Resource guarding, defined as the guarding of any item deemed valuable by a dog from a human or another animal, is normal behavior for dogs. Animals in nature who successfully protect resources such as food, mates, or territory are more likely to survive than those who do not. Guarded items may include food, chew bones, toys, a bed, or even you. Behaviors associated with guarding may include running away with the object, growling at an approaching individual, chasing the individual away, or biting.
Studies have shown that shelter dogs who displayed guarding behaviors on behavioral assessments conducted in the shelter may enter a home and not guard, so it may never become an issue in your home. Alternatively, even if your adopted dog continues to resource guard in your home, it may not be considered a problem by many dog owners. They simply exercise caution around their dogs while the dogs are in possession of items that could potentially be guarded. For example, they’ll leave their dogs alone while they’re eating, or they may feed their dogs in a separate room or in their crate, and they never attempt to take away stolen food or items from their dogs.
Serious problems may arise when there are children in the home. Children, particularly young children, typically are not capable of recognizing a dog’s warning signals, which communicate that the dog is not comfortable with something. They are also more likely to behave carelessly around the dog, forgetting that the dog has a guarding problem, and simply cannot be trusted around the dog.
Resource guarding may become more serious for adults if the guarding behavior progresses to more and more items, to the extent that the owner can no longer predict which item will be guarded. This results in a problem that’s not only difficult to manage, but difficult to prevent. Additionally, if you think your dog is likely to bite, has a history of biting, or if you simply are not sure if your dog will bite you should not attempt to resolve the resource guarding on your own. If you adopted your dog from ARF Hamptons, then please contact them immediately and ask to speak to the behaviorist, Dr. Barbara Pezzanite (631-537-0400 ext. 203). If you did not adopt from ARF Hamptons, then you should consult with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (DACVB). If you do not have access to a behaviorist, you can seek help from a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), as long as the trainer has the necessary qualifications to help you. Determine whether the trainer has education and experience in treating aggression. To find a CAAB, DACVB, or CPDT in your area please visit the following websites:
The following exercises are recommended for individuals who are comfortable working with their dog because they’re familiar with their dog’s behavior and body language. The goal is to teach your dog that when you approach him while he’s eating he’ll get something from you that’s even better, and more importantly that you’re not approaching to remove his food.
It may be best to try the simplest solution first: trading with a high value treat (cheese, deli meat, etc.). If trading with a high value treat isn’t effective, try conducting the “resource guarding” exercise below. The exercise should be conducted using dry kibble in your dog’s bowl so that the treats you offer are better than the food in his bowl. If you don’t feed your dog kibble, then make sure the special treats being offered are better than the food in his bowl.
Trading with a Treat
If the item is something your dog absolutely should not have, an item dangerous to his well- being, or even a chew bone then trade the item for a high value treat (cheese, deli meat, hot dogs, etc.).
- Approach your dog, stop 5 or so feet away from him, wave the treat in front of him to get his attention, and then toss it far enough away from where he’s positioned with his guarded item so that you have enough time to go to the item and quickly pick it up before he returns.
- If your dog never leaves his possession for treats, conduct the resource guarding exercise below.
Resource Guarding Exercise
- Walk toward your dog while he’s eating from his food bowl, stop 4-5 feet away from him and say “What’s that you have there?.” Take a step toward him, toss a treat into his bowl, and then step away from him and repeat until he’s finished eating the food in his bowl. Repeat this step for one to two weeks, or until your dog appears relaxed when you approach. Individual dogs progress at different rates so base your speed on how your dog responds to you.
- After the two week period, walk toward your dog when he’s eating from his food bowl, stop 2 or 3 feet away from him and say “What’s that you have there?,” toss the treat and walk away. Repeat for another week or so.
- Next walk toward your dog, stop directly in front of him and say “What’s that you have there?,” drop the treat directly into his bowl and walk away.
- The next step is to walk up to your dog while he’s eating, say “What’s that you have there?,” bend down slightly, gently wave the treat a couple of inches away from his face to get his attention, and then offer him the treat. Always walk away after giving him the treat. Repeat until you can hold the treat an inch away from his face.
- Steps 6 and 7 are optional. Most dog owners do not care to touch their dog’s food bowl while they’re eating, and are perfectly happy to be able to walk past their dog without any signs of aggression. However, if you choose to proceed begin by saying “What’s that you have there?,” bend down, touch the side of the food bowl, offer the treat, and then walk away. Repeat. You should look for a quick tail wag, loose body, soft face, and soft eyes.
- The last step is to approach your dog saying “What’s that you have there?,” bend down, lift the food bowl several inches off the floor, drop a treat into the bowl, and then return the food bowl. Repeat until he’s finished all of the food in his bowl.
Barbara Pezzanite, Ph.D., CPDT-KA
Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist