Although it can be scary, resource guarding among dogs is an inherent and natural behavior. It's important to note that resource guarding holds an evolutionary significance. For thousands of years, prior to domestication, dogs needed to guard their food sources from other scavengers in order to survive. Although most domesticated dogs don't have to struggle to survive these days, we still see resource guarding behaviors displayed by our pets. You might see your dog resource guard more than food - that's because resource guarding can also include toys, beds, crates, the comfy spot on the couch, and even their favorite humans. Dogs can resource guard anything they deem as valuable enough to do so (even if it doesn't make any sense to us). While you're more likely to witness dogs resource guarding from each other, dogs may resource guard from humans as well. In order to reduce resource guarding, you first need to be able to identify the signs.
Signs of Resource Guarding
How your dog acts when you are present during mealtimes (or around other valuable resources) can clue you in on their resource guarding tendencies. Obvious signs of resource guarding include aggressive behavior displays around their food (or other items) such as growling, snarling, barking, snapping, and even biting. Other less obvious signs of resource guarding include blocking or denying access; for example, when a dog stares, hovers over, or simply tries to hide their "resource" altogether. Another common sign of resource guarding food is when a dog eats their food extremely fast or picks up the pace when you or your other dog approach. This is a dog's way of ensuring that no other scavenger can get to their food. Remember to always keep safety in mind and do not put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. Never stick your hands in or near your dog's food bowl while they are eating or try to take a resource from a guarding dog. This will not show the dog "who's the boss" or help to reduce resource guarding. If anything, this will make guarding behaviors worse and put your own safety at risk.
Causes of Resource Guarding
Just because resource guarding is a natural and inherent behavior does not mean that it cannot be reduced. Some causes of resource guarding among domesticated dogs can include fear, anxiety, and a lack of confidence. There are several remedies that can be practiced that will help to reduce resource guarding among dogs.
Resource Guarding Remedies
Work to increase confidence - Implementing regular enrichment activities and problem-solving games can drastically increase your dog's confidence and lower anxiety. Consider getting some easy level food puzzles that you don't need to help solve, going on regular nature walks, and teaching your dog some basics or new tricks. Do not force your dog into situations that make them feel nervous or uncomfortable.
Manage the environment - If you have multiple dogs, give them separate spaces for mealtimes, chew time, and rest. Feeding dogs separately greatly reduces the chance of an incident and giving your dogs their own space to retreat to can help make them more comfortable.
Trade outs - Attempting to take a resource from your dog (or puppy) is a good way to get bit and break their trust. In fact, doing this is more likely to cause resource guarding than it is to prevent or reduce it. Try trading out and trading up instead. For example, when your dog is chewing on a toy, approach and give them a treat when you take the toy away. If you know your dog is a resource guarder and your approach triggers resource guarding behaviors, then it is not safe to trade out. In this situation start from a safe distance (where no guarding behaviors are triggered) and simply toss a high value treat near your dog and walk away. This should, over time, help your dog associate your presence with something good.
Training safety basics - Using positive reinforcement techniques, teach your dog behaviors like "drop it", "leave it", "stay", and "come". If these behaviors are well rehearsed they will help prevent resource guarding incidents from occurring.
Consult your veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, and trainer - When it comes to resource guarding, contact the professionals for assistance and methods that will help reduce resource guarding behavior. Your veterinarian can help rule out any medical issues that may be contributing to your dog's resource guarding. For more severe cases, it is recommended that you seek advice from a veterinary behaviorist. A certified trainer can help teach you and your dog some safety basics, provide you with enrichment resources, work on prevention training, and help with management.
At Biscuits Doggie Daycare and Pet Resort in Tacoma a team of qualified professional dog trainers are available to help provide force free dog training services that will greatly improve your dog's social skills and sharing abilities. Contact Biscuits Doggie Daycare and Pet Resort to schedule a meet and greet today!