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Signs of Resource Guarding in Dogs & How to Stop It

Protecting resources is a natural behavior for any species. But if we ignore our dogs’ signs to defend things of value because they feel those things are threatened, resource guarding could become an issue.

Written by: Rachel Brix, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, Fear Free Certified

Last Updated on January 24, 2024 by Dogster Team

resource guarding dog

Signs of Resource Guarding in Dogs & How to Stop It

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.

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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
  • territoriality
  • frustration.

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
  • Hovering
  • Running away with a resource
  • Stiffening, and/or staring at the perceived threat (person or another animal)
  • Lunging
  • Snarling
  • Snapping
  • Biting

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.

doberman
Bred to guard, the Doberman is an excellent watchdog, alerting owners and often standing between his family and harm’s way. ©Tara Gregg/EyeEm/Getty Images

How to stop 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:

  1. Be on the lookout for resource-guarding signs
  2. Always feed pets separately from one another and don’t free-feed
  3. Make sure there are ample toys and sleeping spaces available for each pet and each pet has his own space he can go to.
  4. Encourage and train pets to interact appropriately and positively with each other in the sharing of resources.
  5. 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.

How to stop 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
  • Pilo-erection, growling or snapping when someone is near you

Tips:

  • 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.

Tips 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.

resource guarding dog
Resource guarding behaviors can be between dogs within the household. Watch for signs and signals to prevent problems in multi-pet homes and provide ample toys and sleeping spaces for each pet. © Rachel Brix

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 tips on how to stop resource guarding:

  • 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.

Teach your dog a solid Drop cue

Helping your dog understand that giving up the goods doesn’t always mean giving them up forever is a valuable skill for both preventing resource guarding and supporting emotional stability. So, teach your dog (or dogs!) how to Drop so he’s OK with releasing resources. He needs to know there’s no reason to fear temporarily losing or even giving things up. Something better is on the horizon. It’s also a great cue if your dog does occasionally pick up something you’d rather he not have, or even something potentially dangerous.

Train it:

  • Get your dog engaged in a game of tug with a toy starting with a lower-value toy first. This might take a little time, so be patient!
  • Put a treat near your dog’s nose that’s higher value than the toy.
  • When he drops the toy immediately give him the treat.
  • As soon as he releases the object, mark with a verbal marker(Drop it!) or click with a clicker; give the treat while simultaneously and safely removing the object from his reach.
  • Once he finishes the treat, return the object to him.
  • After a few exchanges like this add the verbal “drop” cue when he drops the toy.
  • Repeat several times until your dog is dropping on verbal cue only.
  • Generalize what’s been learned by slowly graduating to higher value toys and in different environments (different rooms, outside, etc.).
resource guarding dog
Teach your dog how to Drop it, so he’s OK with releasing resources because he knows there’s something better on the horizon, like a favorite treat. ©Rachel Brix

If you just can’t get your dog to engage in tug, or he’s just way too into his toy, try luring him in other ways to drop so you can mark and treat, such as:

  • Be more exciting! Many of us expect dogs to just play with toys on their own. Grab a different toy and make it squeak, talk, or manipulate/animate it.
  • Go to your treat drawer or food storage and make a fuss about it pretending you’re getting something yummy.
  • Act like you’ve found something super awesome: point at it, ooh and ahh over it, even pretend you’ve picked it up and are eating it.

Other Drop it cue tips:

  • Don’t forget to give your dog time to respond. He’s learning something new and needs time to process the information. It may take several training sessions.
  • Use a toy that is a bit larger so when your dog tries to grab the toy he doesn’t grab your hand (if he does, it’s “game over” and try again later: all dogs should be taught the “no teeth on people” rule).
  • Your dog needs to be invested in the toy and excited about having it but not so excited that he’s over threshold. If he’s too excited, tone down the toy selection or try again later when he’s less aroused.
  • If he’s not excited enough, you need a better toy or a better treat; you can also try using a chew stick or bully stick instead.
  • Generalize the behavior to other toys and items you need your dog to drop (like a toddler’s toy or something questionable outside).

If you’re really struggling with getting your dog to engage with toys, use a chew stick or other edible. Teaching a “Take it” cue may also be helpful.


Featured Rachel Brix

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