Resource guarding is when a dog shows defensive behaviour to keep a human or dog away from a particular item or “resource” that they value highly. A resource can be food, toys, a dog bed, a sofa, or even a person.
Resource guarding can look like:
- Standing over the item they value, with a very stiff and still posture
- Running away with the item
- Hiding the item
- Eating food items very quickly when approached
- Growling or showing aggressive behaviour to protect the item
Resource guarding is a natural behaviour for a dog, and played an important part in survival when dogs were wolves. Now we need to teach our dogs that they no longer need to worry about it; that people aren’t going to steal food or other resources off them.
We can teach our dogs that hands come to give not take. We may do this by approaching them when they are eating their dinner and drop a super tasty treat by their bowl and then walk away. We can also teach our dog about fair deals and swaps. So if we need them to drop a toy or something they have picked up that they shouldn’t then we will swap them for another toy or treat rather than just taking off them. Show your dog the alternative, when they let go of the toy/item they shouldn’t have then we tell them good and throw the swap item for them to get. By throwing it, it creates space for us to pick up what the dog had originally. Once our dog has practised letting go and being rewarded for it then we can add a cue for this behaviour like drop or leave.
For beds and sofas we can teach a dog that our approach means good things like treats and we can reward our dog for moving away from them too by luring off and then rewarding (if we need to be able to move them). We can also provide the dog their own bed away from the human sofa/bed so they can enjoy it undisturbed and not have to be moved from it (to avoid unnecessary conflict) you can leave a lightweight lead on the dog in the house when you are there and armed with some treats move them away from the human sofa/bed and onto their own then reward heavily there.
Newly rescued dogs often resource guard in the early days, this is because they haven’t had things of their own before and this is very exciting and makes the new things of higher value to our dog. Its recommended to start by your dog having their own space to relax like a bed or crate, only give a couple of toys and nothing too exciting (like fluffy or squeaky) and feed the dogs in their own space and leave them in peace to eat. As your dog gets to know you and know you aren’t going to take things off them then you can introduce things of higher value like chews and sofas. Starting off by keeping your dogs world quite small really helps not overwhelm them, and you can spoil them more when they are settled!