Resource Guarding: Things to Avoid

Resource guarding is a leading source of conflict and aggression in dogs. It can be a very scary thing to experience and there are a lot of tips/training techniques being recommend that can have a negative impact and be dangerous.

Resource Guarding 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.

As common as resource guarding is, it is often poorly understood and even completely misunderstood and labeled as dominance, jealousy, defiance, lack of respect … when more often than not it’s a behavior that stems in fear/anxiety over the potential loss of a resource.

There is a lot of bad advice and sometimes downright dangerous advice on how to deal and prevent resource guarding, so here are some common tips to AVOID if you are dealing with resource guarding.

First and foremost, if you dog is showing signs of resource guarding, get help from a credentialed, experienced dog trainer or behaviorist. RG can very quickly escalate to dangerous levels and be complicated to resolve so you’ll want to work with a professional that has an excellent understanding of behavior modification, canine body language and dog safety procedures.

MISTAKE #1: Bothering your dog while they eat or chew, which includes: putting your hand in their food, petting them while they eat or chew, or touching the item they’re eating or chewing.

At best, this will be an annoyance to your dog and at worst it will trigger a guarding response. These action can push your dog to express their annoyance or discomfort more clearly by growling, snapping, or biting. Think about trying to enjoy a meal while someone plays with your hair or tickles you!

MISTAKE #2: Taking items away from your dog by force.

Taking items from your dog can encourage your dog to hide items they have, which is potentially dangerous (like with sharp items or choking hazards) or it forces them to escalate their attempt to keep their possession. The dog will quickly learn that overt threats (growling, snapping, lunging and/or biting) work very well to keep people and other pets away.

MISTAKE #3: Hand feeding.

Hand feeding can sometimes be recommended for very specific cases that are under close professional supervision. But in most cases, hand feeding just creates more uncertainty and conflict for your dog. Imagine if I took all your money away and then proceeded to give it back to you dollar by dollar. How would you feel? Would it make you trust me?

MISTAKE #4: Punishing or correcting warning signals like growls.

By punishing or correcting a growling dog, the dog learns that warning signals don’t work. This means they have to escalate their attempts to communicate ( i.e. resort to yelling aka biting). If the punishment is significant enough that it suppresses the growling, this doesn’t necessarily improve the dog’s feelings and it can further strengthen the negative association that humans approaching will result in something bad. This means that even though they are not growling, they are still very uncomfortable with your presence. Think of it like taking the battery of the fire alarm: no more annoying beeping but now you won’t get alerted to a fire. The fire is still dangerous, you just don’t know it is coming.

MISTAKE #5: Putting your dog in a situation they feel trapped or can’t escape.