Most people have encountered a dog that protects his possessions. This behavior is called “resource guarding” and is actually quite common though frequently misunderstood. Many think the dog is attempting to dominate their human counterparts. This misjudgment usually leads to a forceful correction escalating the behavior with every incident. In some cases, these dogs can become aggressive and dangerous when in possession of something they see as valuable.
What is resource guarding?
This tendency is actually an instinct in dogs. Dogs come programmed with certain genetics diluted from their wolf lineage as part of their behavioral inheritance. Resources may be in short supply at certain times of year or in certain environments, and are therefore valuable. In order to survive, gorging on available food and guarding from other animals is critical to stay alive.
Domestic dogs will also protect their resources. Instead of a deer carcass, it could be anything the dog has attached a value to like food, bones, toys, etc. Resources are not limited to food items; it can be anything that the dog considers valuable - owner, couch or a novel item. Dogs do guard from other dogs all of the time. Naturally, male dogs will keep competing males away from reproducing females. Dogs, regardless of gender, age or breed, have been known to guard cars, beds and even areas on the floor. When this behavior transfers to humans many people react emotionally out of anger or hurt: “I provide the best food, a nice home and all of the love and attention you could ever want and you are going to growl at me over a tissue? Well, then I am going to take it away from you.”
What resource guarding is:
An emotional response – your dog fears it will lose something.
A behavior issue that needs to be addressed at its root cause and by a force-free professional. There are many protocols to help families. Depending on the dog and the history, resource guarding can sometimes be reversed. For most dogs, it can at least be safely managed.
What resource guarding is not:
“Oh, I think my dog may be resource guarding. Now what?”
The first step is be sure you are taking precautions against putting the dog into situations where guarding is likely to occur. Then, consult a force-free, positive trainer. Do your homework. If any trainer wants to place a choke, prong or e-collar on your dog, they will be using pain as punishment to address this issue and you should take your dog and run. (They will use words like “correction.”) Because this behavior has an underlying anxiety component, punishment will make it worse. It will increase the dog’s discomfort and damage the dog emotionally. These techniques – like hanging a dog until all four feet are off the ground – do not work and above all else are abusive.
Instead of dominating an already anxious animal, the goal is to recondition the dog’s association with people - or dogs - and their approach while they are in possession of a valuable item. Making a person’s presence around the valuable item or area overwhelmingly positive will begin to recondition the dog’s response. This process takes time, patience and commitment. The reward will be a much more confident and happy dog that is no longer threatened by people around his resources. Another approach is teaching the dog to move away from objects automatically or on cue.
The following book goes into detail and appropriate ways to handle this behavior:
Mine! – A practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs by Jean Donaldson
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