Resource guarding is a common problem with dogs, and it’s something that needs to be addressed right away to avoid an accident. Before beginning to solve the problem, it’s essential to understand what resource guarding is, signs to look out for, and why dogs have this behavior. It is possible to teach your dog to share and stop resource guarding with the right training and patience.
What is Resource Guarding?
Resource guarding is a behavior where a dog protects something in its possession. The most common items a dog will guard include food, toys, blankets, and beds. Anything that a dog considers to be “theirs” can prompt resource guarding.
When a dog engages in this behavior, they may exhibit aggressive signs that warn other animals, and people, to stay away from the object. Warning signs may include showing their teeth, growling, barking, and even snapping or biting.
Why Do Dogs Resource Guard?
Dogs resource guard out of fear that the object they’re protecting is going to be taken away. It’s common for dogs that come from abused backgrounds to guard their food.
Dogs who haven’t been abused may resource guard, too. It’s a behavior that’s ingrained in dogs that they have held onto through the evolutionary process. Before they were domesticated, dogs were wild animals that needed to protect what was theirs from competitors and enemies.
However, it’s a behavior that can be unlearned.
Teaching Your Dog to Share
It’s important to stop your dog from resource guarding as the behavior poses a threat to both humans and other animals in the household. If a person or fellow pet gets too close to a dog that is resource guarding, it opens up the possibility for a fight between the two animals, or a person getting bit.
To help your dog become more resource-friendly, the American Kennel Club recommends addressing the behavior as soon as you recognize it.
You should never yell at a dog for resource guarding, as this enforces the idea that you are a threat and may make the behavior worse. Instead, slowly acclimate your dog to the idea that you are close to them while they are eating or playing.
Try walking by them at a distance several times while they are with the item they typically guard. Each time they allow you to do so without showing signs of aggression, reward them with a small treat. Continue moving closer and closer until your dog allows you into their space. The process may take weeks, so persistence and patience are key.
Use Your Hands
Another way to help dogs stop resource guarding with food is to encourage them to eat out of your hand. Your dog will learn that you are not attempting to take their food away. Rather, you are a positive source bringing them something they like.
When At-Home Training Fails
Some dogs require a professional trainer to help break the habit of resource guarding. If you can’t seem to break the habit at home, or the resource guarding becomes dangerous to those in the household, contact a dog behaviorist.
Additionally, if your dog has never shown signs of resource guarding and suddenly exhibits signs of aggression, it warrants a trip to the vet. Sudden resource guarding can indicate health problems in older dogs.