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”.




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

Continue reading

How to Potty Train Your Toddler the Puppy Way Part 3

My hesitancy over potty training my toddler melted away once I realized that I could apply my knowledge of puppy training to him.

The next long weekend, I booked no dog training appointments, and my husband and I shacked up in the house with a supply of Smarties (a common candy in Canada, similar to M&Ms), stickers, and hope.

Then we followed the basic rules for potty training your puppy, modified in small ways to suit a human being instead of a canine.

Rule 1

Follow the puppy around constantly. CONSTANTLY. DO NOTHING ELSE. Whenever the puppy starts to make a “mistake” in the house, immediately interrupt the behaviour by making a startling noise and picking her up.

Well, that wouldn’t do much good since our child, unlike a puppy, was wearing a diaper. The obvious solution was to strip him naked so we could see what was going on down there and catch him in the act as needed.

So we stripped him naked and watched him closely. He was standing around innocently playing with his blocks when I heard a watery little sound. Sure enough, he was urinating on his blocks.

“Uh oh! Nope! Stop!” I cried, and grabbed him by the shoulders.

Rule 2

Take the puppy to the correct location and wait and pray and sacrifice a goat in the hope that she will finish what he started.

I rushed my son to his potty, urine still a-flying from his penis.

“Pee goes in here!” I said, and the couple teaspoons-worth fell in the designated location.

Then we threw a party.

Rule 3

Whenever the puppy does happen to urinate or defecate in the right place, throw a big party. Like, Ed McMahon just showed up at your house kind of a party. Give multiple kinds of rewards – extra special treats that he never gets at any other time, AND lots of verbal praise AND petting AND a play session.smarties

I usually use cut-up hot dogs for potty training, but our human puppy found that Smarties were more motivating. This might vary from child to child.

Our son had never had chocolate before, so he thought this was a GREAT idea.

But candy wasn’t enough. He ALSO got a sticker to put on a potty chart (which was basically a piece of bristol board hung on the door for the purpose of receiving stickers). There was also a dance. And a high five. And a hug.

Since bowel movements were less common, I allocated double-reward status to those, on the recommendation of some experienced acquaintances. TWO candies and TWO stickers!

We also promised that if he managed to get ten stickers on his chart, he earned a very special reward: UNDERWEAR.

Rule 4

Give the puppy lots of opportunity for success by leading her to the right spot on a regular basis, especially after he has eaten or drank or played or sneezed or… well, you get the idea. Do it a lot.

We lead him to the potty regularly, between each activity. And if he wanted to read a book? Why he could do so on the potty and only on the potty. This Plastic God was Lord of All Good Things, and required regular visits.

Success Starts Small

looked I pooped.jpg

That first accident on his blocks was the one and only one he had in the house. He earned his underwear (NOT Pull Up diapers, because they wouldn’t show off accidents as clearly. You MUST catch accidents every time!) by the second day and pranced about happily in them.

The first time we tried leaving the house and taking a short walk around the block he wet himself. But the good news was that he recognized it immediately, thanks to the new underwear. So the mistake was caught in the act, we ran back inside, and he managed to make a bit more in the potty.

The next day, we tried a trip to the grocery store. I put him on the potty just before we went out the door, drove like a madwoman to the store, and then carried him into the grocery store and DIRECTLY into the bathroom. He was informed that a pee in the grocery store potty would result in TWO STICKERS and he complied very willingly. A quick trip around the store, a final visit to the potty, and a race home resulted in a successful accident-free trip.

Potty Training was complete.

Well, with the exception of bowel movements…

Return to Potty Training Part 2

Go On to Potty Training Part 4

How To Potty Train Your Toddler The Puppy Way – Part 2

I kept putting off potty training my son because I was afraid of failure. I had never done this before, and apparently, neither had my mother. Since I’m a first wife, my husband hadn’t either.

Then a dog training session changed all that.

Now, when I get called in for puppy training, it’s usually for things like eating shoes, walking on leash, basic obedience. Most families have already been doing the potty thing for a week or two and it’s mostly under control when I get there. I might make a few suggestions to “tweak” things, and that’s it.

