Resource Guarding in Dogs

Resource guarding occurs when dogs exhibit aggressive behaviors, such as barking, biting, and lunging, over food or toys. Resource guarding can stem from fear and anxiety, frustration, and territoriality. It’s important to identify this behavior early and use proper training techniques to improve it.

Why do dogs guard food or objects?

Dogs may exhibit resource guarding for a variety of reasons, ranging from mild to more severe behavioral issues. Often, dogs become possessive over objects that are of high value to them, like special toys, treats, or even regular meals.

  • Anxiety and fear: Some dogs who are anxious and fearful may display resource guarding when they feel afraid or feel that other aspects of their environment are out of their control.

  • Frustration: Dogs may resource guard when they are understimulated or not getting enough physical exercise. They put their leftover energy and effort into guarding toys or food. In turn, they become overly fond of these possessions, which leads to further resource guarding.

  • Conflict: This is the most common reason for resource guarding, and it stems from food or object dominance. Dogs can use food or objects as a way to assert themselves over other pets or humans in the household, and they can become aggressively possessive as a result.

If you notice any signs of guarding behaviors, start training as soon as possible, to ensure it does not escalate and become dangerous.

How to curb resource guarding

Resource guarding may appear gradually or suddenly, so if you notice any signs of guarding behaviors, start training as soon as possible. It’s important to get to the root of your dog’s resource guarding to ensure it does not escalate and become dangerous.

It’s important to remember that negative reinforcement and punishment may intensify the behaviors, so a positive approach is best.

  • Avoid triggers. If your dog guards a certain object or toy, only allow them to play with it in a separate room away from other dogs and people. If they are possessive over food, feed them away from others. Try splitting up meals or only feeding after they show calm behaviors.

  • Exercise your dog. Make sure your dog gets enough stimulation, both mentally and physically. Interactive or puzzle toys can help to keep them stimulated during the day, and you should ensure they’re getting an appropriate amount of exercise every day. If your pup is worn out, they will be less likely to put effort into resource guarding and engage in aggressive tendencies.

  • Ask for tricks and commands. Regularly practicing obedience training and teaching your dog tricks is a great way to increase their mental stimulation and tire them out physically. Check out our top tips for dog training.

  • Reward good behaviors. Using positive reinforcement techniques, reward your dog with treats, pets and praise when they display good behaviors throughout the day, such as when they are playing nicely or relaxing. This reinforces the positive behaviors and helps to discourage negative ones.

  • Try a relaxation protocol. Relaxation protocols are training tactics that essentially teach dogs to relax themselves. Check out Suzanne Clothier’s dog relaxation protocol, or Karen Overall’s relaxation protocol for more advanced training. You reward your dog for continued relaxed behaviors with increasing distractions, teaching them to self-soothe and keep calm.

If your dog is struggling with resource guarding, or any behavioral issues, talk to your veterinarian. They can help determine if your dog has any medical problems underlying the behaviors. They can also help to understand your dog’s mindset and whether any environmental or other changes can account for the resource guarding.

For additional assistance, consider a professional dog trainer who can work on important commands like “drop it” and “leave it,” as well as help to desensitize your dog to any triggers.

Small Door is here to help our members with resource guarding or other behavioral issues.

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