Resource guarding is a natural behavior for dogs. Dogs in the wild guard resources such as food, their territory or mates. Guarding and defending these resources is a question of survival for a dog in the wild.
Domestic dogs does not of course need to guard their resources as we provide them with all they need, however the instinct to guard what a dog considers important to him/her is still there. You can compare it to a cat who might be really well-fed but who will still hunt after birds and mice, hunting is simply a part of its nature and something that would be very hard to take away.
Domestic dogs might guard anything they consider to be of value. Food is very common but also toys and places such as its bed or favorite armchair and just about any other object the dog finds value in. I even remember a little dog at a dog shelter where I did some voluntary work who guarded his bucket of water. That was really his bucket and he guarded it fiercely when we came in the cage to clean and to put in fresh water. Fortunately, he was a little dog and he could be held at bay gently pushing him away with a broomstick.
The reaction of a resource guarding dog can differ a lot. You can for example see a timid dog who holds his/her paws over the guarded object and turn his/her back towards you or simply taking the valued object and carry it in to another room. This kind of behavior is a way of saying: I want this, it is mine or please don’t take it from me.
Then there are dogs who barks and those who growls, show their teeth, snaps and finally bites if somebody gets to close to their valued object.
Extreme resource guarding behavior is often rooted in insecurity, the dog does not really trust those (people or other pets) around it and considers them as competitors to his/her food and/or belongings. If your dog displays extreme resource guarding behavior, visit this site for help.
Even though this is natural behavior for a dog it can sometimes create problems and it can even turn dangerous some times. Certain dogs becomes soo obsessive over “their” belongings that they become a threat to other pets and/or family members.
Just imagine a small child getting hold of the dog’s favorite toy or bone, this could create a dangerous situation and the child could be injured by a bite. If you have more than one dog or if the cat starts showing interest for one of a possessive dog’s belongings, this could lead to trouble. So in some cases you must change this behavior and in some cases you could simply “manage it”. Here is the different uses for these two approaches.
If you have a small child and a dog who is fiercely guarding his/her resources then you have got make him/her stop. You can never really be sure what a small child does so this behavior must be modified. However, if you have several dogs and they are fighting at feeding time then you might simply feed them in different rooms and make sure that none of the other dogs are bother a dog who is eating.
Often when a dog is fiercely guarding his/her resources it is due to insecurity. A dog acting like that does not function well socially and see everyone around him/her as a potential threat or competitor. This can make the dog irritable, angry and vigilant towards anyone it considers a competitor. A dog who feel safe, trusts his owner(s) and considers him/her as the pack leader will be less prone to guard his/her resources.
How should you act when your dog is resource guarding?
If resource guarding is a problem with your dog then how should you act to change that behavior? First of all, confrontation or punishment does not work, in fact this will probably make the problem worse. Punishing or challenging the dog will make the situation worse since the dog is feeling even more competition for its “belongings”..
You have to be subtle when dealing with a resource guarding dog. What you need to do is to make the dog feel confident and have trust in you and the other people/pets in your family. Once the dog has understood that no-one is going take his/her belongings, the resource guarding will stop.
One technique that usually works well is trading. This means that when you want to get something from your dog, you offer something else instead and thus teaching your dog to “trade” with you. You can start out like this: If your dog gets hold of something which is of “low value” to him/her (something of interest but not important to your dog) then you offer something of “high value” to trade with. A high value item could for example be a treat like a piece of chicken, beef or cheese. Something your dog finds really tasty and which your dog would gladly trade with you.
Then you present the treat to your dog and make him/her drop the object he/she is holding. You give him the treat and once he has finished it, you give him his object back. You repeat this several times and gradually moving on to things your dog put higher value in, such as his favorite toy. By doing this your dog is going to learn that you pose no threat and that he or she will get his/her possessions back if he gives it to you.
What to do if your dog is resource guarding his/her food
If your dog is guarding his her food, then what you need to do is make your dog understand that human presence near his/her food poses no threat and is actually a good thing.
Please note that if your dog’s food guarding is really serious, that he is he/she is attacking or even biting if someone gets near his/her food then you should consider getting the help of a professional dog trainer as this is a serious problem which can cause dangerous situations and thus it should be handled by a professional dog trainer or someone very knowledgeable of dogs.
If your dog’s food guarding does not pose a serious threat then you should be able to handle it yourself. The idea here is to make your dog understand that your presence around his food is no threat, on the contrary, it is something good. Start like this:
While your dog is eating, drop or throw a small tasty treat into his/her bowl and say something like: “there you go” in a friendly voice then turn around and walk away but stay just a few feet from there, enough distance so that your dog feel comfortable but close enough so that he/she can feel your presence. Repeat this process several times until your dog has finished everything in his bowl.
Keep on doing this until your dog gets comfortable having you close to his food bowl. If your dog gets nervous and/or start growling when you approach his bowl then toss the treat into (or near) the bowl from a distance. Once you have done this a few times you can try to get closer to the bowl and drop the treat in it. It is important not to push things. If your dog starts growling or snapping when you get close then you have gone to fast and you must back off a little. You should gradually get your dog used to having you near his/her food.
You should be able to get closer and closer to your dog each day and in the end your dog should be comfortable with you standing next him/her while he/she is eating.
In the final stage you can pick up the dog’s bowl with your hand, drop a treat into it and give it back to your dog.
How to prevent food guarding
If your dog is not food guarding then you have a great opportunity to prevent it from happening in the first place. Here is how it goes. In a dog’s world, the pack leader (you should be the pack leader of your dog) controls the food. The leader/leading couple always eat first and when they have finished the other members of the pack gets to eat.
This means that you and your family (if it is practical) should eat before your dog/dogs. When you have finished, you feed your dog. One trick you can use to further implement the impression that you control the food is to eat a cracker (or something) at the same time as you put the dog’s bowl down, this will further mark that you control the food and not the dog.
At the very moment your dog has finished eating (even if there is food left in the bowl) you take away the food. You should not give it back until next feeding time. This is very important because it shows that you decide and control the food your dog gets. The same thing applies to bones. If you give your dog a bone, you take it away immediately after they finished with it and give it back whenever you find appropriate.
This approach will show your dog that you are in charge and the all food comes from you and thus there is no need to guard it.
Resource guarding is a natural behavior for dogs and it is important for their survival in the wild. This can however become troublesome with our domestic dogs and thus resource guarding must be either managed or resolved.
It all depends on the nature of the problem, to whom the dog is guarding resources and how serious the situation is (A dog who will attack and bite must always be dealt with). If possible, try to prevent this problem before it occurs or handle it early before the situation gets worse. Generally speaking, this is a problem which get worse with time so handle it as soon as possible. If you need further assistance with your dog’s resource guarding you can find it HERE
So, I hope you enjoyed this post and that you found it useful. There are a lot that can be said about resource guarding and many different tricks and tips on how to solve this sometimes delicate issue. If you have any tips and tricks you would like to share then please post them below.
All the best,