But this one was different.

The poor guy, a big twenty something guy with the cutest little French Bulldog puppy you could ever hope to meet, was in a breakdown over his puppy. He was sure that he was a terrible puppy daddy and seriously considering returning the puppy to the breeder because he just wasn’t good enough for this small furry baby.

So I spent two hours there taking him through the potty training process, step by step, with lots of praise and encouragement and assurance.

(He kept the puppy and it turned out very well)

I came home asking myself, “why can’t I apply those same steps to my son?”

After all, the steps I had carefully outlined shared a lot of similarities with the advice in my potty training books:

How To Potty Train A Puppy


  • Follow the puppy around constantly. CONSTANTLY. DO NOTHING ELSE. (If anyone ever told you that raising a puppy is easy, they were wrong and possibly drunk).
  • Whenever the puppy starts to make a “mistake” in the house, immediately interrupt the behaviour by making a startling noise and picking her up.
  • Take the puppy to the correct location and wait and pray and sacrifice a goat in the hope that she will finish what he started.
  • Whenever the puppy does happen to urinate or defecate in the right place, throw a big party. Like, Ed McMahon just showed up at your house kind of a party. Give multiple kinds of rewards – extra special treats that he never gets at any other time, AND lots of verbal praise AND petting AND a play session.
  • Give the puppy lots of opportunity for success by leading her to the right spot on a regular basis, especially after he has eaten or drank or played or sneezed or… well, you get the idea. Do it a lot.

And that’s it. If you do it right, they learn very fast.

I knew that. And that meant that I totally knew how to potty train my kid.

Return to Potty Training Part 1

Go On To Potty Training Part 3

You Can Use Operant Conditioning On Your Toddler Without Being A Schmuck

please do not use on your baby.

please do not use on your baby.

If you associate dog training with the Barbara Woodhouse type of training, then you’re probably appalled by the concept behind this blog.

Don’t worry.

I’m not that kind of trainer.

Instead of force-based tactics, I use positive reinforcement and occasionally negative punishment, which are psychobabble terms for rewarding good behaviour and taking the reward away for bad behaviour.

It’s all part of operant conditioning, and that’s what I use to train dogs and babies alike.

Much of modern dog training comes from the science of operant conditioning, also known as “using subtle mind games to change people’s behavior.”

The principles behind operant conditioning are simple.

Basically, since every living thing goes through life trying to get what they want while avoiding what they don’t want, we can use this to manipulate them. If you’ve ever given a dog a treat for sitting, or handed your child a cookie when she said please, you have engaged in operant conditioning.

The big name in this field is B.F. Skinner who was this guy in the 50s who wrote a LOT of books and research papers on the subject.rat-maze-cheese

He trained pigeons to play ping pong, rats to press levers, gave them superstitious beliefs, and did all kinds of other crazy stuff.

He also watched his children very closely and tried to theorize about how operant conditioning affected their learning and behavior as they grew up.

If that sounds a little strange, you should know this:

When I first took a behavior modification class in university, my text book’s examples on how to apply the principles of behavior modification almost exclusively referenced… humans.

It talked about how to get kids to behave in the classroom, how to train autistic adults out of bashing their heads against the floor, and how to train yourself into finishing your research paper. Nary a mention of a rat to be found.


A big name in modern dog training is Karen Pryor, the former dolphin trainer who wrote a book called Don’t Shoot The Dog, which describes in detail not only how to apply operant conditioning to animals other than dolphins, but also to your guests, coworkers, father in law, and even your spouse!

Since you can’t FORCE a dolphin to do anything, her methods are strictly positive, and they work great on all species.

This is the kind of trainer I am.

It is also the kind of parent I am.

So don’t feel bad if you try out some of my dog training techniques on your toddler.

They’re already being used on humans by teachers and care workers and sneaky dolphin trainers all over the country.

I promise, I won’t recommend any choke chains or rolled up newspapers.

…For dogs OR children.