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What is resource guarding?

Resource guarding (RG) is when a dog has possession of an object that HE thinks is valuable, and is growling/snapping/biting in an effort to protect/keep that object. The object may be something we deem silly, for example, a piece of kleenex is a common object dogs guard...or even empty bowls.

Some dogs will even guard spots, like a bed or couch. And in few, rarer cases dogs will see their owner is a resource and guard that person.

Why does my dog do this?

Generally speaking, RG is a genetic, inborn behavior. This behavior evolved because in the wild, possession of something important and not allowing that thing to be stolen is a matter of life and death. Many dogs retain this behavior, despite there being ample resources. Just like hunting, playing and mating, RG is a survival skill built into the dog.

In some cases, RG can be learned. This happens most often when a bored dog starts to chew objects; the owner approaches and removes the object, often times scolding the dog. Unfortunately this only teaches the dog to steal/chew objects out of your sight to avoid punishment, and/OR it will teach him that he needs to protect the object from you, as he sees you as a thief.

Things like anxiety, being in a new home, addition of another dog or pet can increase these behaviors, or cause them to appear seemingly spontaneously. Dogs that are under-confident in other aspects of their lives tend to be guarders.

Whats with all the biting, snapping, growling?

These behaviors are part of the dogs hierarchy of warnings. The warnings play out like this:

Freezing in place/hard staring

Placing face against the object, putting more paws on the object

Lip lifting


Warning/air snapping (these will not make contact)

Warning snaps with contact (does not break skin)

Biting that breaks skin

Full attack fight that must be broken up.

Generally speaking, most dogs will travel up the hierarchy, over time giving stronger and stronger warnings, until they finally end up biting or attacking. Now, how hard the dog bites, depends on his learned bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is learned as a puppy from littermates, and from his owners when he comes home. If a dog has good bite inhibition, he will be very restrained in his bites, if he has poor control, he may bite very hard, and sooner than a dog with better control.

Some dogs go up this hierarchy, gradually, over time. For example a dog being pestered by another dog while he eats may progress over weeks or months until they finally fight....other dogs may go up the warning hierarchy VERY quickly that they run through all the signals in a blink of an eye. These are the types of dogs that many people site as 'biting without warning". What actually is happening is perhaps the owner did not see the signals, or chose to ignore or punish the lower level signals

The point being, dogs do not want to attack over their object, they want to do everything possible to keep their object, but without causing harm, this is ritualized aggression. Its when the issue is pushed (for example a human that continues to take objects away despite warnings, or another dog that continues to bully the RG) the dog's behavior can, and usually does, escalate.

Should I use corrections to stop this? Isn't my dog trying to dominant me?

Dogs that RG are not trying to climb a social ladder, or overthrow the humans as the "leader". In fact, these are the dogs in the household with confidence or anxiety issues. These are dogs that are, in a sense "paranoid" that everyone is out to get their "valued thing". Confident dogs do not feel the need to RG most objects, as they are positive no one is even going to try to take their stuff.

However, most "normal" dogs, with average to high confidence, may guard som'thing of very high a piece of raw meat, a new toy etc, when the dog doesn't not normally get to have those things...Its the abnormally high value of the object that elicits the behavior.

Strangers can also create the behavior. A dog that would never RG from the family may snap at a guest... the anxiety from not knowing the person as well, triggers the behavior. Or, in the case of a party or gathering at the house, the dog may simply be over-stimulated.

Corrections for this behavior, such as yelling at the dog, making hissing sounds, physically punishing the dog, poking him, or removing the object as punishment are all methods with a very high likelihood of backfiring, and making the behavior worse. Since this is often anxiety based, punishment will only increase anxiety, and also damage your relationship with your dog; now, you two, are in conflict every time he finds an object he likes.

What should I do first?

Firstly, we want to manage (prevent) the behavior as much as possible. Pick up your clothes and things, remove dog toys and treats from the floor, moving and covering trashcans etc. Use x-pens and baby gates to keep your dog out of areas where he is going to find objects to guard.

The reason this is so important is that every time the dog practices the behavior, its becoming more and more ingrained. Preventing it helps keep the dog at the level hes already at, while you implement training. If the dog guards food/food bowls feed him separately from other dogs, preferably in his own room or crate.

For dogs that guard food bowls/food management:

If the dog is being aggressive with humans, one of the best things you can start is hand-feeding ALL meals. Many dogs do not make the connection that food comes from YOU, and instead think it magically appears in their magic bowl (hence guarding an empty bowl).

Couch/bed guarding management:

Attaching a short leash to help guide the dog off the spot will work in an emergency...but placing cardboard boxes, or other objects on the surface that discourage usage is preferred. Also remember to close doors or use baby gates to keep the dog away from the surface they guard.

Make sure to discuss the management plan with all family members so that everyone is on board and there is a better chance of success

Ok, so I am preventing the behavior, can I start training now?

Yes, but first...

