Help and a new home for a dog who guards her toys

Dog who guards her toys gets training to help her learn to trade toys for treats and is then adopted by a couple who are continuing her training.
By Nicole Hamilton

Mariluz and Kam first met Ruthie when they visited the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in New York City in search of a dog to adopt. Like a lot of people, they were drawn to Ruthie’s sweet, silly face and big goofy ears. But as they learned more about her, they were even more captivated by how she overcame big challenges in order to find a home. That just made them love her more.

A close-up of the face of Ruthie the tan and white dog with upright ears

Helping a dog learn new skills

Ruthie, like all dogs at the center, was transferred from Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC). As the staff got to know her, they noticed that Ruthie guarded her toys, and she could be quite stubborn when out on walks. These two challenges would make it trickier to find her just the right home, so the team set out to help her.

The more the staff worked with Ruthie, the more they saw that she wasn’t a tough case. She was easy to work with and would do just about anything for a treat. “We would use treats to guide her on the walks to keep her motivated,” says Lucy Beisenbach, adoption specialist for Best Friends in New York. With time and patience (plus treats), Ruthie showed much less of her tendency to guard her toys. She would still need a home with people willing to continue her training. That’s where Mariluz and Kam came in.

Ruthie the dog out on a walk on a sidewalk with an Adopt Me leash

Fostering to adopt: A win-win

Ruthie the dog wearing a lumberjack costume for HalloweenMariluz and Kam wanted to adopt Ruthie the day they first met her at the center, but they thought it was best to go home and think things over. After all, adopting a dog is a big decision, and Ruthie was still working on some toy guarding tendencies.

They were still mulling over a possible life with Ruthie when they saw an Instagram post noting that she was still at the center and ready for a family. That’s when they realized the only home they could imagine Ruthie in was theirs. They returned to the center to adopt her.

Mariluz and Kam took Ruthie home on a foster-to-adopt trial period. Then, if everything worked out, they could complete the adoption. If it didn’t work out, Ruthie would have had a couple weeks to practice her new skills in a home.

After two weeks at Mariluz and Kam’s place, they brought Ruthie back to the center. But it was only a formality. They brought her along on their visit to make the adoption official. Ruthie was home for good.

Baby steps, big changes

Life for Ruthie is good these days. “She’s a big time couch potato, loves to snuggle and sleep in our bed,” says Mariluz. “Even though she is almost seven, she behaves just like a six-month-old puppy. She likes to play with everybody. She’s really sweet and respectful.”

As for Ruthie’s toy guarding issues, she’s made tremendous improvement. Mariluz began by giving her one toy a day. “Eventually, she understood that we weren’t going to take the toy away,” says Mariluz. “Then we got her a new more exciting toy, and it was the same process.”

After Ruthie got her third toy, she stopped guarding them. “Baby steps,” says Mariluz. “She’s been with us only about two months and she has improved so much. I couldn’t be more proud.”

How to help a dog stop guarding things

Ruthie the dog walking around some orange traffic cones

Patience pays off

Mariluz says that adopting Ruthie has taught her that life isn’t always what you expect. Every time she opens the front door after a long day at work and is greeted by Ruthie’s beautiful smile, she knows adopting her was the right decision.

“Our home feels so much different since she’s with us,” says Mariluz. “We spend more time together as a family. She has shown us how to be patient — like real patient — and how to love unconditionally.”

Adopt a dog near you

Ruthie the dog getting up on a small table with a red bucket on it

Best Friends in New York works collaboratively with city shelters, local animal welfare organizations and individuals to save the lives of pets in shelters in New York City and the surrounding tri-state area. As part of this work, Best Friends has a national lifesaving concept space and pet adoption center in SoHo, hosts adoption and fundraising events, and runs a foster program in partnership with Animal Care Centers of NYC. Together, we will Save Them All. 

Photos by Robert Stoetzel and Stacey Axelrod