Resource Guarding is a behaviour dogs engage in to maintain possession of, or proximity to a prized possession, through persuading other dogs and people away. This behaviour is commonly recognised when a dog is showing teeth, growling, hiding items under their head or body etc. Each dog may have certain things they hold at a higher value than others, the higher the value to the dog, the more likely they are to guard it. These items include but are not limited to food, treats, toys, a person/attention, a safe space or rest spot. Resource Guarding is normal dog behaviour, and is how our four legged friends communicate their want of an item. Our job as their care takers is to make trading items fun and stress free!
Some Signs of Resource Guarding
- Running away with an item, growling, lunging, freezing over a space or item
- Showing fearful signs such as a tucked tail or cowering posture when you enter space or reach for item
- Increasing speed of eating as you approach a treat or bowl of food
- Giving the other dog or person a “hard stare” with a stiff posture as they approach
- Whale eyes, yawns, paw raises, look aways or lip licks; these are all low stress signs
- Stiff tail positioned straight up, can be still or wagging, usually paired with a lowered head and stiff body posture.
- “The dog will grow out of it” – actually, what dogs learn as puppies often form their later behaviour as adults, especially what is perceived as threatening or scary.
- “I need to show them I control the food “ ( taking it away or putting hand in bowl intrusively while dogs are eating) – actually this can lead to an increase in likelihood of food guarding. This is because the dog will begin to associate you approaching, with something not so nice happening to the food.
- “Dogs are only resource guarding to show dominance in the household” – This is not true, their motive is to maintain possession of the valuable resource they have found. They want to keep that resource, and are not motivated by dominance.
Managing Your Dog’s Environment
Your dog is learning all the time, not just when you are training. It is important to set your dog up for success throughout their life, especially when introducing a new training program. The following tips and tricks can help ensure that your dog has positive, well-managed experiences when interacting with other dogs and/or people with their prized possessions:
- Manage their items, food, toys space, preventing them from having unsupervised or prolonged time with an item. Work through the resource guarding by trading for higher value items or adding a tasty high value treat to their food dish while they are eating. You want to make a positive association with you entering into their space. Please contact a trainer to put a safety plan in place to avoid causing stress, conflict or injury.
- Avoid sharing toys in a high traffic area or with many people or dogs.
- Practice using a ‘switch’ or ‘open’ cue followed by a tasty treat. This will help notify your dog that you’re about to play the game
The ultimate aim of training is to change your dog’s perspective of other dogs and/or people around their items. Depending on your dog’s stress level and the degree of Resource Guarding different people/dogs/items/places (triggers), there are a few training techniques that can be used. It is important to note that the best way to determine the best training methods is to connect with a trainer to help determine the level of Resource Guarding your dog is experiencing and recommend a training program.
- Pairing (for low levels of Resource Guarding): this training technique is where every time your dog sees or hears a trigger, they are rewarded with something they like so that they learn to become excited instead of possessive, associating the approach towards or removal of an item with a good thing. For example, if you are possessive of your morning coffee, and I gave you $100 every time you let a coworker have a cup from your coffee maker- you would probably start looking for coworkers to share the coffee with and even feel a bit excited when you found someone!
- Desensitizing (for higher levels of Resource Guarding): this is where your dog is gradually exposed to high value items slowly, and is rewarded while this occurs. For example, if you are pretty possessive of your morning coffee, and I gave you something that calms you like a meditation soundtrack or playing a game on your phone you enjoy, while your coworker is taking some from across the room, you probably will adjust to the coworker taking the coffee. This gradually progresses, having the coworker move closer or have them take more coffee.