Resource Guarding – important details you need to know
Why do dogs resource guard?
Resource guarding is a natural canine behavior that serves to let other members of their social group know, “This item is mine, so back off!” To dogs, this is a normal occurrence and they tend to respect the warnings from each other. For dogs living in a human world, it could be an unsafe behavior, especially if there are kids around. Children can’t read dog cues as well as adults can. Even some adult humans don’t fully understand all the subtle cues dogs use to try to communicate with us, which can be dangerous if you are living with a resource guarder.
How do I know if my dog is resource guarding?
Dogs tend to resource guard food, toys, bones, water, beds, or any other items they find valuable. The dog may freeze when approached, start eating faster, place themselves between you and their item, lay on the item, pick it up and move further away from you with it, and in more severe cases will show the whites of their eyes, growl, snarl, and possibly even lunge to bite or actually bite.
What do I do if my dog is a resource guarder?
Some people take different approached to having a dog who resource guards. Some people understand this is a natural dog behavior and just let the dog be, and won’t bother it when it has something of value or while it is eating. This approach is fine if there are just adults in the house, but if there are young kids, you always run the risk of an unsupervised child accidentally approaching the guarding dog and getting bit. If you have young children and a guarding dog, you should only provide the dog the high-value item when they are safely blocked off from the children and then pick up and remove the item when you cannot safely supervise the interactions. You should also consult a trainer or behaviorist just to be on the safe side.
Another way to address this behavior is to teach your dog there is no reason to guard resources. Here are some tips on how to do that:
- Never take an important resource away from your dog unless there is an immediate safety concern. Some people think that to prevent resource guarding you should occasionally go and take items from your dog, but this actually makes resource guarding worse because you are teaching them they do need to guard the item in order to not have it taken away.
- If you have an established resource guarder, you can try to switch up the environment by providing new bowls, beds, and toys and switch up where these things are in the house. Then start positively interacting with your dog near these items so they know you are not a threat and not trying to take resources away from them.
- NEVER punish a dog for guarding. This just solidifies that you are a threat and will make them want to guard more severely. Punishing a growling dog is “taking the tick out of the time bomb.” You will teach your dog not to warn you, and instead they will be quicker to bite.
- For mild resource guarders, teach your dog that resources come from you rather than get taken away from you. Drop a handful of kibble into their bowl at mealtime, and then wait for them to look at you for more. Repeat this for the whole meal. While they are eating or chewing on a favorite toy, whenever you walk by you can throw some yummy treats by them. If you need to take an item, or want to teach them it is OK to relinquish an item to you, offer them a trade. Offer the yummiest treat you have by throwing it slightly away from the high-value item. When the dog goes to get the treat, pick up the item then offer it right back. You can also train “drop it” and “leave it” so that you can safely take high-value items away if you need to.
- For moderate to severe resource guarders, consult a behaviorist or dog trainer.