Understanding Resource Guarding in Dogs

Oct 9, 2023 | Dog Behaviour

Rottweiler, amidst an array of dog toys and bones scattered on the grass.

What is Resource Guarding?

Resource guarding is a natural behaviour in which a dog becomes possessive or protective over a particular item or person. This item can be food, toys, or even a favoured human. In nature, this behaviour ensures survival by protecting essential resources. In a domestic setting, however, it can lead to tension or aggression. Guarding behaviour is usually a learned strategy yet it also has a genetic component. If you would like to read more on this subject, checkout our article “Is aggression genetic or learned”.


How to Stop Resource Guarding

Identify the Trigger

Recognising what triggers your dog’s resource guarding behaviour is essential. Observe under what circumstances your dog becomes possessive. It could be with food, toys, spaces, or even people. Once identified, you can begin to work on addressing the specific cause.

Desensitisation

Desensitization involves gradually and repeatedly exposing your dog to the trigger in a non-threatening way. Start with the trigger at a distance or intensity that does not provoke a guarding response and reward your dog for remaining calm. Gradually decrease the distance or increase the intensity over time, always rewarding calm behaviour.

Avoid Confrontation

Confrontation can reinforce the dog’s belief that they need to protect their resources. Instead of forcibly taking the item away, trade with something of higher value or use a command they’re trained to respond to, like “drop” or “leave it.”

Diversion

If your dog shows signs of guarding, redirect their attention to another activity or command. Having a set of established commands that your dog reliably responds to, such as “sit” or “come,” can be very helpful. Offering an alternative toy or initiating a play session can also redirect their focus.

Professional Help

Resource guarding can sometimes be complex to address, and if the behaviour doesn’t improve or escalates, it’s advisable to seek help from a professional dog behaviourist. They can provide a tailored approach suitable for your dog’s specific needs.


Key Takeaways: Understanding Resource Guarding

AspectDetails
Nature of Resource GuardingA natural behavior where dogs become possessive over items or people, rooted in survival instincts.
Mitigation TechniquesInvolves identifying triggers, desensitization, avoidance of force, using diversion tactics, and seeking professional assistance.
Managing with Other DogsRecommendations include separate feeding times, ensuring ample resources, supervised play, and group training sessions.
Resolution of Resource GuardingWith appropriate strategies, resource guarding can be effectively managed and often completely resolved.
Prevention StrategiesEmphasizes early socialization, training specific commands, and avoiding teasing to prevent guarding and aggressive behaviors.
Understanding Resource GuardingRecognizing that the behavior is instinctual and not malicious is vital for effective addressal.
Personal InsightThe article includes a personal narrative on dealing with resource guarding, highlighting the importance of structured and patient intervention.

Training “Drop” Command

  1. Start with a toy: Engage your dog with a toy that they’re willing to hold but not so high-value that they’ll guard it.
  2. Introduce the cue: When your dog has the toy in their mouth, say “drop” and show them a treat.
  3. Exchange: Once they drop the toy, immediately give them the treat. Praise them for dropping the toy.
  4. Repeat: Practice this regularly, gradually waiting longer between the “drop” command and the treat.

Training “Leave It” Cue Errorless

  1. Start Position: Begin with your dog in a stationary position in front of you. Hold a low-value treat in one hand and keep it stationary.
  2. Reward Stationary Position: Initially, reward your dog for staying stationary without any attempt to take the treat. This reinforces the behaviour of remaining still.
  3. Gradual Approach: Slowly move your treat-holding hand closer to your dog’s nose while ensuring they remain stationary.
  4. Immediate Reward: As you move the treat closer, reward your dog’s stationary behaviour with a different high-value treat from your other hand. This reinforces the concept that staying still leads to rewards.
  5. Repeat: Gradually decrease the distance between your hand with the treat and your dog’s nose. At each step, ensure your dog remains stationary before moving closer. Reward their stationary behaviour immediately each time.
  6. Introduce Cue: Once your dog consistently remains stationary as you bring the treat close, introduce the cue “leave it” before presenting the low-value treat. Reward your dog when they successfully ignore the treat upon hearing the cue.
  7. Practice: Practice this exercise regularly, gradually increasing the level of distraction and temptation. Always ensure that your dog starts from a stationary position and cannot make mistakes by grabbing the treat.

If you find this article interesting, you might want to check out our blog and podcast section.


Addressing Resource Guarding with Other Dogs

If your dog is guarding food bowl or resources from other dogs:

  • Separate Feeding Times: Feed the dogs separately to avoid any conflicts.
  • Ensure Ample Resources: Having multiple toys can reduce competition.
  • Monitor Playtime: Always supervise interactions, especially with new toys or treats.
  • Training Sessions: Engage in group training sessions to encourage positive behaviour.

Can Resource Guarding Be Fixed?

Absolutely. With consistent training, understanding, and patience, resource guarding can be managed and often completely resolved. It’s important to approach the situation with empathy, recognizing that a dog guarding isn’t acting out of malice but instinct and a need to protect that which is important to them, just like us. Imagine someone trying to take your car keys out of your hand without permission, we may use aggressive strategies at that point…if all else fails!

