co-written by Bart Emken, CPDT-KA & Jen Larson, KPA-CTP

Does your dog growl when you reach for her dinner bowl? Do they growl and snap at your spouse when they get into bed with you? These behaviors and others like them are often diagnosed by trainers as resource guarding behavior. Resource guarding is when dogs control things that are important to them like food, people or other objects or areas by displaying aggressive behaviors like growling, snapping or biting.

When you have a dog that is displaying resource guarding behavior, everyday interactions like feeding or playing can be tense, stressful, and even dangerous. Luckily, resource guarding can be remedied with training, conditioning, and a little patience. Make sure after you read the article to download our resource guarding guide.

Then, if you need further help, reach out to us!

How Do I Recognize Resource Guarding Behavior?

As the name implies, resource guarding dogs feel the need to defend any given resource against humans, dogs, or otherwise. Different dogs will consider different things as guard-worthy resources. Some common examples include:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Entrances/Exits
  • Toys
  • Bones/Treats
  • Beds
  • People

Depending on what the dog values, any of these “resources” can trigger a defense response.

When someone approaches, dogs often view that as a threat. In response, they’ll communicate their anxiety through body language and auditory cues. These signs include:

Be aware that certain body positions might trigger a guarding response as well. For instance, when a dog is elevated on a bed or has their toy/treat between their front paws, they may feel the need to guard something they typically relinquish.

How Do I Handle Resource Guarding With My Dog?

Prevention is your best tactic, especially if you have a younger dog or puppy. At a young age, your puppy can learn that when you take a resource from them, it’s actually a safe trade. Never just take away the resource, always replace it with something better!

When unfamiliar dogs meet, keep valuable resources like food and treats out of the equation. First, even simple greetings can provoke defensive reactions. Wait until they’ve become accustomed to each other and make sure there’s a resource surplus for both dogs to enjoy.

If your dog has already developed resource guarding behaviors then management is key. Instead of giving them one food bowl, use five. You lessen the likelihood of guarding by scattering their resource and making it appear abundant.

Practice exercises where you repeatedly approach their food bowl(s) and add extra goodies. They’ll learn that an approach can mean receiving more valuable resources. This removes any threatening feelings and instills a positive association instead.

In resource guarding situations with multiple dogs, have the dogs sit or lie down. Afterwards, repeatedly reward them with treats so long as they’re calm. Stop the treats if anyone gets defensive. They’ll quickly learn what’s best for everyone!

Another strategy is redirection, where you train a behavior in opposition to the guarding. For instance, if a dog gets defensive over a favorite bone or toy, you can use “leave it” or “drop it” to redirect them towards your cue instead. Remember to keep a calm tone in your voice, and not an agry one!

If you see your dog with something that they might guard, just calmly say leave it. If they do, give them lots of treats and praise. This lets them know that it’s better to listen to you than keep the resource. Then, you can give the object back as a further reward.

These exercises and tactics effectively counter-condition your dog to feel relaxed during your approach, not anxious. They’ll no longer think you’re a threat to take their resource, but rather that you’re the source of even better ones.

What Are Some Dog Training Mistakes I Should Avoid with Resource Guarding?

One of the biggest mistakes we see is inappropriate correction. This happens when someone reaches for a bowl and gets snapped or growled at. Instead of trying to alleviate the dog’s stress, they then yell “NO,” or BAD DOG,” which only threatens the dog further.

These corrections can actually escalate a dog’s resource guarding behavior. When a dog growls, they’re politely telling you to back away. If they’re then threatened again, they’re more likely to drop the politeness and go straight for a bite in reaction.

Since this is one of the most common issues we encounter at the Ranch, we’ve created a helpful and handy “Resource Guarding Guide” detailing what resource guarding is and how to handle it. If you know someone who needs extra info on resource guarding, please check this out and share it!

If you’re having any trouble curbing your dog’s resource-guarding or just have more questions for us, feel free to contact us today!

Image Permissions:

Cafe Guard Dog by Mitchel

Treat Guarding by Nat

Growl by smerikal