What is Resource Guarding in Dogs?
Resource Guarding in dogs is a behaviour which is displayed by dogs who do not want other dogs (or humans) to gain access to their possessions or resources. This can include:
This is a common, instinctive, behavioural problem which is can arise from genetics, past trauma (this is common in rescue dogs) or simply because there is more than one pet in the house.
In the wild dogs had to protect their resources to survive so they guarded food fiercely.
Also, have you seen a whole litter of puppies eating from the same bowl?
The puppy who manages to eat the most will become the strongest. Smaller, less confident pups will be pushed out of the way and not get their fair share of food. Signs of aggressive behaviour can be seen around food even at this young age.
Any object, which the dog perceives to be high value, can be resource guarded.
The dog may take bones, toys, socks, shoes, etc to his bed and display unwanted behaviour to warn off people or other dogs.
Body Language Used When Resource Guarding
The dog will go into a crouch position.
Ears will go back and the dog will sit very still.
He will turn his head away slightly but still look at you, sometimes showing the whites of his eyes.
The dog’s lips may be slightly pulled back.
He will growl or snap at anyone approaching.
What Makes a Dog Want To Resource Guard?
Does this scenario sound familiar?
When folding the laundry you drop a sock on the floor. The dog is inquisitive and picks up the sock, you then try to snatch it back. Afterwards, whenever the dog sees a sock he will run off with it. You chase after him shouting to give the sock back.
The dog sees the chase as a reward, it means he gets attention and might perceive your actions as playful. Consequently, whenever he sees a stray sock he will repeat this behaviour.
Resource Guarding in dogs is unacceptable and ideally needs to be prevented before it starts.
Resource Guard Training For A Puppy.
When the dog is a puppy he needs to understand that if you approach him whilst he is eating, this is not a threat.
From a very young age stay close to the puppy when he eats, talk calmly, stroke him and hand feed now and again. Make the puppy understand that he has no reason to be fearful that his food will be taken away. Make feeding time a relaxing time for your dog.
Practice approaching the dog and pop a small piece of chicken in his bowl.
This will show him that it can be a good thing if you come close to him whilst he is eating, and certainly no reason to be alarmed.
Teach the command ‘drop it’ or ‘leave it’. If the dog has a toy ask him to ‘drop it’, when he does this, give him a high value treat like a piece of chicken. Then offer his toy again and repeat the ‘drop it’ command. The dog should learn that he will be rewarded for dropping the item and will have it returned when he obeys the command. Always trade for a higher value item ie a super tasty treat that you know he loves!
If at all possible, don’t take away what they are guarding. This is what he is most fearful of and will make the item even more valuable to him. By using the bartering technique together with the drop it command the dog is assured that he does not have to guard his possessions.
Don’t shout or punish your dog. Again this will give the dog the impression that he is gaining your attention. By treating him harshly you reinforce the high value of the object. Don’t try to grab an object back, you put yourself at risk of getting bitten!
Resource Guarding Around Children
This is a really tricky problem because the last thing anyone wants is for a child to be bitten. Children are carefree, high energy individuals who don’t recognise warning signals from a resource guarding dog. If the dog shows any sign of aggression around food, feed him well away from the child. Additionally, keep the dog in another room when the child is eating and keep tables and kitchen work surfaces clear of food. Don’t let the child walk around with food or toys that the dog might want to snatch. Teach them never to approach a dog who is eating, sleeping or playing with a toy. Always seek professional advice if you are concerned about this unwanted behaviour in your dog.
What To Do When Resource Guarding Is Already A Problem
It is all well and good offering advice on how to prevent resource guarding but what if you adopt a dog who already has this behaviour instilled.
It’s common sense that if your dog exhibits guarding around food, leave well alone.
Feed the dog away from other dogs, children etc in a room on his own. Give the dog ample time to finish his meal then lift the bowl after he walks away.
Make sure that every member of the household understands that the dog is not to be disturbed when he or she is eating.
What Breeds Tend To Resource Guard?
Any breed can have resource guarding tendencies but Cocker Spaniels are especially prone to it, followed closely by Springer Spaniels. German Shepherds have a tendency to guard, along with members of the pastoral group or herding dogs like Sheepdogs.
Here is a personal story of Possession Aggression Resource Guarding
When we adopted our rescue Dachshund he was approximately two years old and aggressively guarding toys. Fortunately, he did not feel the need to guard his food or bed, but he became possessive around toys, dental chews, and bones.
If we gave a toy to him the last thing he wanted to do was play with it. Instead, he used every ounce of his energy to stop anyone taking his possession away (even though no one ever tried!)
He would go rigid and shake, baring his teeth and growling if anyone came within a six-foot parameter.
We soon realised that Darcy got no pleasure whatsoever from the toy or chew, he just had an insatiable desire to guard it.
So what did we do?
The behaviour is deeply ingrained and we were dealing with an aggressive resource guarding dog. We had to come up with coping mechanisms rather than training techniques to help with this problem.
I put a set of rules in place which meant that Darcy could still have toys and bones but we were not putting anyone at risk of being bitten.
1 I only give toys and bones when I am alone in the house.
2 Darcy gets a set time to enjoy these items without interruption.
3 I give him his own space and stay in another room.
4 After an hour I distract him by tossing a high value treat outside and shutting the door when he runs to pick it up.
5 It is then safe for me to remove the toy or bone.
6 Whilst Darcy is outside I put the item in a safe place, out of sight.
7 When Darcy returns he sniffs around a little but accepts that ‘playtime’ is over for now.
Summary For Resource Guarding In Dogs
Remember that this behaviour is natural.
Know your dog and recognise triggers.
Use training techniques with a puppy to prevent resource guarding.
Use coping mechanisms if the behaviour is already in place.
Never reprimand or punish a dog for guarding possessions, it will inflate the problem.
Seek help from a professional if you have children and recognise signs of resource guarding in a family pet.
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