Resource Guarding: What To Do If Your Dog Does It

Resource guarding is a natural instinct for dogs, but it can be problematic if they fight to protect their possessions. Learn how to stop the behavior.

Courtney Elliott

Updated August 31, 2022 • Published August 31, 2022

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Resource Guarding: What To Do If Your Dog Does It

Let's face it—no one likes it when things are taken from them. It's easy to get upset and defensive, and dogs are no different.

Resource guarding, also called "possessive aggression", is when a dog has a defensive or aggressive response when food or other objects in their possession are taken from them (or they perceive that they will be taken from them).

This behavior was a valuable survival tactic for wild dogs with limited resources, but for domesticated pups, it's not a desirable trait. When resource guarding leads to biting and aggression, it can be dangerous to you, your family, and other people and pets.

It's important to know the signs of resource guarding, and if your dog does it, learn tips and tricks to help your dog unlearn the behavior.

Signs that your dog is resource guarding

There are some tell-tale signs to look for that will indicate that your dog is resource guarding. While these can range from subtle reactions like freezing to more aggressive behaviors like biting, it's important to nip it in the bud early to minimize the chances of someone getting injured.

When you approach them when they have something that's valuable to them, whether it's a bowl of food or a sock from your drawer, a dog that resource guards may:

  • Stiffen

  • Growl

  • Bite

  • Lunge

  • Show their teeth

  • Give you a hard stare

What to do if your dog resource guards

Obviously, it's best to avoid this behavior in the first place. But the reality for many pet parents is that Fido just doesn't want to share his things.

Thankfully, there are training tricks you can use to help your pup unlearn this behavior.

If they have a high-value item, the goal is to desensitize them to your presence. For example, by the end of the training, you should be able to approach their food bowl without them showing signs of distress. This will take time, and the process shouldn't be rushed. With patience and persistence, your dog will likely stop their resource guarding tendencies.

It's important to note that if you notice any change in behavior in your pup, it's worth a chat with a veterinarian to make sure there are no underlying medical causes.

How to correct resource guarding

To help correct resource guarding, the "don'ts" are equally as important as the "dos". Before we dive into the training, remember the following things to avoid.

Don't:

  • Leave items out that they guard

  • Punish their negative reaction (e.g. growling)—this can only lead to more aggressive behavior

  • Rush the process—unlearning this behavior takes time

Steps to correct resource guarding

  • Learn the distance at which your dog begins to guard the resource, also called the "distance threshold" (e.g. If your dog begins to tense up when you're two feet away, begin this exercise at three or four feet away).

  • When your dog has something that they typically guard, stop a few feet before their distance threshold and toss a high-value treat to them (something they will value more than the thing they're guarding).

  • Once they eat the treat, toss another. Repeat a few times before walking away.

  • Slowly add one more step before tossing them the treat.

  • Continue this exercise each time they have something that they guard.

Doing this will help your dog anticipate good things when you come near them. With time, your dog will feel less threatened when you approach them and may eventually come to you and leave their resource.

Moving forward, it's best to trade your pup for something rather than take anything away without giving something in return. If you have questions about resource guarding, reach out to the experts at Pawp. We're here 24/7 to help answer any pet questions you have.

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