How To Recognize and Prevent Resource Guarding in Dogs

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Is Your Dog Resource Guarding?

It is important to initially identify if your dog is resource guarding to determine if you need to stop the bad behavior or to prevent it from happening in the future. Research shows that most dogs show resource guarding tendencies because it is one of their natural instincts. This may have been useful for wolves in the wild or feral dogs in the streets, but for domestic dogs it is dangerous and makes living with your furry friend extremely difficult. 

Dogs can resource guard their toys, food, treats, or even spaces within the house. They can guard it from their animal siblings or friends, human parents, or guests visiting the home. If you notice your dog growling, snarling, barking, becoming rigid, or any other strange behavior over their possessions there is a good chance your dog is demonstrating resource guarding. You need to address these tendencies before they get worse.

What Is Resource Guarding?

Resource guarding is when your dog finds items, places, or even people and animals to be a valuable thing they need to guard. Common ways dogs will show they are resource guarding is by stiffening their bodies, growling, lunging, or even biting. This behavior is not ideal for domesticated dogs because they might hurt their owner or other pets in the house. 

Some dogs will not display this behavior ever, while others will show signs immediately as puppies. It is vital to determine if your dog is displaying this behavior so you can stop it from worsening. Resource guarding can display in any dog breed, it is not limited to certain breeds.

Resource Guarding Between Dogs

Dogs have been known to resource guard their items against other animals in the house. If you have another dog, cat, or animal living in your house it is important to determine if your dog is resource guarding so none of them get hurt. 

If your dog is displaying resource guarding behavior against another animal in your house you need to immediately use the steps below to stop it. In worst-case scenarios the dogs will fight over the resource and it could lead to serious injury, or even death.

Resource Guarding Between Humans

Dogs additionally resource guard their humans. This is dangerous because they could hurt you or someone within your home. 

Typical situations where dogs will resource guard against their owners is with their food, toys, and a very common place to guard is their bed, kennel, or comfortable area. Dogs will display growling, barking, stiffening, and possibly even biting. Like with any kind of resource guarding, you need to get ahead of the behavior.

How To Recognize Resource Guarding

The main forms of resource guarding are:

  • Growling
  • Freezing
  • Eating fast
  • Braced position
  • Grabbing item and promptly running away
  • Side eye staring
  • Tracking a person or pet with their eyes
  • Barking
  • Raised lips/bared teeth
  • Flattened ears
  • Intense stare
  • Snarling
  • Stiffening body
  • Fur raising on their back
  • In worst cases-Biting

But resource guarding can also be displayed in more tame manners:

  • Simple look
  • Head turn
  • Slight baring of teeth

Common Resource Guarding Items or Areas

Common resource guarding triggers:

  • Dog Food
  • Treats
  • Chews
  • Toys
  • Comfortable spaces (bed, kennel, couch, etc)
  • Their owner (Sometimes dogs will resource guard one owner against the other owner. For instance a dog might growl at the husband for trying to display affection toward his wife)

The above list is not all-encompassing, just some of the most common triggers. Dogs can resource guard virtually anything they find to be of value. A specific area in the house, a backyard, a staircase or doorway, it can be quite overwhelming!

How To Stop Resource Guarding

So you have recognized resource guarding in your dog, how do you stop it? There are several approaches you can take when training your dog against resource guarding. Start by teaching your dog counter conditioning of resources.

Take these steps:

  • As soon as you see your dog resource guarding, find a treat that your dog loves more than anything. This can be anything from a piece of meat, to their favorite store-bought treat. Make sure it is something they can eat quickly, so they don’t start resource guarding that item as well.
  • Identify the distance at which your dog starts to resource guard when you, or another animal approaches. There is typically a set distance when they will begin to show signs of resource guarding. The key is to find the sweet spot distance, where they show small signs of resource guarding but are not dangerously defensive. If your dog starts to eat quickly when you’re 5 tile spaces away from them, then move 10 tile spaces away. This is important to determine the distance and threshold for guarding. (The way you identify the spacing is completely up to you, whether it be tiles in the kitchen, feet or inches, or even just eyeing the distance).
  • Allow your dog to eat their meal as usual or eat their bone, then walk away from them.
  • After you have walked away, come back to that 10 tile spaces away we identified before, where the dog is not defensive.
  • Once you’re at the 10 tile spaces, come a little closer but not quite to the 5 tile spaces (their distance threshold=where they get defensive). When you are there, toss one of their treats to them. As soon as they have consumed the treat, give them another one. You can keep doing this a few times before you walk away completely.

Continue the above approach each time your dog has something that they are guarding.

  • After you have done this several times, begin to come closer to the dog’s distance threshold and even surpass it. This is allowing the dog to learn that they are rewarded when their distance threshold is crossed. This process cannot be rushed, you must be patient to allow your dog to understand and gain your trust.
  • If your dog continues to show signs of resource guarding, take the training back to the step before. You do not want to continue pushing your dog past their comfort level.

Next steps to be aware of when training your dog not to resource guard:

  • Allow your dog to eat in peace

Where a dog eats is very important, they do not want to be disturbed. It is your responsibility as an owner to ensure that your dog has a place to eat where they feel safe. If they do not currently have an undisturbed area where they can eat their meals, consider setting up that space for them. You can simply put a gate up or close the door, just so that they feel more secure. 

Most resource guarding tends to stem from the lack of safety they feel during mealtime. This is a great step to take to limit the insecurity level.

  • Teach your dog to drop it and leave it

This trick is important to teach your dog to avoid getting bit, when you need them to drop something they should not have in their mouth.

  • Teach your dog to come when called

This trick is important so that once you have your dog “drop it and leave it” you can tell them to “come”. This is so that they are not tempted to pick up the resource once again. They have come to their owner and the owner is more in control of the situation.

If you have followed these steps and your dog is continuing to push back and not improve, it might be time to take your dog to a behavior specialist trainer. Some dogs need additional help, and that is okay. Every dog is different and will learn at their own pace.

Almost as important as teaching a dog owner what to DO when training their dog is to warn them about what NOT to do when training. There are common rumors and bad practices when training your dog against resource guarding. See below to avoid making these mistakes.

What NOT to do when training your dog:

Punishing your dog’s growl will stifle their display of emotion. Dogs use their body language and their barking and growling to communicate their feelings and warn others that they are upset. Get ahead of the actual problem before punishing their natural defense mechanism.

  • Don’t “play” with their toys, food, or bones

People are often under the assumption that playing with your dog’s items will help them to understand that the owner is the boss and “alpha”. This is not the best course of action. If anything, this will make the dog resource guard more because they do not understand what their owner is doing, they just see it as taking their precious resource.

  • Don’t leave out the items that your dog guards 

If your dog has items that they regularly guard, it is important to take them away until the dog has displayed improved behavior after taking steps and training them. If your dog is carrying the item around simply trade them for something they will like better. This can be a simple treat or something they don’t get very often. Then they will see that they are being rewarded for giving up their resources.

How To Prevent Resource Guarding

So maybe you have a puppy who has not yet displayed signs of resource guarding, this is good! But, it is important to take steps to prevent this from becoming a problem in the future. Follow these tips for your puppy or new dog to prevent resource guarding:

    • Allow your dog to eat and chew without being bothered. There is no reason for you to stick your hand in their bowl, or pet them while they eat. This will make them start thinking that their food is not safe from being taken away.
    • Practice trading up with your dogs chews and treats. If they set down a toy, or give it to you, give them something better in return! This will teach them that they can expect an abundance of resources from their human.
    • Teach your puppy how to drop it and leave it. This is an important trick to teach them so that they will obey their owners when they are eating something that is bad for them. Then the owner doesn’t have to grab it out of their mouth and risk getting bit.
    • Manage your dog’s environment. Do not chase after your dog to take something from them. This will either make them think you are playing a game, or they will be frightened and be prone to aggressive behavior in the future.
    • Properly socialize your dog. If dogs are properly socialized with other humans, dogs, and animals then they will be less likely to have resource guarding tendencies.

Next Steps To Stop Resource Guarding

Continue to follow the steps provided above to recognize and prevent resource guarding for your dog. Dogs enjoy feeling secure and it is our responsibility as owners to ensure that their needs are being met at all costs. Remember, if you have done everything you can do as an owner to prevent your dog from resource guarding and it continues, you need to seek out an expert. Research trainers that specialize in resource guarding and behavioral issues to get the best help possible.

Let us know in the comments below if this article was helpful with training your dog to stop resource guarding or prevent it entirely. What topics would you like to read about next?

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