How To Treat And Prevent
Is your pup possessive about toys?
Does your dog growl when you or another dog approaches his food bowl?
Does he snap at you when you even step near him when he has a bone?
Or show his teeth when you approach the couch?
All of these situations listed above are common examples of resource guarding.
What Is Resource Guarding?
Simply put, it is when a dog controls access to food, objects, people and locations that are important to him through defensive body language or overtly aggressive behavior.
A resource guarder will not tolerate competition and will guard the resource to maintain priority access.
Resource guarding is actually a relatively common canine behavior and is influenced by a number of environmental and situational stimuli, including a dog’s natural instinct to survive.
Guarding resources is usually a manifestation of the dog’s deep-rooted insecurity and inability to cope well in a social situation, even with people and other dogs he knows.
An insecure dog can see anyone as a potential threat to a resource, whether that resource is food, toys, space, a mate or access to a particular person. The threat of losing the resource, and the good feeling that the resource provides, makes a dog more angry and irritable.
This is where things may get tricky, as there are two main types of resource guarders: those that guard from humans, and those who guard from other dogs.
Typically, dogs that guard resources from people (often their owners) possess more deep-rooted issues that are more complex and difficult to overcome than when this behavior occurs toward another dog.
For that reason, if your dog is guarding resources from you or another person, I'd highly recommend consulting with a behaviorist who can walk you through this delicate process.
With that being said, there is a lot one can do to prevent or treat resource guarding between dogs.
Preventing Resource Guarding
While prevention isn’t helpful once the problem has begun, don’t miss the chance to prevent resource guarding before it rears its jealous head.
Say you have a new dog, Bobby, and a resident alpha dog, Nolan. You can teach Nolan that a treat to Bobby leads to a treat to Nolan. And vice versa.
It’s quite easy to do:
When you pop a treat in one dog’s mouth, immediately give the other dog a treat as well. Then reverse the order.
I’m doing this right now with my foster dog Riley. Every night after dinner all the dogs get a treat. I’ll walk into the dog room and the dogs will cluster around.
First, I’ll say “What do good dogs do?” They all know that they are supposed to sit when I say that.
Then I’ll say the name of one dog, perhaps Juneau and let her get some treats. Grizzly knows to wait his turn, but if Riley moves forward I merely move forward a step to block her. I also say “UH UH” to her, too.
When she backs off, I’ll then say her name to allow her some treats, then quickly say Grizzly’s name and let him do the same. Then back to Juneau and all around about 3 or 4 times so that all the dogs learn that being patient and polite pays off!
However, I would never suggest doing this if you already have tension between your dogs. This is prevention, not a treatment. Think of this exercise as either the first step to prevent trouble when none yet exists, or the end game if you already have problems.
Another caveat: Pay attention to the level of arousal.
If the dogs begin to get excited and pushy, ask them to sit and calm down. You want the dog to learn that being polite and patient gets the treat, not pushy and demanding.
What Do I Do if My Dog Is Already Guarding Resources?
1. Until you are able to work with a dog trainer/behaviorist, manage the situations that the resource guarding is occurring in.
2. Determine what situations the resource guarding is happening and be VERY specific. Is it over food? Any food or a certain kind? Inside, outside, on the bed? Try to find the root and be as specific as possible.
3. Prevent these situations from happening! Every instance that the food guarding does happen, it is a step backwards in working through the root cause.
Feed the dogs in separate rooms, give treats in separate rooms, do whatever to can to prevent it while you work through the deep-rooted issue with your behaviorist.
4. Teach impulse control! This is an indirect way of handling the problem, but it definitely helps with the process.
Dogs who resource guard are often dogs who cannot handle not getting what they want when they want it. Teaching self control is extremely beneficial for all dogs, especially ones who resource guard.
Commands such as...
'Wait', 'Lay Down', 'Stay', and 'Leave It', are all great exercises to teach and practice self control.
Your trainer should work with your dogs through a more direct process of desensitization and counter conditioning to treat the resource guarding.
The ultimate goal of this process is to take the trigger that is producing an unpleasant response in your dog’s mind (and thus, making him feel the need to react and be aggressive), and replace it with positivity so that he feels confident and that the situation is positive, instead of negative.
This is a process that takes time and control to really work through, so do not feel discouraged if your dog’s resource guarding is not solved after one session!
Below is an example of how I would work with a dog resource guarding his food bowl:
• Begin by changing the situation and provide a new food bowl in a different location for your dog to eat.
• Vary meal times so that your dog never has the chance to become tense when his body clock tells him it is time to eat.
• Utilize the 'empty bowl method'. Pick up your dog’s bowl and make it look like you are filling it with his food. Place the empty food bowl on the ground in front of him. Wait for him to check it out, see there is nothing there, and look up at you. As soon as he looks at you, praise him and add a bit of food into his bowl.
• After your dog has finished eating the food, wait for him to look at you again and add more food into his bowl.
• Repeat this until all the food has been eaten. Walk away from his bowl and then back and add a little more. This shows your dog that your approach and presence at his food bowl means he is going to get more food and you are a positive part of his feeding experience.
• Feed your dog in this way for a week, and as he becomes more relaxed with your presence close to his bowl, gradually add larger handfuls of food until you get to the point where you can put down a full food bowl and he can eat with you standing right next to him.
• The next level is to practice walking by an empty bowl and throwing a piece of high value food such as chicken into it. Every time you approach your dog’s empty bowl, your dog will see your approach as something good.
• The last stage of this treatment is to throw a desirable treat into your dog’s bowl as he is in the process of eating. By this time, he should be much more relaxed with your presence and able to accept you being close to him as he eats.
Should I Punish My Dog for Resource Guarding?
If you’ve read enough of my blogs, you know that I support only positive reinforcement training methods.
While there will always be those that object to positivity in every situation, I truly believe it is the only way to truly win over your dog and have a quality relationship with them; one where they want to listen to you and obey your commands.
With that being said, some people still misunderstand why their dogs guard and why there is social competition, therefore, many owners of resource guarders often get angry and confrontational with their dogs.
Confrontation, however, only increases competition and causes the dog to guard the contested resource even more. Using physical punishment on a resource guarding dog is the exact opposite of what you need to do.
Instead, make sure you understand your dog’s situation and work to instill more confidence in him, so that he feels less threatened by your presence.
When working to rehabilitate a dog that aggressively guards his resources, he should not be forced into submission or physically punished!
It is much more effective to use counter conditioning to alter a dog’s behavior... without your dog ever realizing that you are doing so! That, my peeps, is the epitome of masterful dog training!!