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What is Resource Guarding? | USA Dog Behavior, LLC

You may be surprised to learn dogs can resource guard people too. Think about it; dogs resource guard things they value. Most dogs enjoy the love and affection they get from their owners and don’t want to share this with people or other dogs. Many dog owners think their dog is protecting them in these instances when, in fact, they are simply not wanting to share.

Let’s Define Resource Guarding

Resource guarding is when dogs use aggression to keep control of something they value such as the things listed above. Simply stated, they do not want to share. This behavior can be seen in dogs that show no aggression in any other context; it can be seen in otherwise very friendly dogs.

While we don’t like this kind of behavior in our pet dogs, it is a primal behavior born from protecting their food from other canids in the wild. It served a purpose millennia ago for our domesticated dogs’ ancient relatives, but it’s a problematic behavior today.

The basis for most canine aggression is fear. It is open for discussion whether resource guarding is also fear based.

Resource Guarding of Weird Things

Our pet dogs resource guard all kinds of strange things. Two of my favorites are vomit and space. Dogs are known for eating their own vomit. Some enjoy this so much that if you get near them to clean things up, they can get a bit grumpy.

Dogs can also resource guard space. They can decide that the sofa, your bed, their crate, a certain corner of the living room, etc. are theirs and are not shy about letting you know you should stay away.

A type of resource guarding called distance resource guarding can be really problematic. This occurs when dogs decide certain items they aren’t physically close to are theirs. One of the most interesting examples of this occurred with a client’s dog that would run across the den to resource guard the remote for the TV when someone was audacious enough to pick it up in the dog’s presence. And yes, both male and female dogs can do this with the remote.

Downright Scary Resource Guarding

Resource guarding tends to escalate over time because it is reinforced.

Dog has valuable item → uses aggression to keep dogs/people away → dogs/people move away → dog feels better about things (i.e., it worked) → dog is positively reinforced for the behavior.

I’ve seen dogs resource guard dog treats while a human is offering the treat with their hand. As the person reaches down to give them the treat, the dog bites them on that hand. This is what I mean when I say this behavior can escalate.

Another alarming example of scary resource guarding is dogs that act aggressively to their owners when the owners are bringing in unopened bags of dog food from their garage or even just human groceries from the grocery store.

Treatment Options for Resource Guarding

First, don’t punish your dog for resource guarding. This can cause the dog to actually increase resource guarding behaviors. Second, please don’t “test” your dog to see if they resource guard. A lot of dog owners will put their hand in their dog’s food to see if they resource guard and to “keep them from resource guarding”. This is potentially dangerous and can teach dogs to resource guard. Wouldn’t you get a little bent out of shape if even your mother stuck her hands in your food when you were eating?

There are numerous protocols to help your dog with resource guarding. Most of them teach your dog to be comfortable when humans or other dogs are near their valued possessions. Please contact a certified behavior consultant (canine) to help your dog with this issue.

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