Some people have never heard the term “resource guarding” but when I describe what the behavior looks like, ding, ding, ding, ding!! Alarm bells go off in their head, recognition hits and they put a term to a behavior they’ve seen in their dog or someone else’s dog. So what is resource guarding?

What is Resource Guarding?

If you learn one thing from this blog, please understand that resource guarding behavior is 100% natural for a dog. (We’ll circle back to this).

Resource guarding is when a dog feels the need to protect something in their environment because they are concerned it may be taken away. Like in “The Lord of the Rings”, think of Golem and “my precious!” There are 2 basic parts to think about with guarding – what the dog guards and who the dog guards it from. The most common object to guard is (you guessed it!) food. Other things a dog might guard include toys, space on the bed or couch, dirty laundry, or a person. There’s honestly no limit to what a dog can choose to guard and often you’re left wondering “why in the world would my dog need to guard THAT?” The second part to think about is who the dog is guarding from, including dogs, humans or any other creature that your dog is concerned might “take” their object, or all of the above.

 

What does Resource Guarding Look Like?

Resource guarding looks ugly, honestly. Your dog may simply freeze or growl when someone comes near his “precious” object, or he may growl, lunge, airsnap or bite. If you’re observant, noticing the freeze that a dog gives is super helpful. A freeze might look like: you’ve just fed your dog dinner and walked away from the bowl area. You realize you needed to get the towel you left on the counter over by Spot’s feeding area. So you walk back over to retrieve it and see Spot stop eating and his whole body freeze while he observes what you’re doing. You can see his eyes track you, but the rest of his body remains frozen, unmoving. Chances are the growl may start at this point, and hopefully no other aggressive behaviors. Back away slowly!

Resource guarding can also look like: 

  • Your first dog is happily playing with a toy by himself and your other dog comes into the room and immediately, your first dog freezes
  • You are feeding your dog and when your child wanders into the area for a hug from you, your dog growls ferociously and lunges toward the child, teeth bared
  • You are enjoying some quiet time on the couch in the evening with one dog when your second dog approaches you and your first dog on the couch immediately stands up, growls, and leans forward on his front legs
  • Your dog is enjoying a special bone when your second dog comes over to see what’s going on and your dog leaves the bone and attacks the second dog

Why does my Dog Guard???

The main reason a dog guards objects and people is the fear that the thing will be taken away. The behavior can stem from fear and uncertainty, anxiety, and/or frustration. It’s important to understand that this behavior is a natural behavior, part of a dog’s instinct to survive. You may be thinking, “But I gave him the bone, why does he guard it from me?” Or “But my son was just walking past, not trying to take the bone. Why did the dog attack?” To us, it may not make sense. We are able to reason that there is no danger in the situation at all. We can see the whole picture, including intent. From the dog’s perspective, it’s truly a need to guard so it won’t be taken away, (even if you’ve never taken anything away from your dog).

Some other reasons dogs might guard items are more individualized. For example, severe hunger for prolonged periods of time, stress, pain and/or medications can cause a dog’s normal behavior to change from how they would typically react to a more defensive position. Some dogs learn to guard because of improper play, teasing or threatening. I worked with a Basset Hound puppy whose owner and roommates thought it was great fun to mess with the dog while he was on a soft blanket. I’m not exactly sure what manner of play they did, but the dog learned to guard his blanket when anyone came near. It’s important to know that when I worked with this young pup, he had already been relinquished because of what was considered “bad” behavior and I was working with a rescue to undo all of the learned behaviors this puppy learned in a short period of time.

What do I do about my dog’s resource guarding?

  1. Never punish – punishing your dog for a behavior can lead to increased aggressive behaviors and much more, especially when the dog perceives the behavior as important for survival.
  2. Respect the growl – in the behavior world, we LOVE the fact that the dog can growl because it’s information that the dog is uncomfortable with his situation. If we ignore or punish the growl, he can learn to skip the growl and go straight to a bite.
  3. Make a list of the times that your dog has resource guarded and put a management plan in place for each location for everyone’s safety. This can include doors, gates, tethers, but should always include a safe place for the dog to have the item where no one is in danger.
  4. Call a certified behavior consultant or veterinary behaviorist for help with training. There are many details that need to be considered and can be different for each case. A qualified professional is definitely the way to go!

Is Resource Guarding Trainable?

YES!! With time, patience, consistency and careful training, we can help our dogs begin to feel better about what is going on around them when they are in these situations. Recognizing that your dog is not acting out of malice, but out of natural instinct, is the first step. Management for safety is the next step and reaching out for qualified help is the third. Some cases can be helped quickly and some cases may take a little longer. Be willing to help your dog with patience and good training and you are on your way to a calmer way of life.

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