Resource Guarding in Dogs

Resource guarding (guarding food, chews, toys, owners, etc.) is a very normal, adaptive behavior.  However, it is not a particularly desirable behavior to have in our household pets and it is a form of dog aggression.  If you have an adult dog that is guarding resources, you should consult a trainer who uses positive methods to help you.  In this case, the old adage “violence begets violence,” is true – using punishment-based training to stop guarding behavior can, literally, bite you in the butt!

Everyone who gets a puppy should practice exchanges with the puppy to prevent dog aggressive guarding behavior.  Exchanges simply mean that you take something the dog values (food bowl, chew or toy), give him something even better in return (leftover steak scrap), then give the original item back.  The dog learns that, not only will he get his valuable item back, but he gets something even better than that item, just for loaning it out for a short time!  These exchanges should continue throughout your dog’s life – this is a behavior that needs reinforcing and practice.

When you first begin your exchanges, they should only be done by adults.  When you can tell that your dog is thrilled that you are taking his food bowl away (not simply tolerating it, but actively happy), then you can bring children into the mix.  Start with you oldest children and work down to the younger children.

Although you should never have items valued by your dog available when small children are around (particularly visiting children), these exchanges will give you an extra safety net in case your management fails.  Hopefully, because you’ve worked with your dog, he won’t be upset if a two-year-old sticks his head in the dog’s food bowl!  However, always remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – pick that food bowl up when there’s a two-year-old in the house and you won’t ever have that problem.

Raising Canine has a school for dog trainers which focuses on operant training for dogs, dog behavior, working with clients and addressing client compliance, and the science behind behavior modification.