Resource guarding is when dogs become defensive to keep others away from something of value. It’s perfectly normal for dogs to want to protect their supply of food, their toys or stake claim to where they sleep. Some dogs even guard their humans. After all, they’re all valuable resources they want and need. But if dogs think access to those resources is threatened, they could become overprotective.
Some contributing factors to resource guarding may include:
- issues with early socialization
- deprivation of resources at any stage (especially early in life)
- breed and genetics
- fear and anxiety
Signs of resource guarding in dogs
A recent study found dog parents were keen on obvious signs of guarding like growling or snapping, but less likely to pick up on the more subtle signs, such as: avoidance (maneuvering their bodies to assert control over an object or taking off with it), tightening/stiffening posture and rapidly ingesting edibles.
Some common signs of resource guarding objects include:
- Gulping food/eating quickly
- Head turning or whale eye
- Running away with a resource
- Stiffening, and/or staring at the perceived threat (person or another animal)
Many dogs who resource guard are generally more fearful. When a dog feels a resource is threatened, he is more likely to try to protect it. A lot of times this means absconding with the valued resource or even resorting to aggression to prevent it from being taken away.
Resource guarding between dogs
Resource guarding behaviors can also be directed at other animals, especially those within the household. Watch for signs and signals to prevent problems in multi-pet homes.
Pets shouldn’t have to compete amongst each other for resources, so eliminate that stress. Lean into these tips to prevent resource guarding between dogs:
- Be on the lookout for resource-guarding signs
- Always feed pets separately from one another and don’t free-feed
- Make sure there are ample toys and sleeping spaces available for each pet and each pet has his own space he can go to.
- Encourage and train pets to interact appropriately and positively with each other in the sharing of resources.
- Prevent access between pets while consuming or engaging with high-value items.
For more tips check out this video.
If you suspect your dog is resource guarding, seek help from a professional, rewards-based trainer or behaviorist sooner rather than later.
Dog resource guarding owner
Believe it or not you’re also a resource. You provide love, attention, yummy stuff, fun, joy and the list goes on. You’re your dog’s world!
Watch for your dog:
- Attempting to block other dogs or even people from approaching you
- Showing signs of stress such as panting, lip licking, pacing, whale eye, etc. when someone else or another dog approaches you
- Piloerection, growling or snapping when someone is near you
- Work on building confidence in your dog to be independent and comfortable around others
- Spend time away from your dog
- If you have multiple pets, spread the wealth and spend quality time with each pet
- Don’t constantly carry or hold your dog, which can cause anxiety, separation issues and guarding
Although less common than object guarding, guarding humans does happen. Escalation to aggression can be a real safety issue, so always seek professional, rewards-based help as soon as possible if you suspect your dog is guarding you.
How to prevent resource guarding
Your first line of defense is a good offense: don’t create an environment or situation where your dog feels he must guard resources in the first place.
A lot of resource guarding behaviors can be avoided at the outset by simply giving our dogs space! Make sure your dog has space, time, and privacy to eat, engage with bones and chews and to sleep or rest.
Back in the day people used to brag about being able to reach down and take their dog’s food away in the middle of him eating. Some believe they should be able to take a dog’s bone away in some sort of display of domination or nonsense about “showing the dog who’s boss” or “being the alpha.”
Advances in modern training, coupled with numerous studies and shifting attitudes about our relationships with our pet dogs, render these authoritative displays outdated if not downright silly. And dangerous! In fact, studies show taking valuable things away from dogs can make resource guarding worse.
The best way to avoid a dog resource guarding their food? Leave him alone while he eats. In fact, make sure he has a space out of household noise and traffic and can eat in peace. Free-feeding can exacerbate and even cause resource guarding. If you free-feed, stop! Free-feeding isn’t recommended for a variety of other reasons as well.
If you suspect your dog is already resource guarding, management is a good first step. So, for example, don’t allow children near dogs who are eating, engaged with toys or bones or at rest. In a nutshell, give your dog space!
More how to stop resource guarding tips:
- Do be mindful of your dog’s body language and efforts to protect or defend things whether it’s toys or food or space, etc. Pay close attention to how your dog acts.
- Do keep your distance from your dog when he’s engaged with toys, bones or food or resting in a favorite spot.
- Don’t confront your dog in an angry, frustrated or aggressive way or try to take the object from your dog or force him to move out of a favorite space.
- Don’t try to grab or pry an object out of your dog’s mouth; doing so will likely cause your dog to become more intent on keeping the object and he may escalate very quickly to outright aggression.
Our dogs determine what’s of value, not us, so be mindful of what your dog wants and loves. If someone tried to take your purse or wallet, phone or car, you’d be very upset. It’s no fun to feel like you must be on guard all the time. Your dog is the same. Actively supporting a secure and comforting environment for your dog keeps everyone safe, relaxed and happy.