Do you have a dog who growls when anyone approaches his food bowl? Is your puppy protective about his toys or bones? Does your dog snarl when you try to move him off your couch or bed? This behavior is known as resource guarding and it can be a serious issue for families.
If resource guarding isn’t managed properly, it can lead to a dog becoming possessive over other things, and may pose a danger to dogs or humans in the household.
Ladder of Aggression
When a dog is engaged in resource guarding, he or she is displaying behavior that is intended to let others (humans or dogs) know to stay away from something the dog views as a necessary resource. This can include food, treats, toys, a favorite spot, or even a person.
Dogs have a variety of avenues for expressing discomfort, but more often than not we don’t recognize resource guarding until the dog is already growling or snapping. Unlike people, who communicate verbally, dogs communicate with their bodies. Fortunately, by paying attention to your dog’s body language you can learn to pick up on the signs that your dog is becoming aggressive. The following are examples of behaviors that may occur while a dog is guarding their food bowl:
- The appearance of “whale eyes” (whites of the eyes will be showing, usually while doing a sideways glance)
- Stiff body posture
- Dog stops eating
- Dog eats more rapidly
- Low growling
It’s important to understand that if you ignore your dog’s signs of discomfort, he may eventually resort to more extreme measures, such as biting, to get the point across.
Helping Your Dog
Helping a dog work through his resource guarding must be done carefully with the use of positive reinforcement. Trying to force a dog to relinquish a resource will only increase his sense of insecurity and make the guarding behaviors more intense. Try the following tactics to deal with resource guarding:
- If your dog guards his food bowl, throw high value treats next to the bowl from a safe distance. Work your way up to getting near the bowl as your dog begins to feel more comfortable.
- If your dog tends to guard a toy or other object, work on a trading system with him by throwing treats from a distance and slowly moving your way closer with each session. A similar tactic can be used for dogs who guard the couch, bed, or other location in the home; reward your dog for leaving the spot by giving a treat, or throwing treats on the floor to encourage him to get down.
- For dogs who guard a bone, rawhide, or something similar, consider not giving him these things in the future. There are plenty of safe and fun alternatives to bones and chews, and not giving these items to your pet does not make you a bad owner!
Working Through Your Dog’s Resource Guarding
Resource guarding is a normal dog behavior, not an attempt at dominance. Your goal should be to increase your dog’s sense of security when it comes to the resource so that he no longer feels the need to protect it.
With time, patience, and a commitment to helping your dog feel more secure, you can change his resource guarding behavior. Your team at Union Lake Pet Services is here for you every step of the way! Please don’t hesitate to give us a call with your questions, or to set up a consultation with one of our trainers. Your may want to consider private in-home training sessions where we can focus on your dog’s resources right in his home environment.