Does your dog snarl when you try to take a toy from him? Growl when another dog approaches his food bowl? Or perhaps "protect" you from passing people or dogs on the sidewalk? If so, you may have a resource guarder.
Resource guarding is a normal phenomenon in the animal world. A feral dog that doesn't guard his food is likely to starve. Even people guard what they find valuable. We set up security cameras around our properties, lock our valuables in safe places, and may refuse to share our hard-earned money with others. While our dogs don't have expensive jewelry or savings accounts, they do have items that are valuable to them: food, toys, chewies, sleeping spots, and beloved family members. And they don't want to lose their treasured belongings any more than you do.
Click Read More if you don't see the text below, and check out my interview with AKC TV for resource guarding tips.
With domesticated dogs, it's true that many of them will happily give you their favorite rawhide, or be unfazed when you push them off the couch. But a number of dogs (including my own Margaret) feel threatened when a person or animal tries to take a valued item away. They may respond in a number of ways, hoping to scare you away:
Why do dogs resource-guard? There are a variety of reasons. In some cases, a dog may have always had this tendency. But in other cases, the behavior has been learned. Sometimes an owner aims to teach their dog who's "boss" by intentionally removing the food bowl, chewy, or toy the dog is using. I've heard before, "Fido needs to learn that I can take his things away if I want to." In fact, the owner has actually taught the dog to guard more intensely. "My person can't be trusted and will steal my food while I'm eating. Next time, I'll have to act even scarier to make him go away," the dog thinks. Punishing the dog will make the situation even worse, confirming the dog's fears that the human isn't to be trusted. Other times, a complicated family dynamic, lack of structure at home, or stressors in the environment can lead to a dog that feels threatened when someone gets too close to his [insert item or favorite person here].
The good news is that resource guarding is generally one of the most straightforward behavior issues to treat. While every protocol is unique, the behavior modification process generally involves teaching the dog that something awesome happens when someone approaches his food bowl, toys, etc. For instance, while your dog is eating his rawhide, you approach and, instead of grabbing the chewy, toss a piece of chicken at his feet and then walk away. After lots of reps like this, following a methodical plan, your dog will love your approach! Find a qualified dog behavior consultant to help you build a plan that teaches your dog that he can trust you, and that it's actually pretty cool not to guard his treasured items.
Kate is a certified dog behavior consultant, certified dog trainer, certified dog parkour instructor, and award-winning author in Brooklyn, NY with Doggie Academy and in Southbury, CT.