What Does Resource Guarding Look Like And How Can I Prevent It?
Has your dog ever shown their teeth at another dog over a toy or piece of food? Or, snapped at you? This behavior is known as resource guarding and is an incredibly common behavior. Growling, showing teeth, lunging, and biting are common behaviors a dog will display when protecting a resource.
No matter if you have gotten a new puppy or have an older dog exhibiting any of these behaviors, it is important to keep safety at the top of your priority list. Never put yourself in between a resource and your dog if they are displaying aggressive behavior.
The best way to deal with resource guarding is to prevent it before it happens, if at all possible. I tell every puppy owner to work on this as soon as the puppy is brought home. This can be practiced with meal times, valuable chews, and even areas of the house.
If resource guarding is already an issue for your dog or dogs, there are some steps you can take to desensitize and manage the behavior to promote safety for everyone involved. However, if you feel unsafe or that there is a likely chance that your dog would injure you or someone else, I would highly suggest calling a nearby trainer for an in-home consultation.
If you have a new puppy, it is critical to work on preventing resource guarding as early as possible. Teaching your dog at a young age that you will not take their resources and instead reward them for sharing is incredibly beneficial and will also ensure your safety later down the road. You can do this by tossing a treat into your puppies’ food bowl, looking for any guarding behaviors, and playing the exchange game with high-value treats.
To practice with your puppy, begin by giving them a valuable chew or long-duration treat. Let them chew for a moment and then give them a treat. Take the item away and give them an even more valuable treat such as chicken or turkey. Then, give them the item back and let them continue chewing on it. Repeat this several times
Resource Guarding – Toys
When it comes to toys and bones, these are also seen as valuable commodities to your dog. Your dog may become possessive over their favorite item and can even become aggressive when you or another dog attempts to take it away. The number one prevention for this is to take up items your dog may find valuable and put them away for further use. For instance, I would only give your dog the valuable toy when they are alone and in an environment where they will not be bothered.
To slowly desensitize your dog, you can work on “leave it” to create an exchange. The main premise is for you to create so much value with the item you have (a piece of chicken, a high-value treat) that your dog is happy to give up the item they have. Carefully take the item while luring your dog away with the high-value food item. If your dog shows any aggression, proceed with extreme caution. If you feel unsafe, do not try to attempt an exchange.
If you feel that you can safely exchange the toy for the treat, reward your dog with multiple treats for giving up the toy. After treating them, immediately give them the toy back so that they can understand your taking of the resource does not mean it will go away. This is key as the reason dogs resource guard is to keep an item or food that is highly valuable to them. Therefore, you have to teach them that you having access to their resources is okay and not the end of their playtime with the toy.
An excellent toy to use for these training sessions is a 4ft long fleece rope toy. These will allow you to remain at a safe distance while still having access to the toy. Toss a treat near your dog and when they let go of the rope, pull it away and reward them with another treat. Give them the rope back and repeat. This is also a great way to teach “take it” and “leave it.“
Resource Guarding – Everything Else
If you or someone else has been bitten over a toy, food, or other resources, it may be time to seek out the help of a professional trainer in your area so that no one in your household is harmed. In the meantime, discourage resource guarding by giving your dog their own area to eat their food, pick up valuable toys, and avoid situations that cause aggressive behavior.
Dogs can become possessive over more than toys, including people, areas of the house, beds, or anything the dog may find valuable. Use caution when attempting to move your dog from an area they may be guarding, and do your best to lure them away with treats. With people, try to distance yourself from your dog in a safe manner and always inform another person of your dog’s behavior or mitigate any potential biting incidents with a muzzle.
As always, desensitization takes patience and caution. If you are unsure at any point as to how to proceed or how to safely handle your dog, contact a local dog behaviorist or positive reinforcement trainer. Using negative reinforcement or punishment will further escalate aggression and can lead to serious injury.