Resource Guarding - Dogs getting gnarly over their stuff!
Dogs love their food and their toys and it’s natural for them to get excited around both. But some dogs start to display anti-social behaviour around their stuff, and this is called ‘resource guarding’. Also known as ‘possessive aggression’, dogs typically display behaviours such as growling, lunging and sometimes even biting over their ‘treasures’. A treasure is whatever your dog has decided is valuable to them and can quite often be food, favourite toys or treats, occasionally even their owner.
It is important to understand that, whilst problematic, this behaviour is a natural hardwired survival strategy which stems from pre domesticated days where dogs would have to scavenge and protect their hoard in the wild. Now the good news is that these behaviours can be prevented or corrected with training.
Here are some of my top tips on how to prevent and tackle resource guarding!
Prevention is always better than the cure! It is important to teach your dog as early as possible not to fear losing something they perceive as valuable. With puppy training there are several things you can implement to help prevent guarding behaviours from escalating.
- Teach your pup the “Drop and Leave” command
- Practice positive trade offs! This is extremely useful when teaching the drop and leave command. Teaching your dog to drop their toy or chew in exchange for a higher value treat or toy will help to reinforce the message that a more positive reward is available if they obey the command.
- Managing the environment and the value of things in it. If you don’t chase your pup when they have pinched something off of the dinner table it will hold less value.
- Leave your pup to eat in peace. It is best to leave them undisturbed whilst eating, this includes feeding separately from any other pets in the home.
- Never try to forcibly remove something from your pup's mouth, unless it poses a threat to their safety.
Breaking the habit. If your dog is already displaying guarding type behaviour there are some things you can do to help try and rewire this base instinct.
- Think about your approach. Quite often when we want our dog to drop something we will stand over them or come directly towards them. This can be very confronting and if your dog gives you a ‘warning’ signal you should stop what you are doing and reconsider how you approach the situation…this is where positive exchange comes in handy.
- Positive exchange. Instead of attempting to remove whatever it is that your dog is guarding, think positive negotiation. This is one of the best ways to teach the drop and leave commands too! The trick is to teach your dog that by leaving their ‘treasure’ they will get something of even higher value. Start with a highly regarded treat, some tasty chicken perhaps.
- For those dogs that live in multi-dog households you may need to consider separate feeding areas if food possession is an issue. It is important to ensure that there are enough key resources in the home for each dog. Not every dog will tolerate sharing their bed and favourite toys!
It is also important to be aware that quite often rescue dogs will display resource guarding because of lack of basic resources historically. Being aware of things you can do when welcoming them into your home will also help with the transition and help them to feel more relaxed and secure in their new home. In some cases a qualified behaviourist may need to be sought to help with deeply ingrained behaviour.