How to Prevent Resource Guarding

Prevention is always more efficient than intervention strategies:

  • Early Socialisation: Exposing puppies to various scenarios and sharing resources can help.
  • Teach ‘Leave it’ and ‘Drop it’ Commands: These cues can be invaluable in managing and preventing guarding behaviour.
  • Trade Up Policy: You give me that and I give you something better
  • Avoid Teasing: Never tease a dog by taking away food or toys and giving them back. This can encourage possessiveness.
  • Respect Warning Signs: Dogs are not trying to challenge us. They are scared of losing something valuable to them. Just like us. We protect our resources too remember!

Dog Resource Guarding: Understanding and Solutions

Dogs, while being our loyal companions, sometimes exhibit the natural behaviour called resource guarding. This behaviour involves a dog becoming overly protective of items or people, often seen with their food, toys, or favourite humans. Originating as a survival mechanism in the wild, it can cause tension in domestic situations. The root of resource guarding often lies in the dog’s desire to protect itself from perceived threats, and it can be both innate and learned.

Addressing this behaviour starts by pinpointing the cause, followed by gradual exposure to the triggering factor while reinforcing calm reactions. It’s advised against directly confronting a guarding dog as it can exacerbate the issue. For dogs that do guard food and resources from their canine counterparts, measures like separate feeding, ensuring ample toys, and supervised interactions prove helpful.

Importantly, with patience and understanding, resource guarding can be managed and even completely eliminated. Preventative measures include early socialisation, teaching specific commands, and refraining from teasing behaviours. In more challenging cases, enlisting the help of professional dog trainers or behaviourists is recommended.

Interview between Michael Shikashio and Jim Gillies

Navigating the Maze of Resource Guarding: A Personal Chronicle

In the vast spectrum of behavioral cases I have encountered, the case of my late dog Floyd stands out distinctly. Floyd, a rescue, exhibited notable resource guarding behavior, stemming from his need to protect valued items. This trait was likely rooted in past uncertainties that carried over into his new environment.

The endeavour to address Floyd’s resource guarding and aggressive behaviour was not only a professional challenge but a personal journey. It involved a structured approach, punctuated with trial, error, and gradual progress. Each day was an opportunity to unravel a facet of Floyd’s guarded behaviour, enriching my comprehension of resource guarding on a practical level.

Success was not instantaneous but a result of sustained effort, time, patience, and diligence. Each small milestone was a step toward alleviating Floyd’s fear, aiming to replace it with a sense of security and comfort.

Through a balanced blend of professional expertise and compassionate understanding, we navigated the complexities of resource guarding. This journey illuminated the profound impact of trust and structured guidance in addressing misinterpreted behaviours like resource guarding.


About me

Jim Gillies, a Certified Dog Behaviourist and Trainer in Glasgow with over 10 years of experience, prioritises canine well-being through modern, science-backed methods. Handling 4000+ cases of 1-to-1 behaviour training, Jim is fully accredited, insured, and recognised for addressing various behavioural issues including aggression, separation anxiety, and more. Jim holds qualifications in level 5 (merit) Advance Diploma Canine Behaviour Management and level 6 Applied Animal Behaviour. Explore his insightful blog and podcast, sharing expert knowledge on dog training and behaviour. Certified by the IAABC, Jim’s expertise makes him a reliable choice for addressing your dog’s needs.

Contact information

Should you have any questions about this article, feel free to contact me on:

  • Email: jim@cbtdogbehaviour.com
  • Mobile: 07864029933

FAQ on Resource Guarding in Dogs

1. What is resource guarding?

Essentially, it is a natural behaviour where a dog becomes possessive or protective over a specific item or person, such as food, toys, or a favoured human. While this behaviour ensures survival in the wild, it can cause tension or aggression in domestic settings and can cause dog bites.

2. How can I stop my dog from resource guarding?

To stop it, you should identify the trigger causing the behaviour, gradually expose your dog to this trigger while rewarding calm behaviour, avoid confrontation, divert their attention when they show signs of guarding, and consider seeking help from professional dog trainers if needed.

3. How can I prevent my dog from resource guarding a person?

To prevent a dog from guarding a person, reward calm behaviour around the individual they tend to guard, introduce other positive associations by allowing different family members to interact with the dog, and employ obedience training to help divert a dog guards attention and control aggressive tendencies. Remember resource guarding is a normal behaviour.

4. What should I do if my dog resource guards around other dogs?

If your dog is guarding resources from other dogs, it’s advised to feed them separately, ensure there are multiple toys to minimize competition, always supervise their interactions, especially with new items, and engage in group training sessions to foster positive behaviour.

5. Can resource guarding be fixed?

Yes, resource guarding can be managed and often completely resolved with consistent training, understanding, and patience. Remember, dogs act out of instinct, not malice.

6. What steps can be taken to prevent resource guarding in the first place?

To prevent resource guarding, expose puppies to various situations and encourage sharing resources early on, teach them commands like ‘Leave it’ and ‘Drop it’, and avoid teasing by not taking away and returning their food or toys, as this can promote possessiveness and food aggression. Implement a “trade-up policy” by swapping items out for something better!

7. Are there professionals who can help with resource guarding issues?

Yes, in complex cases, seeking assistance from professional dog trainers or behaviourists is recommended to address and rectify resource guarding behaviours effectively.

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