Raising a puppy can be a wonderful and rewarding experience but can also be daunting: what if we get it wrong? What if our puppy becomes aggressive? One of the most common sources of aggression in pet dogs that can begin or accidentally be taught in puppyhood is resource guarding.
What is Resource Guarding?
It is “the use of avoidance, threatening, or aggressive behaviors by a dog to retain control of food or non-food items in the presence of a person or other animal.” Usually this means that a dog will walk/run away, freeze, stare, growl, snap, lunge and or bite if they are approached by another animal or person while they have something they value like food, a chew, or a toy.
One thing to remember is that resource guarding is normal to some degree: it is normal for dogs to want to retain possession of valuable items, even puppies. The problem arises when there is conflict around sharing resources and the dog learns that aggressive displays like growling and snapping work very well to keep people and other pets away from their resources. Severe resource guarding can be caused by genetics but is also often a problem that is accidentally taught over time:
By repeatedly/routinely taking things from our dogs we teach them to see us as a threat
By punishing/disciplining our dogs and taking items away we teach our dogs to associate our presence or proximity to them or their resources with negative consequences
Our dogs learn that aggressive displays and overt threats work at keeping people or pets away from their stuff
Their subtle warning signs (turning away, walking away, hard stare, freeze, accelerated consumption) are ignored and they need to escalate (in essence yell)
Resource Guarding can be especially problematic in homes with other pets or with young children who might accidentally trigger a guarding response and get hurt in the process. There is a lot of bad advice and sometimes downright dangerous advice on how to deal with and prevent resource guarding. Here are some tips on how to prevent resource guarding from becoming an issue with your puppy!
Make your Puppy Feel Safe During Feeding and Chewing Times
Food and chews should be given in a quiet location where your pup won’t be disturbed by people or other pets. If your puppy grows up always feeling safe around food and chews, they’ll never have a need to be defensive towards people or pets approaching simply because it’s never been a big deal.
My personal preference is to feed and give chews to my pup inside the crate or play pen. This strategy also allows you to kill two birds with one stone. Your puppy gets a safe, quiet location for eating or chewing and you’re creating value for spending time in the crate or play pen. This setup is especially recommended when there are other pets and or children in the home to prevent accidental bumping into, petting, or taking of the food/item the dog has. Leave your puppy in peace until they have finished consuming the item or leave the item on their own.