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What to Know About Resource Guarding in Dogs

Reviewed by Vanessa Farner, DVM on December 09, 2021

Resource guarding occurs in dogs when they exhibit behaviors such as biting, lunging, and growling over toys and foods. This behavior is also called possessive aggression. All breeds of dogs are equally affected by it. 

Dogs can consider anything valuable, from their favorite toy to a food bowl. If you try to go near these items, your dog might bite or growl at you. 

Resource guarding in dogs is important because it helps them survive in the wild, where they have to live with limited resources. This trait is not so great in domesticated dogs. 

When you train your dog early, you can discourage this behavior before it becomes a problem. 

What Is Resource Guarding?

Resource guarding refers to dogs showing aggressive behavior when you try to approach something they find valuable. It could be mild behavior, such as growling at you or running away with the item they love. 

Some dogs show full-blown aggression and may bite the person trying to come near the object they are guarding. Other behaviors include ingesting a food item too fast or positioning their body and head in a certain way to maintain control over an item. 

Some dogs may only show resource guarding behavior towards strangers or specific people. Other dogs show resource guarding behavior towards everyone. 

Although most dogs guard their food, others may also guard stolen items, such as socks or wrappers found in the trash bin. 

Since resource guarding is a part of natural canine behavior, it does not necessarily have to be treated in all cases. Most pet parents whose dogs show resource guarding behavior tend to take precautions to keep everyone safe. 

Dog Behavior During Resource Guarding

Dogs often use vocal behavior, such as barking, snarling, snapping, and growling, when resource guarding. Although these behaviors make pet parents feel uncomfortable, they do not always mean the dog will bite. However, to be safe, it is wise to take precautions and assume the dog will bite.

In a study of 3,226 dogs, 41% of the dogs showed vocal behaviors towards humans during resource guarding. But only 15% of them ever bit a human. Less than 10% of these dogs bit in a way that caused an injury. 

How to Manage Resource Guarding in Dogs

If you have kids at home, it's important to prevent them from getting too close to a dog that is resource guarding. Children don’t understand the warning signals. They may behave more recklessly around the pet showing resource guarding behavior and are more likely than adults to get bitten. 

Some dogs may guard the leftover food on the table or on the floor, making it threatening for adults to come close. 

Here are some active steps to manage your dog’s resource guarding behavior:

  • In many cases, it may become important to get resource guarding training for your dog. If your dog bites during resource guarding, don't try to fix the problem on your own. Consult with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. 
  • If you have more than one dog at home, make sure you give them enough food so that they don't feel motivated to guard their resources. Research has shown that when puppies in a litter were fed freely, there were rare cases of resource guarding.  
  • In the first few weeks or months after you bring your dog home, sit with them while they feed. Offer them a kibble one bite at a time. This will allow your dog to feel less threatened by your presence while they're eating. 
  • While training your dog, walk by them and throw food in their direction. Don't stop moving while you feed them. If the dog shows any signs of stiffening, you've come too close. After feeding them this way a few times, see if there's a difference in their body language. 

Treatment Tips for Resource Guarding

  • Don't intimidate or punish your dog when they show resource guarding behavior. 
  • If you're unable to feed your dog kibble for some reason, make sure the treats you offer them by hand are more desirable than the food in their bowl. 
  • If your dog eats quickly, you may not be able to do treatment exercises with them. Buy a dish that's designed to slow down your dog's eating. 
  • Don't let children go near your dog's bowl or the items that your pet guards. 

Speak to your vet if you're still uncertain about the right approach to fix resource guarding in dogs. 

Show Sources

SOURCES: 
American Kennel Club: "Why Does My Dog Steal & Guard Objects?"
Animals (Basel): "Preliminary Investigation of Food Guarding Behavior in Shelter Dogs in the United States."
Applied Animal Behaviour Science: "Demographic and aggressive characteristics of dogs in a general veterinary caseload."
ASPCA: "Food Guarding."
Preventive Veterinary Medicine: "Factors associated with canine resource guarding behavior in the presence of people: A cross-sectional survey of dog owners.”

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