Has your dog ever displayed aggressively possessive behavior towards their food, toys, a specific spot in the house, or even a person?
That aggression is known as resource guarding, a behavior that has less to do with a dog’s instincts and more to do with their comfort and trust.
Wondering how to stop resource guarding in dogs?
Although it is a natural behavior in most animals, an extreme response to somebody nearing something they believe is theirs is unpleasant, dangerous, and can stress both you and your furry companion.
In this guide, we will discuss how to train your dog to prevent this behavior, how to train them to stop it, and how to handle dog to dog resource guarding.
- Why Is My Dog Resource Guarding?
- How to Stop Resource Guarding In Dogs
- Dog to Dog Resource Guarding
- How to Prevent Resource Guarding
- What Not to Do If Your Dog Rescue Guards
- Do Dogs Grow Out of Resource Guarding?
- When Would a Puppy Need to See a Veterinary Behaviorist?
Why Is My Dog Resource Guarding?
Growling, snapping, aggressive posture, biting, staring, snaring, and barking are all signs of resource guarding.
The reason why some dogs do this is not that they are greedy little dragons who like to hoard things but because they do not feel comfortable with whoever is approaching them. It is not a display of dominance but one of fear.
They get defensive because they believe that the human who is nearing them wants to take something good away.
By training the dog to let this possessive aggression go, not only do you prevent future violent outbursts that can harm you or a family member, but you also strengthen the trust between you and your dog.
How to Stop Resource Guarding In Dogs
As this behavior is something that has to do with trust, you have to do everything you can to make your dog feel comfortable around you. Show them that if they drop what they have (be it a toy, a bone, or some dog food), they will remain happy. You can do this with operant conditioning dog training, which is when your pet changes its conduct or does something expecting an outcome.
To put it in dog terms: if I stop growling and let the bone go when my human tells me, my human will give me a treat, which is more valuable than a bone. From now on, I will not growl, and I will let the bone go when my human tells me so I can get more treats!
You can commence this behavioral pattern by training them with items they don’t pay much attention to or items they don’t consider valuable enough to get possessive over.
Give it to them, then tell them a simple word or phrase like, “drop it,” “drop,” or “let go,” which will serve as their verbal cue to release the item.
If they let it go, give them a treat, preferably in your own hand, so they can understand that you give them good things. If they don’t, place the treat near their mouth and wait until they let go of the item.
Give them the object again and repeat until they understand that they will receive good things by letting go. Work your way up until you can get them to let go of the item they are most possessive about. This is a good way to maintain positive reinforcement as a dog owner.
Here’s a great video on how to stop dog resource guarding of objects:
Food and Places
Getting a dog to stop resource guarding food and places – or territories – is a bit different than getting them to stop doing it with objects.
First, you’ll want to get them a treat they’ll like more than the food, such as a special snack specifically for dog training or meat.
As they eat, approach them, and drop the snack next to the bowl.
Leave immediately and walk past the bowl, dropping the snack as you go by. Make sure they notice the snack each time and do not give them more until they’ve eaten the last snack. Have them learn that you getting near the bowl is a positive thing.
Once this is established, kneel next to them, and try to feed them snacks from your hand. Do this for spots around the house as well.
Remember not to lean over them or make yourself seem too big. This could be seen as a challenge and make them more aggressive with their guarding behavior.
When you have visitors, and your dog runs to you, barking and snarling at the visitor as they do, it might just be because they don’t trust the stranger and feel safer with you instead.
Control this response to strangers by giving them treats when the person is near or having the visitor feed the dog themselves. Again, make sure they do not aggravate the dog by looming over them or looking at them, and only do this if you know the dog won’t respond violently.
Do not force it if your dog is clearly upset by the encounter.
Remember, this is all about making the dog feel comfortable, so keep their favorite toy, blanket, or bed nearby. Play some music, pet them, and tell your visitors to speak softly.
Dog to Dog Resource Guarding
Resource guarding between dogs is common, and it’s not as bad as you think. The body language your dogs display towards one another is just a way to communicate and tell one another they don’t want to share. Of course, the situation can always escalate to something more, so it is best to establish ground rules when dealing with two resource guarding pets.
As soon as you see unacceptable behavior from one of the two dogs, separate them and place them in two different rooms.
This should be done early because if the two different dogs get in a fight, whoever “loses” might fear the other, causing a tense and uncomfortable environment that leads to more unwanted behavior.
How to Prevent Resource Guarding
The best thing to do is stop resource guarding issues before they even start. This is easiest to do when you are raising a puppy. If you have recently adopted your pet, you need to give them proper attention. When training your dog, stay calm, approach them slowly, and have those delicious treats ready to go in your hand. It also helps to discuss your options with a certified professional dog trainer who is already familiar with resource guarding issues.
What Not to Do If Your Dog Rescue Guards
Now, let’s take a quick look at what NOT to do when preventing resource guarding.
Never Punish a Growl
Don’t punish your dog when it growls. It may make a dog bite much more likely. If you take a negative approach, your dog will learn to skip growling altogether and possibly go straight to the bite instead. Avoid hitting or yelling. These responses can increase a behavioral response in both the dog owner and the dog.
Don’t Play with the Dog’s Food or Toys
Some approach resource guarding the wrong way. Taking away their chew toy or sticking your hand in their dog food isn’t going to stop their behavior. Instead, it can make their possessive aggression worse. They can start snapping at you when you reach for their food bowl. You don’t want to teach your dog that they will lose something every time you reach for it.
Avoid Leaving Out the Wrong Items
If you know your dog resource guards certain items, then try to keep those items away to avoid the behavior. For example, if they resource guard their food bowl, then put it up and out of the way once mealtime is over.
Don’t Forget Desensitization
When learning how to stop resource guarding in dogs, the ultimate goal is to change the dog’s emotional response to the approach you take. Instead of allowing the dog to fear losing the item they love, they need to think that something positive will happen. So, positive reinforcement is encouraged when removing an item they typically guard.
Do Dogs Grow Out of Resource Guarding?
Dogs don’t grow out of guarding behaviors like this; they grow into them. This is why we need to practice the preventative measures we mentioned above. Sometimes resource guarding can go away on its own. If it is not managed, it can become worse.
When Would a Puppy Need to See a Veterinary Behaviorist?
If your puppy begins exhibiting any type of aggressive behavior, including resource guarding, growling, and biting, then you may want to consult with a veterinary behaviorist about the problem before it becomes worse. You can also consider early socialization, rewards-based training, and positive reinforcement when training your new puppy.
By training your dog to stop resource guarding, you create a better atmosphere for you and your dog. This training should be continued long after your dog stops resource guarding.
Just like a bodybuilder needs to continue training after reaching peak physical aptitude, you should continue to reward your dog’s good behavior, lest they forget that being a good dog has its perks.
And there’s everything you need to know about dog resource guarding.