All this training advice is meant as a guideline. Different dogs will progress at different rates due to temperament, history, environment, handler skill etc. Its very important to understand that RG takes a decent amount of time to "fix" with most dogs, and the training will have to be repeated, from the beginning with all other family members to ensure the dog has generalized the behavior. Patience is key.

Also, if your dog is breaking skin, you are otherwise afraid or intimidated by your dog, or you in any way feel you may be harmed (dog size is a factor to consider) than its time to hire a professional to help you. Keep in mind most trainers are not experienced in aggression cases and will not take them on, also be aware that many of the trainers that agree to take on aggression cases may not be truly qualified to do so. Your best bet is to chose your trainer very wisely or hire a behaviorist

Certification for professional dog trainers and behavior consultants
Association of Pet Dog Trainers - Dog Training Resources

International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC)

for more detailed instructions, this book is THE resource for this. Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs (9780970562944): Jean Donaldson: Gateway

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18,587 Posts
For bowl guarding:

In addition to the hand feeding, you want to teach him that you approaching his bowl means he gets more stuff...walk towards him while he's eating, stop before he growls, or growls very much and throw treats at him....over time (do not rush this) get closer and closer until you can start throwing treats in the bowl...once the dog becomes really friendly at you approaching, you can start picking up the bowl, adding treats, then returning it to him. Eventually building up to trading treats for the bowl.

Object guarding:

Let's say the dog has a piece of trash hes swiped, or a toy. In the beginning you would put a stinky treat up to his nose and say "drop it". When he drops the toy...take the item and give the treat. Then give the item back to the dog. Practice this over and over. Ideally practice this with an object of low value, that he will relinquish easily, the point is to teach him what "drop it" means. So he understands what your asking later.

Very soon, you will notice the dog dropping the item before you even get to him, or show him the treat, this is good and what you want. Ideally, you want to fade the treat-to-nose very quickly...progressing to you saying "drop it" with the treat hidden, the dog drops the object and then you say "yes" or "good dog" or whatever your marker word is, and produce the hidden treat. This is important because you don't want the dog to learn he only should drop it when you bribe him with a treat.

When you trade him for a treat AND give him his item back, he learns its awesome you touch his belongings. If you can't give the item back occasionally that's OK. That will happen. Just trade him a treat in that case. If you practice enough in other contexts, where you can give the object back, he won't care too much.

For couch/bed/spot guarding:

Its important the dog learns a solid "off" as well as an "up". Its also important he learns that he cannot go onto the spot without your permission first. For dogs that guard these spots it would likely be best if the dog is not allowed on that piece of furniture anymore, even with permission, at least not for a decent amount of time. Dogs can "ask" permission by sitting or doing another behavior of your choice first, and you can then reward them with being allowed on the spot.

To train "off" and "up" start in a spot that the dog doesn't guard, to increase chances of success....say "up" and then encourage the dog onto the piece of furniture. Verbally praise if desired, but do not treat. Then say "off" and encourage the dog off the furniture onto the floor, the second he complies say "YES" and then reward him with a high value treat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Anywhere in the house you can. You can't over practice this.

If the dog will not jump down, you can try running away from him, encouraging him to follow. Or you can use the treat as a lure. If you decide to use the lure, after three reps with the lure, switch to pretending to have the treat in your hand...when the dog complies, open your hand to show him there was no treat and then feed him from your other hand. Eventually the luring motion becomes a hand signal for "off". Try to avoid reaching for him or dragging him off by the collar if possible. You want him jumping off to be HIS idea.

But my dog guards from the other animals, now what?

This is a bit trickier to "fix". Mostly you want to manage, giving all valuable things to the RG dog while he is alone. Feeding separately etc. For lower level guarding, if the dogs are simply growling, that is som'thing that can generally be left alone IF the other dog being growled at heeds the warning. If the dogs in the home are properly socialized and speak "dog" they should take the warning and move away, and no conflict will ensue. This is healthy, normal, canine communication.

If there is growling and the other dog is seemingly oblivious to what the warning means, or seems to be antagonizing the guarding dog, you should be teaching the rude/space invading dog to stay away from the others. Leave-it works well for this...

To teach a leave it (good to teach to the RG dog also)

In conclusion, Resource guarding is very manageable, and even modifiable. One must remember to be positive, and focus on what the dog is doing RIGHT, and not the "bad" behavior. Also, keep in mind that the dog isn't likely to generalize these things to other people, and the training will have to be repeated with all dogs/family members that the dog behaves this way around, starting at square one.

Keep all the steps at the dog's pace, if there is a regression, back up a few steps and go slower, or break the steps down into smaller steps. Reaching for the dog/food/object may be obtained in a couple reps, or you may have to break it down into lifting your arm slightly, treating, lifting it more, treating etc etc...making what seemed to be ONE step into many tiny baby steps.

Happy training. :)

Thanks to everyone on the team for ideas and editing. :)
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