Defining Resource Guarding
Resource guarding occurs when dogs exhibit behaviors like growling, lunging, or biting over food or toys.
This behavior is also known as “possessive aggression” and may occur in dogs of any breed.
Training early and often can help discourage resource guarding before it becomes too problematic.
Dogs find a variety of things valuable, from food to your favorite sweater. But, some might growl, stiffen, lunge, or bite when you go near or try to retrieve something from them. Resource guarding, as it’s called, is a valuable instinct for feral dogs, because it allows them to survive on limited means in the wild. But it’s not such a great trait for domesticated animals. So, how do you get your dog to stop resource guarding?
Experienced dog owners and dog-aware people usually know not to disturb an animal while they’re eating or enjoying a toy. Simply put, you never can anticipate how they will respond. Some dogs are indifferent to being petted, interrupted, or accidentally bumped into during mealtime or playtime. However, others mind such disturbances very much.
Occasionally, this behavior extends beyond food and toys. That resource guarding is also known as “possessive aggression.” From a dog’s point of view, possession, like in real estate, is nine-tenths of the law. That real estate might range from a nesting spot to a preferred human.
An Ounce of Prevention
Young puppies are prone to guarding behavior because they often have to compete with their littermates for limited amounts of food. Breeders often feed puppies from one large communal pan, and the puppy who manages to eat the most will grow the quickest and become the strongest. If a breeder is not observant, this situation can deteriorate into one or two puppies monopolizing most of the food. A history of being rewarded for aggressive behavior can become firmly established in these puppies.
If you have a new puppy or adult dog who doesn’t guard things, it’s important to do some simple exercises to prevent the development of guarding behavior. As soon as you bring your new dog home, make sure you hand feed several meals. Sit with your dog and give him his kibble one bite at a time. During hand-fed meals, speak pleasantly to your dog and stroke him while you offer him food with your other hand. If he shows any discomfort or wariness, stop hand feeding him and see the exercises outlined below. If your dog seems calm and comfortable with hand feeding, switch to holding his bowl in your lap and allowing him to eat from the bowl. Continue to speak to him and stroke his head and body while he eats. After a few meals, place your dog’s bowl on the floor and, as he eats his regular chow, periodically reach down to drop in a piece of something especially tasty, like a small bite of cheese, chicken or beef. If you do this intermittently for the first few months after you bring your dog home, he should remain relaxed and unthreatened by your presence while he eats.
Discovering the Behavior
Chances are, you won’t know that your dog has tendencies toward resource guarding until they start exhibiting them. There are body language signs to watch for when a dog is attempting to ‘guard’ an item. These include stiffening of the body over an item, a hard stare, ‘whale eye’ (when dogs show the whites of the eyes), lifting of lips, low growling, and baring of teeth.
“Any dog can be prone to resource guarding. It’s not specific to one breed, “A dog who comes from a breeder could have resource guarding issues, but a dog from the shelter may not. It all depends on the individual dog. The environment a dog grows up in could also dictate whether they have resource guarding issues or not.”
Dogs who behave like this don’t distinguish between those who are going to take something away from them and those merely passing by. It only matters what they think might be a threat to their items. They are responding to the trigger, not the actual action. This is one reason why resource guarding is problematic and potentially dangerous behavior in a pet.
Discouraging Resource Guarding
“Your best bet is to start training early to prevent resource guarding from developing,” Of course, that’s not always possible, especially if you rescue an adult dog from a shelter or inherit one from a family member. You can work with dogs who resource guard food, for example, by slowly desensitizing them to your presence around high-value items.
“Tether your dog to someplace heavy and durable. Stay 6–8 feet away from the dog and toss food, such as chicken or hot dogs, in the dog’s general direction, “Walk by the dog and throw the food, but don’t stop moving. If the dog gives you warning signals like stiffening the body or a raised lip, you have wandered too close. Once you’ve done this a few times, watch to see if the dog’s body language has changed. If they look up at you in a happy way, anticipating food will be coming their way, then you may move a little closer.”
Go through this process slowly and avoiding rushing the dog. The end goal is for you to be able to approach the dog’s bowl without having them feel threatened or stressed. However, is advisable asking professional trainers to help take on this task, to provide tips and tricks to guide you along.
Deciding Between Dogs and Humans
Some dogs develop resource guarding after reaching adulthood and become unusually protective about their food, toys, and beds. Before training these dogs, a veterinary visit should always be a priority. A change in behavior or a sign of aggressive behavior may mean that there could be an underlying medical issue.
In such instances, its recommended consulting either a vet or animal behaviorist to put a treatment plan into play. But that treatment isn’t always directed at the dog. Those who live in the household, especially children, must learn management skills. Of utmost importance, is to refrain from any type of punishment.
“No yelling at your dog, screaming at the dog, or hitting the dog to ‘exert dominance, This may only serve to worsen the behavior.”
Unfortunately, resource guarding, in some cases, leads to biting. If such an event occurs, In these cases it is strongly suggested calling in a behaviorist immediately to impartially determine an outcome. This is especially important if babies or toddlers live in the home.
When left unchecked, resource guarding can become problematic, and even dangerous, behavior. Therefore, it’s important to seek professional help sooner rather than later to address the issue.
At Southernwind we always give advice to our new puppy owners what to do so this behavior doesn't escalate in any aspect. First we always explain the definition of of the resource guarding and why it could happen and we explain step by step what to do with the puppy and how the family needs to share the same type of conduct and structure, its a team work, so the puppy doesn't feel threatened by anyone in the family ! If the exercises are carried correctly and the dog receives the structure we explain and advice, this will not happen. The key to this and many situations with puppies is at the new owner hands, sometimes they are not realizing they are allowing wrong behavior being installed and many times even praising the behavior without noticing they are doing it. for this reason we strongly recommend the advice of good trainers who know what they are doing and know how to really read a dogs body language to be able to anticipate the actions.