Resource Guarding: What is it and how can you help prevent it?

Have you ever went to grab your dogs food dish and he growls or worse attempts to bite you? If another dog approaches him while eating does he stiffen, growl and show signs of aggression? While chewing on a bone and you approach does he show his teeth and snarl?

Not all signs of resource guarding are so severe. What if your dog has a bone or toy and you approach, does he leave the room and position his body away from you? Does he eat his food frantically as if he hasn’t eaten in ages? There are also subtle signs of resource guarding. Resource guarding can also be displayed by lap guarding. Maybe he jumps up on your lap and another family member approaches and he snarls, barks, growls. You have become his possession and he is guarding it.

This reaction is common among dogs. In fact, this is how they communicate to you and others that they have something they view as valuable and don’t want it to be taken away. But this behavior can often be replaced with a positive behavior. But it starts with you and it starts early!

First, don’t allow this behavior to continue as it can potentially heighten the aggression and he could harm you or someone else. The best route is replace this negative behavior with a positive behavior when he is a puppy. For example, we follow the Puppy Culture protocol and begin resource guarding prevention at 6-7 weeks old and continue this on a spot basis.

So what do you do? As your dog is enjoying his food or bone or lap, he is growing value for those things. If we teach them from a young age to also value an “exchange”, they won’t guard those items with aggression. Instead they will look forward to a higher value replacement and feel happy to see you approach them. For example, feed him as normal and then approach him with high value treat (a piece of steak, chicken or his favorite bite of cheese) hidden. Kneel down in front of him, grab the dish, immediately put the high value treat in his mouth and replace his dish. Do this several times with each meal and before long he will be offering his dish to you. Meaning he looks up to you as you approach excited to see what wonderful treat he gets this time. Even better, he may take a step back, showing he is not guarding the dish and allows you to approach. You can take this same approach with him on your lap. Have someone come over and pet him or pick him up, give him a high value treat and put him back. If your dog is older or very aggressive, it may be better to consult a professional trainer with this behavior.

What’s the point of doing this? By offering the high value treat you are helping him to appreciate that you don’t pose a threat to the object in front of him. In fact, you bring something that he values even more.

Here is an example of our 2 year old Mini Australian Shepherd. Note as we approach, she lifted her head and steps back, offering the dish and waiting for the treat. Obviously she is an old pro 🙂

By comparison here we are working with our 12 week old Poodle. You can see the progress he makes from attempt 1 to attempt 5, ultimately reaching success. I normally wouldn’t do it that many times in 1 meal but I wanted to get a good result to show. Of course it definitely helped that he was already getting full and he heard me ask my husband if he was ready to film so he was ready for his treat, lol

In this video we are working with them on resource guarding but also getting them accustomed to the crate. But here we increased their valued possession from food to a fresh meaty bone.

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