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.
Although it is 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?
Growling, snapping, aggressive posture, biting, staring, snaring, and barking are all signs of resource guarding.
The reason why some dogs do this is, not because 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 possessiveness 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 Get Your Dog to Stop Resource Guarding
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 food), they will remain happy. You can do this with operant conditioning training, which is when your pet changes their 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 treat, which is more valuable than 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.
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 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.
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 have a violent response.
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 each other 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 pets who are resource guarding.
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 dogs get in a fight, whoever “loses” might develop a fear of the other, causing a tense and uncomfortable environment which leads to more unwanted behavior.
By training your dog to stop resource guarding, you are creating 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 they reach 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.