Let’s Talk About Resource Guarding

A brown and white dog growls at the camera

Recently I saw in a dog trainer’s facebook group a discussion surrounding the causes of resource guarding. One poster stated in that discussion:
“Resource guarding usually stems from an insecure unstable temperament”

I have seen similar sentiments across the internet at various times throughout my career and I have to tell you that it always grinds my gears a bit. Enough that I felt it prudent to write a blog post about this very misunderstood behavior. In this post I will describe what resource guarding is, why dogs do it, and effective approaches for prevention.

Let’s start with defining resource guarding. According to a study published in the journal “Frontiers of Animal Science”, resource guarding is defined as “the use of avoidance, threatening, or aggressive behaviors by a dog to retain control of food or non-food items(furniture, toys, etc)  in the presence of a person or other animal.”

A brown and white dog growls at the camera

Why do dogs resource guard?

It is completely natural for a dog to guard their resources. In a dog’s eyes, possession is 9/10ths of the law. In fact, humans do it too! How would you like it if you were eating and someone came and just took food off your plate and ate it? Or maybe you were playing on your brand new iPhone and someone came, yanked it out of your hand and ran away?

It is a completely normal and natural behavior to protect valuable resources. Humans use home security systems, locks on doors, and so on and so forth. 

There is certainly a genetic component to resource guarding. Some breeds, specifically guardian breeds, tend to be more prone to it. This behavior, although a negative in a human’s eyes, is what makes those dogs good at what they do.

I have a dog named Abeni(pronounced ah-been-ee). She is a breed called an Azawakh. Azawakh are from Africa where they are used by various nomadic tribes as general camp dogs, and guardians. I had to work much harder with Abeni to prevent her resource guarding than I did any of my other dogs. That same trait though would make her extremely good at her job if she were doing what the breed was originally intended to do!

Some other examples of breeds that have been used to guard are German Shepherds, Dobermans, and Rottweilers. 

This all being said, resource guarding is normal, especially between dogs. However, even though it is normal, it is not a behavior we like to see in pet dogs and can quickly become problematic in many homes.

How do we prevent Resource Guarding?

Have you ever heard the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?”. Prevention is the best ammunition we have to keep resource guarding from happening. If you have a young puppy at home, start now! Trading items is my favorite way to prevent resource guarding. The key is to always trade for either the same value item or give the dog a higher value item than what they currently have.

Lets use a little human analogy. Lets say you have a $10 bill. I walk up to you and I offer you a different $10 bill. You may be slightly confused as to why I’m doing that, but sure whatever, it’s the same value so you take it. A few minutes later, I walk up and I offer you a $20 bill in exchange for your $10 bill. “Golly gee! It’s my lucky day!” you think to yourself! You just made $10! After all, $20 is way better than $10. Later I walk up to you and offer you $5 in exchange for your $20. “Who are you kidding?” you think to yourself…”What are you trying to pull?”. You give me a side eye, and run away clutching your $10!

Do you see now what it’s like from a dog’s perspective when we try to take things from them? Or trade them items they don’t really care about? We want our dogs to feel GOOD about giving items up. We do not want to be creating feelings of conflict when we trade.

Alright so we’ve covered resource guarding from humans….but what about from other dogs?

Again…prevention. I would say 99% of the time that I’m called about resource guarding among two dogs, it’s a simple fix of changing the environment.

Dogs don’t need to eat together. Feed them in separate rooms. Feed in their crates if they have crates. Don’t leave food down all day to be guarded. Give high value items separately by only giving in crates or teach your dogs to have their items on their separate beds.

A few other pointers…

  • Don’t punish growling. If your dog is growling at you when you are approaching them to take something, you should take that warning seriously. Growling is how a dog communicates “back off!”. Get an item to trade with your dog if you need to take something away. 
  • Teach a cue to “leave it”, in case of an emergency. For instance, I can’t tell you how many times “leave it” has saved me when I’ve dropped a pill on the floor. 
  • You may have heard “put your hand in your dogs bowl so they learn to accept people touching and taking their food”. This is really dangerous advice and if anything is probably going to sensitize your dog to having their food items touched and make the issue entirely worse.
  • If your dog has severe resource guarding, work with a certified professional to resolve it.

    Still have questions or need help with your dog’s resource guarding? Contact me at rachel@scholarlydog.com with your questions.

My favorite self help resource for resource guarding is the book Mine! By Jean Donaldson. It is a comprehensive but simple step by step guide on addressing resource guarding behaviors.

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2 Responses

  1. Thank you. Awesome blog!I don’t have an issue with resource guarding but found the blog extremely informative.
    Thank you
    Deb Wagner

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