The toy falls in the wrong place, exactly in the middle of both Kenzo and Viva and they have an equal opportunity to reach it. When one of your dogs is a resource guarder, like Viva, it is a disaster waiting to happen. A resource guarder has to own whatever it is they value high, usually a toy or food. And they'll fight to get it.
When resource guarding would lead to a conflict their relationship could be disturbed for ever. And I know plenty of people that had to give up one of their dogs because it has gotten totally out of hand and the relationship seemed beyond repair.
Managing Viva's resource guarding has therefore always been a big deal to me. The very first time I tried to play with Viva, now three years ago, I remember she left me baffled. She would take the toy as far away from me as possible, and her body stiffened as I tried to approach her. Since then, I worked with her, two or three times a day, to reach where we are today.
The obvious thing to do was to exchange the toy for a treat, and then give it back again, so Viva learns I won't take it away and it is fun to let me have the toy for a moment. Like we did with Kenzo, when he was a puppy, to socialize him how to interact with people and dogs when there are toys in the mix.
But that was a bridge too far for Viva, and the first half year just went by letting her have it, and acting casual and not interested around her when she had a toy. Then when she started to trust me with her toy around, I started making "play-ish" movements in her direction, which she recognized as play, yet kept her distance, but the blink in her eyes revealed she was enjoying it.
I think it was somewhere near the end of that first year Viva decided to make the next step. When I stopped that day with our game - of still making "play-ish" movements in her direction - and put my attention elsewhere, I noticed Viva was approaching me ... with her toy. She didn't want me stop. Finally we could get started with our training, and soon after we made our very first toy-for-treat exchange.
One-and-a-half year in she started to enjoy teasing me with her toy. Sometimes I found Viva standing beside me, pushing her toy against my hand. When I reached out she turned her head or made a step back so I couldn't reach it. After a second, I could feel her touching my hand again, asking for more. And when she dropped the toy she pushed her nose against my pocket, "treat please! didn't you notice?".
Although Viva and me were good now, it took longer with Kenzo in the equation. Thankfully Kenzo is blessed in being the absolute opposite of a resource guarder, and already proved he can cope with resource guarders before. But Viva remained more fierce towards Kenzo if he would run off with her toy. Kenzo quickly dropped it again, as soon as he discovered Viva noticed him. These next shots show how careful he is around Viva and a toy:
Kenzo sneaks in when he notices Viva drops her toy
Just Viva's head turn makes Kenzo hit the emergency brakes
Viva has it again ... of course
As it slowly became more clear to Viva that Kenzo was not out on owning what is "hers", she could relax more. At least during that second year, we could have toys laying around, and we could start trusting her enough not to start a fight over it.
Of course Kenzo took advantage of the fact Viva was getting more relaxed, and started to tease her by keeping a toy longer in an attempt to invite Viva to chase him, after which he quickly dropped the toy. And ran a little further, just in case. And so we slowly reached into the third year, where we finally noticed if the toy would end up in the middle of them like in the photo above, Viva was ok with letting Kenzo have it. Also for a longer while.
And this month we had our first encounter where they found themselves both on the end of a tug-of-war rope, and after a second that seemed to last a century, Viva let it go, for the very first time, and chased Kenzo-with-rope instead, because that is a lot more fun.
We can all relax a little bit more now, and although I think it is not necessary anymore to oversee and help them in their play, I think I'll keep my eyes open for a while still, just in case.