Resource guarding is one of the most common behavioral problems that occurs with pet dogs.
But what is it?
Well, in the context of resource guarding, resources are anything that the dog values. The most common form of resource guarding that we encounter is with food or a really good treat like a pig’s ear, raw hide, or chew bone. Many people have seen videos of dogs growling over a bowl of food, or snarling at another dog passing by while they are trying to enjoy their raw hide. Some have labeled this behavior as “Food Aggression.”
The term resource guarding provides a more accurate description of what is going on because of the motivations that cause the dog to react this way over his resources. Resource guarding occurs when the dog feels that someone, or another dog may attempt to take their resource from them. Or similarly, the dog feels that they control that particular resource and try to dictate when and who is allowed near a specific resource.
Even though resource guarding food is the most commonly known form of resource guarding, dog’s can develop resource guarding behaviors over a wide variety of things, places, and even people.
When clients arrive with issues of one of their dogs attacking the other, we ask them dozens of questions to get all of the details about when where and how the attacks occurred. We try to see patterns, such as, the dog always attacks the other when they are in the living room near the couch. We can start to assume that the dog may be resource guarding the living room, or the couch. But if it only occurs when a specific person is in the room, then the dog may actually be resource guarding the person.
As dog training and behavior studies have continued to advance, so has the methods used for addressing problem behaviors. We have discovered more effective methods for potty training than the outdated method of shoving your dog’s face in their feces. Similarly, there are new more effective means of addressing resource guarding than the outdated methods of our predecessors.
Why We Needed to Develop Better Methods
When someone complained that their dog had “food aggression” that we now know as resource guarding, the first inclination is to teach the dog that as the owner, you can take their food away if you want to. Then if the dog becomes aggressive, you would correct them or punish them.
Here is why it doesn’t work.
We stated before that resource guarding occurs because the dog feels that someone may try to take their resource away from them. So, when we do temperament testing on a dog to see if they have resource guarding, we use a fake hand and place it near their food while they are eating. Some dogs will begin eating their food very quickly, as if they think the hand will take the food away soon, so they’d better hurry up. Or they will begin snarling or growling at the hand.
The reason why taking the dog’s food away is not effective is because you are proving their fears to be true and actually reinforcing their fear.
New and Improved Training Methods
The new ways to address resource guarding are built on foundations that support a deep trust relationship between the dog and the owner. We have developed programs that first teach the dog that the owner is the solution to all of their worries. The dog doesn’t need to be fearful, or anxious as long as he knows the owner will take care of him.
Let Your Dog Eat in Peace
We always recommend to our clients to get in the habit of feeding your dogs on a regular and predictable schedule, and feeding your dogs in their kennels. Providing a predictable and reliable feeding schedule reduces your dog’s anxiety surround their meals. They know that they are always fed two times each day, and they can anticipate when they are going to be fed(dogs have amazing internal clocks).
Feeding your dogs in their kennels also provides them a space where they know they are safe and they don’t have to worry about anyone or any other dogs bothering them while they eat. Kennel feeding also gives you the opportunity to use some training during meals. I like to have my dogs go to their kennels and wait patiently for me to give them their food. Once I’ve given them their food, I close their kennels and leave them alone until every last dog has finished their meal (we have 11 dogs).
Ensuring that your dogs feel safe while they are enjoying their meals is one of the key components to correcting resource guarding food. So it is important that they are fed in a space they associate with as being a safe and calm place. Also it is important not to allow any other dogs or children approach the kennel while the dog is eating.
Once my dogs have finished eating I usually open their kennels and have them wait before I release them. I open every kennel door, remove every bowl and put them away. Then I release the dogs and let them exit their kennels.
The act of having your dogs wait in their kennels after you’ve opened the door can take some training and practice, but a couple of minutes during each meal working on it can make a world of difference. It also teaches your dog that they must earn their food.
There are several more steps to addressing resourcing guarding food and really getting to the route of the issues, but let’s more on to some of the other types.
Different Types of Resource Guarding
If you can remember back to when you were a child, or if you have young children now you may be familiar with sibling bickering. When one child complains or argues that the other child stole their seat, or they are sitting too close, or they are doing something that is just bothering the other.
Dogs act in similar ways. In recent decades dogs have lived more of their lives inside our homes and happily on our furniture. Along with these changes we have seen an increase in the occurrances of resource guarding significant locations
Significant locations refer to any part of the home or places where you and your family members may spend significant amounts of time or where you do bonding activities. These are often in the living room or in the bedroom. If every night, the members of the house cuddle up on the couch and enjoy a movie while talking and bonding, the couch may become a very valuable resource to your dog.
People often misdiagnose the act of resource guarding their owner or members of the family as their dog “being protective.” The biggest difference between your dog being protective and your dog resource guarding is whether or not you are actually being threatened.
Unfortunately, we see this often when a new baby is added to the family and the dog begins resource guarding the baby. This can be come a very serious situation, and some people think its cute to watch their dog “protecting” the baby.
What is actually happening is the dog is saying that this baby is my baby and I don’t like how close you are to her.
If you have a dog that is reactive to people when they are just being normal or neutral, there is a possibility that your dog is resource guarding you. There is also a possibility that this reactivity is a product of fear, and it would take a thorough behavior evaluation to identify the motivation.
Resource guarding toys is another common occurrence, and its often brushed off as their dog doesn’t like to share. This statement is surprisingly accurate, but the behavior should not be left unchecked.
When dogs resource guard their toys, it can become more serious than some of the other issues we have discussed. Toy resource guarding unfortunately occurs during times of play. Play times are often accompanies by your dog being in an elevated state and their reaction could be amplified due to this fact.
The term resource guarding refers to our dogs guarding anything they consider to be a valuable resource. Dog’s may guard water on a hot day, or a cool stick that they found, a dirty sock they pulled from the hamper, or even a dead bug they decided to roll around in. Literally anything can become the subject of a dog's resource guarding.
The bottom line is that the way to really get to the very bottom of resolving this behavior in your dog is deepening the trust relationship between you and your dog. This means providing your dog with healthy habits and routines, providing your dog with means of physical exercise, provide structure and discipline in the daily lives and rules in the home, and plenty of mental stimulation such and training and games.
Without first developing a healthy relationship that clearly defines the hierarchy for yourself and your dog, applying any additional levels of behavior modification technics will only be a temporary fix and the problem could reemerge more severely later.