Resource Guarding Prevention 101: Understanding What Your Dog Values

Featuring Jen Larson, KPA-CTP & Courtney Emken
Concept by Courtney Emken

Resource guarding is when an animal acts reactively, aggressively, or defensively over a valued resource. We see resource guarding in dogs when they feel anxious or stressed about either the approach of someone approaching their valuable resource or that resource might be taken away. We discuss a variety of ways to identify and prevent this type of behavior.


Jen:

Resource guarding is when an animal acts aggressively or defensively over a valued resource. So that could be a bone, a toy, a food bowl. It could be spatial, a favorite bed. It could be up on a couch. It can also be a person, so maybe their caretaker or their favorite person. So what that might look like, sometimes if it’s over food, it can be accelerated consumption, so in an animal eating really quickly, woofing it down, because they’re afraid it might be taken away from them. If it’s over a toy or a bone or something like that, it might be stiffening, freezing, a lip curl, a snarl, even a snap. We see resource guarding when an animal feel anxious or stressed about either the approach of someone to their valuable resource, or they might feel afraid or stressed that that resource is gonna be taken away from them. But a good example of resource guarding, OK, Courtney, you’ve got a–

Courtney:

Mm-hmm, yeah, so just the other night, my dog Noodle was at home. My daughter and her friends came over, and I was in the kitchen just kinda getting dinner ready. I turned my back for just a couple minutes to wash my hands in the sink, and I heard this and I turned really quick, and one of the friends said, “Your dog just snapped at me!” And I said, “What were you doing?” And he said, “My hand was in its crate while he’s eating!” And I said, “Why would you stick your hand “in the crate while the dog is eating?”

Jen:

Resource guarding prevention, what we can do to help our animals feel more comfortable with the approach to a valuable resource. So one thing that we can do is always trade our animals when they have a resource. So instead of just taking something away from them, walking up to them and giving them something of equal or higher value, so you’re exchanging the object so no negative emotional associations are created for them. Other things that you can do are just work to add more positive emotional associations with your approach or with the presence of another animal. It depends on what your dog’s trigger is. So sometimes dogs are dog-dog resource guarding, defensive or aggressive. So when another dog walks up when they’re eating out of their food bowl or something like that, they might start guarding. So if you pair whatever their trigger is with positive emotional associations, so pairing something with high value rewards or treats, something that the dog likes to do, so they start to associate their trigger with good things and feel less anxious or stressed when that thing is around their resource.

Courtney:

OK, so what if I wanted to teach my dog to drop it or leave it so that I felt safer going to take that resource?

Jen:

Yeah, that is an excellent tool for resource guarding prevention. If you have a leave it or drop it on cue with your dog, then instead of just taking their resource away, you can ask them for a behavior they know how to perform, and then reward and reinforce them for that, which makes the behavior more likely to occur again.

Courtney:

So I have a question. I have a friend whose dog, he sleeps in their bed with them. The guy gets out of bed in the middle of the night, and the dog goes and gets in the owner’s spot where he sleeps. So when he comes back from the bathroom, he growls at him and doesn’t wanna let him back in the bed. So what do you have to say about that? What would you recommend for something like that?

Jen:

So that sounds like some spatial resource guarding, so the dog seems to be guarding the bed, that certain location. Sometimes elevation can trigger resource guarding, so if they’re raised up above, sometimes that’s more likely to be a position where they might guard from. So what I would recommend is using a combination of redirections, so teaching the dog an off cue, asking them to hop off the bed and then being able to reward them for that behavior. Teaching off is a great resource guarding prevention tool. What you could also do is some counter conditioning, where you’re starting to change the dog’s emotional response to your friend’s approach to the bed. So right now, for what ever reason, they’re feeling stressed or anxious when your friend approaches the bed. So to change some of those feelings, you could do training exercises where your friend is walking up to the bed, tossing some treats, pairing his approach with some good things to create some positive emotional associations. A huge part of dealing with resource guarding is just proper management of the environment, so setting the environment up for success to minimize opportunities for resource guarding incidents to take place. So some examples of that might be dogs that are resource guarding food bowls, feed them separately, or use baby gates to keep those separate. ♪ Hey ♪ So proper management of the environment really important, but it doesn’t actually change the underlying causes of resource guarding, and so that’s what we do with training. Sometimes management can fail. For example, we had an incident with a client who had dogs that were resource guarding toys. So she picked up all the toys, didn’t have them out, did a good job managing her environment. But then at one point her daughter brought a toy out, the toy got in with the dogs, and there was a big scuffle because now the toy was extra high value because they didn’t have toys out in the environment normally. So management is a a great short-term solution, but you do have to put the work in and do the training and the counter conditioning component. Otherwise, incidents are always possible.

Courtney:

So I know one thing that you shouldn’t do, which is punish your dog for guarding their resources because not only could you get hurt in the process, but you’re probably not doing any good for your dog in the longterm, right?

Jen:

So that’s exactly right. You don’t wanna make the situation any worse by adding even more negative emotional associations on top of whatever the dog is already feeling. So if the dog is stressed, feeling protective of that resource, and then you’re yelling at the dog, scolding them for guarding the resource, that makes them feel even worse. So you’re actually making the behavior even worse in the longterm.

Courtney:

So if you’re scolding their dog while their guarding their resources, their likely to just skip the growl, right?

Jen:

Right, so you’re talking about escalation and using confrontational methods. And when you use confrontational methods, you’re likely to have a confrontation and get bit.

By |2018-07-30T22:07:37+00:00July 30th, 2018|Dog Behavior, Dog Safety, Dog Training|0 Comments

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