Resource guarding is when a dog is displaying behavior (growling, snapping, biting, etc) intended to convince humans or other dogs to stay away from a valued resource. The valued resource could be food, a toy, a particular spot in the house, or even part of the dog’s own body. It is a very natural form of communication in the dog world, but is seen as unacceptable in human society.
Resource guarding is dangerous and is one of the most common causes of bites.
Resource guarding is ALSO one of the easiest behavior problems to fix (as long as there is not an underlying medical issue).
What we need to do is change the dogs emotions from fear to happy anticipation; instead of taking things from him, you are going to give him more wonderful things! My favorite analogy here is a birthday party–if you are at a party with your brother and he keeps stealing your birthday cake–what are you going to do? I would probably stab him with my fork. In contrast, if your Mum keeps coming over to give you more goodies–cake, pop, ice cream, etc., What are you going to do? You are going to hand over your plate pronto!
If you build up a solid enough history of giving them good tidbits when they have valued treasures, then when the inevitable happens and you don’t have a cookie, it won’t be a big deal. They will take it on faith that you will pay later.
It’s important to stay safe when working with a resource guarder. Manage the situation until training is complete (for example, no bones out). Never approach so close that the dog does growl. It’s best to do 5 to 30 reps in quick succession rather than do one “walk by” a day during meals. Start with items the dog is not likely to guard–so you might use a toilet paper roll for a dog that guards food, or a pile of boring old kibble for a dog that likes to guard paper objects. Work your way up to more difficult objects like a bone or favorite toy. Use a baby gate or other protective barrier between you if your dog ever lunges, snaps, or goes in to full freeze mode. These are serious signs of an imminent bite and you need to stay safe.
Common things that dogs resource guard include food, toys, paper, people, and space. They may also guard from other dogs or humans. The underlying principles and solutions are the same, but may require some ingenuity (and pro help). Keep a notebook and don’t panic!
Resource Guarding is a common subject in the Dog Training 101 community. Here are some additional resources on the subject:
Body Language during training (video):
Kikopup (video), Preventing Toy Guarding:
Karen Pryor (blog) Resource Guarding in a Multi-dog household:
Jean Donaldson (book) Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs: