Resource guarding

Updated on February 20, 2023

Resource guarding

The common wisdom in the canine community is that one should let a dog alone while it eats. You probably wouldn’t enjoy it if someone interrupted your meal, and I can see why you wouldn’t!

Some dogs are extremely possessive of their food, toys, bed, location, and even their human companions. Resource guarding occurs when a dog exhibits negative behaviours including growling, snarling, and lunging in attempt to protect its possession.

It’s an issue if it escalates to the point that it poses a threat to others around you. We will explain resource guarding in detail, including how to recognise the behaviour and what to do about it.

What is resource guarding?

Resource guarding occurs when a dog acts in an unusual way when confronted by a person or another animal it fears may steal its possessions. Toys, a bed, a chair, or even another person are all examples of resources that might be used. Food is the most typical target of resource guarding. Simply put, a resource is anything that your dog regards as essential or valuable.

Dogs with this trait view every human as potentially dangerous; they are unable to tell the difference between thieves and bystanders. Instead of reacting to something being taken away from them in the now, they are reacting to the prospect of something being taken from them in the future.

Why do dogs resource guard?

Most dogs historically have lived in the wild, where they have had to scavenge for their own food and guard what was properly theirs. Aggressive behaviours are rooted in a survival impulse that many modern canines still carry.

If it’s only two canines fighting, it’s probably nothing to worry about. It’s more of the dog’s way of expressing “Paws off!” than anything else. It’s natural to want to assert your ownership over anything, “This is mine,” so that no unauthorised guests dig into your meal. If the other dog understands that the dog that is grumbling is only protecting its food by positioning its body over it and curling its lip, then everyone is happy. But you have a problem on your hands if this escalates into a full-blown battle.

Although it can happen to any dog, it is more prevalent among dogs who have been abandoned or mistreated. These dogs are just acting on a highly adaptive impulse. Dogs are able to make do with little by fighting off other packs. Similarly, shelter dogs are more prone to resource guard after being adopted because of the intense rivalry for food, toys, and territory that exists in such an environment. It’s possible that they’ll carry this mannerism into their new families.

Some believe it may appear in a dog as young as 8 weeks old. Several breeders use a single dish to feed an entire litter of puppies. Puppies vary in their confidence levels, so some would be less likely to push their fellow canines aside to get to the bowl. Hence, more food is given to the more self-assured, aggressive puppies. It’s possible they’ll carry this logic over to their new place of residence.

It’s unusual to watch your dog protecting their food or toys in your home, even though it’s perfectly natural behaviour. You’ll be able to rest assured that you haven’t done anything to make your dog fearful that they’ll lose anything valuable to them. Your dog should know by now that we have no intention of removing their slobbery dog toys from their possession.

What does resource guarding look like?

Some dogs may only show resource guarding aggression if they are physically holding the resource; others may try to defend something that is only in their surrounding vicinity, even if they weren’t interested in it before you came near.

When resources are being guarded, several behaviours are common:


display of teeth



A lip curl

Constricted muscles

Disposing of It

To place one’s body such that it rests upon something


Putting head down and covering ears

eating in a panic

-Staring fixedly at the person or animal that they see as a threat.

When a dog’s eyes are white like a whale, it is said to have “whale eye.”

It’s only normal for dogs to occasionally demonstrate one of these behaviours to warn off other dogs that get too close to their food. The situation becomes problematic when the violent behaviour is persistent and directed at both people and other animals. Resources may be guarded by any dog, not just one particular breed.

Stopping the resource guarding

Before resource guarding behaviours have begun, it is often hard to predict if your dog will develop these troublesome tendencies.

Try to be aware of and alert for nonverbal cues, such as staring out into space, “whale eyes,” a curled lip, and a rigid posture. If you see this happening, take steps to gradually alter your dog’s outlook on people and other dogs approaching them while they’re with their resource to prevent any potentially dangerous outbursts of aggression. Waiting only makes finding a solution more difficult. To get more help, see a canine behaviourist if the resource guarding has progressed to this point.

Resource guarding over food

Hand-feeding your dog part of their meals may help alleviate resource guarding behaviours if they are exhibiting only minor indications, especially if they are still a puppy. This teaches your dog that humans are the source of all the treats and tasty food they like.

If that doesn’t work, you’ll need to lure your dog far away from home with the promise of delicious treats. If your dog has a severe case of resource guarding, you may have to throw goodies in their direction while standing far away from their meal (outside their “reactive zone”). For the next few days, this process should be repeated before each meal.

If your dog seems content and relaxed while you’re throwing goodies from a distance, you can move closer. Getting too close too fast will set you back in your training.

Treat your dog when it finishes its meal by walking up to it as it is eating, dropping the goodies near the bowl, and then leaving the area quickly. After finishing the goodies, your dog should go back to finishing their original food in the dish. Repeating this strategy should eventually have your dog looking up at you expectantly as you approach with a steady supply of goodies. Just what you needed. Being the source of even more delicious food, you’ve just cemented your dog’s view of you as a good presence at mealtime. Treats can now be tossed from this distance into the basin.

You should exercise caution when you approach your dog, even while you are carrying only good intentions. To avoid appearing aggressive, you should always approach them while on your knees. Instead of approaching or leaning over your dog, which would put you at a much higher, intimidating, and more imposing level, you are now on your dog’s level. You should back off and approach your dog more slowly if you see any of the warning signals, such as a tense body, a curled lip, or a growl.

The next step is to go close enough to your dog so you can drop treats into their dish as you pass by. While feeding your dog, save a little for yourself. Don’t rush them to complete what’s currently in their bowl before offering more. As soon as they’re done, you may keep adding to it.

It will take a long time to entirely modify their behaviour, but it is worth it to keep doing these steps over and over again. It’s hoped that at the conclusion of this, your dog will feel more comfortable with having visitors about when he or she is eating. You must stress that you are the source of more delicious meals.

Resource guarding over toys

To reduce resource guarding, a technique very similar to that used with food can be applied to the canine’s playthings and chews. Put a few goodies in a circle around your dog while he or she is relaxing with a favourite toy, and then give them the OK to get up and get the rewards. Repeat this process as many as you like. The goal is to have people connect good times and events with you.

You may also try teaching your dog the “drop it” command in these situations. To begin, choose something that you don’t mind your dog chewing on. This can be another toy or an empty toilet paper tube. As long as the item’s worth is high enough to pique their interest without exceeding their budget, you should be good to go. You should also stock up on delicious snacks.

Hold onto one end and swish it in front of your dog’s face, twist it, spin it, or do whatever else you can think of to make it interesting. The two of you can play a brief game of tug of war if they only grasp the other end.

Hold on to it, and then bring a very appetising (and very odorous) reward up to your dog’s nose. Whatever was in their mouth, they should spit it out. As soon as they do, give them a treat and keep doing this until you’re certain it’s working. Afterwards, you may use a verbal signal, such “drop it,” to reinforce the behaviour. You should give them a reward that is far more valuable than whatever it is they are now holding.

After they’re done snacking, signal them to take it and quickly provide them back the original goodie. Repetition of this conversation is encouraged. If all goes well, your dog will soon associate dropping an item with the promise of a nice treat and the knowledge that it will receive both the treat and the object it dropped. It’s a win-win situation!

To avoid having your dog repeatedly pick up the object in the hopes of bribing you with a reward when you’re not in a training session, hide it while you’re not using it.

Whatever it is that your dog is particularly protective about, you should keep it out of their reach until they have successfully dropped an object of far lower value. Then and only then can you use their valuable resource to take training to the next level.

Important tips

Although overcoming resource guarding might be challenging, there are several steps you can take to make your training more effective.

The point of training is to teach your dog to share its prized possession with you, so always bring something more valuable than the treat it is currently working for. It’s effective in producing an in-and-of-itself transformation in their emotional reaction.

Never, ever penalise your dog for resource guarding, since this will just reinforce the behaviour you’re attempting to modify. Doing so does nothing useful and may possibly exacerbate resource guarding behaviour. Dominating your dog will not improve your relationship with him.

A dog’s particular resource is something they should be left alone with at all times. If you have guests around, make sure they know about your dog’s peculiar habits beforehand. In the event that the item in question is a child’s favourite plaything, hiding it away may be prudent before guests come.

It’s important to use extreme caution while sharing a home with kids. It’s important to keep children away from your dog at all times, but especially when they’re eating or playing with their favourite toys or treats. In a household with only you and your dog, resource guarding is unlikely to be a major problem. Their limits will be respected, and they won’t have to resort to extreme measures to prevent you from crossing them. Nonetheless, these behaviours should be stopped immediately if your dog is displaying them in a home with children.

The most effective response is to immediately cease the behaviour if any patterns become apparent. The longer a dog has been permitted to engage in an undesirable behaviour, the longer it will take to correct. Whether or not your dog’s motivations for resource guarding are sound, the behaviour is hardwired into his or her brain.

Professional assistance from a dog behaviourist may be necessary if the behaviours are extreme.



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