Resource Guarding

Growling, baring teeth, accelerated eating, stiffening, air snapping, or staring when the dog has food or high value treats (or in a specific space, or when they have favorite toys) is typically seen as an  appropriate form of communication when it comes to resource guarding. The dog is telling you they do not want to share something that they finds valuable (just like we sometimes are fine with sharing and other times are not). This behavior can often come from a history of having resources taken away when people/dogs approach, but is also a very natural behavior for most animals. However, this behavior can become dangerous if the dog is escalating this behavior to making contact or biting. The best approach to  being successful with a dog that shows these behaviors involves a few things:  

 

  • First and foremost, we want to be sure to not build a history of taking things away while the dog is interacting with them or eating. If they are eating, leave them alone unless you are doing a formal training session. If food drops on the floor, let them have it (as long as it's not toxic).  Pick up the food bowl when it is empty and the dog has left it.  

  • If there are other pets in the home, feedings should be done separately in different rooms or crates so that they do not approach each other while eating. Limiting the toys that are available may also be necessary.  

  • There are things you can do to help the dog feel more comfortable with you being around their food that basically revolve around building a history of you not taking things from them when you approach, but rather give them even better things. To do this, you would start by doing formal training sessions with the item your dog guards (I will explain with food, but the same concept applies to toys, spaces, etc.).

    1. Allow your dog to begin eating the food from their bowl. 

    2. Approach them, making sure to stop at a distance where the dog is not reacting or stopping eating.

    3. Toss a high value food item (chicken, soft treats, hot dogs, cheese) towards the bowl and then walk away.

    4. Repeat this until the dog is no longer stiffening or showing accelerated eating. Ideally, your dog would start to look up at you with happy, loose body language because they are expecting a treat when you come.

    5. Then you can repeat this process at a closer distance. It may take many sessions for your dog to feel happy when you approach  instead of nervous that his things will be taken.  

    6. When they do growl or show earlier signs of resource guarding, give them space immediately and do not try to get closer. You can toss him something of higher value from a distance.

  • If the dog has something that you need to get from them that they are guarding, there are two options:  

    1. You can act excited and offer some high-value treats a few feet away, and then have them follow you with the treats out of the area where they dropped the item to eat the treats. Here is a great article explaining this.

    2. A more advanced version of this is teaching a trade game ahead of time where the dog will willingly drop something on cue because they know you have something better to trade with. Here is an article explaining this.

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Remember, the most important thing to avoid when dealing with dogs who resource guard is making their fears come true by forcefully taking the things they are communicating that they want to keep. This will only make these behaviors worse because they take away the dog's feeling that they can communicate.

This resource explains these management and training procedures and other issues with  resource guarding well.