we don’t use dog-training tactics on him as much any more. That being said, I think I’m going to have to re-start.

Having given him a good start as a toddler, we had very little need for training in the past couple of years. He is cute, and thoughtful, and obedient. That being said, he’s getting older and he’s beginning to test boundaries. So far we have been able to handle misdemeanors with gentle talks (which never works on dogs!). However, he’s starting school in September and I’m expecting him to bring all kinds of tried-on naughtiness home that he has picked up from the other kids. I’ll keep you posted!

In the meantime, we have a new puppy baby, so I’ll be able to add more toddler-training as we go, on top of the five-year-old training if and when it becomes necessary.

Our newbie is too young for any kind of training yet, though – just three months old. The only kind of training I consider her ready for at this age is classical. But I’ll get into that later…


“Stop!” is a great obedience command.

When your dog is running for the road, when your child is running toward a cliff, sometimes “stop!” becomes the most important word in the world. 

It’s also great for marking boundaries, which I’ll get to in more depth later.

How To Teach Your Puppy Toddler To Stop On Command

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Walking Off Leash

So, leashes for toddlers: that’s a thing. LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by rocketjim54

And believe me, I can sympathize.

After all, if you’re in a crowd and your child is desperately trying to get his face onto the next Amber Alert, a leash seems like a great idea.

You probably think that, as a dog trainer, I’m all for putting your tot on a leash.

Isn’t that the ultimate in treating your toddler like a puppy?

But you’re wrong.

I don’t find leashes to be useful training tools, but for dogs I recognize that they are a necessary evil.

First of all, the leash is legally required outside your own yard unless you’re in a designated off-leash area.

There’s also the slight detail that the average dog can book it at 30 km per hour, or faster, which is a bit of a problem unless you’re Usain Bolt (and I’m really, really, not).

If my dog is dragging a long leash, I just need to get within 20 feet of him and step on it. BOOM. Dog caught.

Finally, if you want to keep your dog close for safety, you can’t just, like, hold their ear. They dislike that. So a leash gives you a handle.

But it doesn’t TEACH him anything.LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by r.nial.bradshaw Candid Approach Project - The Kodak Library of Creative Photography

Teaching a dog to walk close to you is actually taught best without the frigging leash.

I find owners use the leash to drag the dog around, instead of teaching their dog what they actually want. It distracts and frustrates the dog, who feels trapped.

Now, tell me – when YOU feel trapped, does that make you feel cooperative and ready-to-learn?

I feel the same way about leashes for kids. Sure, it’ll keep them safe in a crowd but it doesn’t teach them anything.

It’s not  bad parenting, although people tend to equate it with that.

It’s just a sign that the parent doesn’t trust their kid not to take off on them.

But I’m a trainer.

I’d rather train my kid to stay close to me. I also have faith in the ability of young children to learn seemingly-impossible things. So I believed I could teach my son to stay close, even though at the time he seemed hell-bent on taking off for Abu Dhabi.

I mean, I had to teach him at some point, anyway. I can’t leash him when he’s 16 (although I’m sure sometimes I will be tempted).

Besides, my reasons for leashing my dog don’t exist when it comes to toddlers:

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  • No legal requirement to do so.
  • Even I can outrun someone who can barely walk.
  • We have these nifty dangly things called HANDS.

Hands? Are great.

We don’t need to use them to walk, which means that they’re just swinging free, which means that we can grab them and still be able to perambulate.

…Which means that there is absolutely no reason for my son to get away from me, so long as he holds my hand.

We instituted hand-holding as a rule when we first street trained him, basically from the moment he could walk.

But it was a trip to Vegas when he was 20 months old that brought us closest to considering The Leash.

The thought of your tiny one year old taking off into a crowd full of drunken, smoking gamblers can do that to you (no offence intended to any drunken, smoking gamblers who may be reading this. Well, maybe a tiny bit of offence, but just a tad).

Instead, we used it as a training opportunity.

How To Train Your Puppy Toddler To Walk Off Leash 

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Street Training: Because, You Know… SAFETY.

Roads are DANGEROUS, yo.

Over a million dogs are killed by cars in the U.S. each year, and cars are also one of the leading causes of death in children, with thousands being struck each year.

That’s why I always, always recommend street training your children and puppies.

I’m always surprised by how many people people DON’T street train.

Freedom is beautiful... except where it could end with a SPLAT

Freedom is beautiful… except where it could end with a SPLAT

Oh, I’m pretty sure every sane parent tells their kid not to run into the road, but I don’t think the rules are consistent, because they still seem to do it.

I see both dogs and small children joyously straying into the road on walks, while owners/parents panic (or don’t, which seems even stranger to me).

It’s worth the effort, trust me.

How To Street Train Your Puppy Toddler

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