Dog guarding bone in food bowl

Key takeaway

Resource guarding is a somewhat common behavior that dogs may display with both food and non-food items. Experts don’t know a lot about what causes resource guarding, but it’s generally considered a natural behavior. Creating a safe environment and using training techniques can help reduce resource guarding behavior in dogs.

Have you noticed your dog being protective or even aggressive when they have food or a toy? It’s not uncommon for dogs to be protective over resources, whether that means guarding their food bowl or not letting go of a toy they have in their mouth.

While resource guarding is considered normal canine behavior to some degree, it can be a problem if your dog becomes aggressive around food or non-food items. If your dog is resource guarding to the point that it’s becoming a problem, you should talk to your vet about it to determine the best course of action.

Fortunately, there are ways to help your dog feel more comfortable and train them to reduce resource guarding. Before you train your dog or make any serious changes to their environment, you should talk to your vet. If you want to know more about resource guarding in dogs and what you can do about it, keep reading.

What Is Resource Guarding?

Resource guarding in dogs is a somewhat common behavior where dogs become stressed or aggressive when they’re in possession of food or a non-food item. You may notice signs of anxiety in dogs when they’ve got a toy in their mouth or when somebody approaches their food while they’re eating.

Graphic listing signs of resource guarding

Signs Of Resource Guarding In Dogs

As a dog owner, it’s your job to keep an eye out for signs that something is going on with your dog. The problem with resource guarding in dogs is that the signs may be subtle, which makes them hard to spot. That being said, there are definitely a handful of warning signs you should look out for if you’re worried about your dog resource guarding.

Minor signs of resource guarding include your dog displaying an aggressive posture (i.e., freezing, head lowering, muscle tension, staring), lip licking, collecting items, and blocking access to the area where the resource is located.1 If resource guarding gets worse, your dog may begin growling, barking, or biting. This behavior is most common with food and food-related items, which includes toys your dog likes to chew on.

It’s important to note that resource guarding in dogs can be acquired or inherited at any age, and it may progressively get worse. If your dog is displaying this behavior, you should talk to your vet.

Graphic listing triggers for resource guarding

What Causes A Dog To Resource Guard?

This is where the discussion about resource guarding gets a little tricky. To some degree, we don’t actually know what causes sudden resource guarding in dogs, so it’s not something that’s easily preventable.

In some regards, resource guarding is a natural behavior for dogs to exhibit. Dogs may guard resources as a means of survival, which is something a lot of animals do. However, just because this behavior is normal doesn’t mean it’s acceptable in a household, so it’s important to learn how to fix resource guarding in dogs1.

Like humans, dogs learn a lot from the environment they’re in. If a dog experiences resource scarcity or similar issues as a puppy, that can carry over to their adult life. Dogs can also become stressed, which may make resource guarding worse. And of course, the value and importance you place on certain objects such as treats and toys have an effect on resource guarding as well.2

Graphic listing 3 steps to stop resource guarding in dogs

How To Stop Resource Guarding In Dogs

While resource guarding in dogs is fairly normal behavior, it can lead to a lot of problems if you don’t get it under control. In some cases, dogs may snap at people or even bite if they feel their resources are threatened. Here’s what you need to know about how to fix resource guarding in dogs.

1. Create a safe environment

Dogs may be more likely to guard resources when they don’t feel safe in their environment. Your dog may feel threatened by the presence of certain people, or they may feel like resources are scarce and they must guard them to have enough. If you have multiple dogs, give them separate areas to eat so they don’t feel like they have to compete. You can also use baby gates, crates, a door, and other similar tools to help your dog feel safe and protected when eating or playing with toys. Another good rule of thumb is to not feed in high traffic areas and instead, opt to feed your dog in a quiet space away from other people and pets in the household, and as always, don’t approach them while they’re eating.

2. Start training early when possible

Training dogs early on can help reduce separation anxiety and set your dog up for success later in life. The earlier you train your dog, the easier it will be for them to learn positive behavior. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t always possible, particularly if you rescue or adopt a dog several years into its life.

3. Retrain with behavior modification exercises

While early training is important, it’s far from the only way to stop resource guarding in dogs. If you have a dog who has a resource guarding problem, the key is to retrain them with behavior modification exercises.

There are lots of skills that can help reduce resource guarding in dogs, including the “leave it” and “drop it” techniques. The trick is simple: If your dog has a toy or food they won’t drop, you can teach them to drop that item in exchange for a treat or toy of higher value. This is particularly helpful when your dog has something they’re not supposed to have, such as clothes or children’s toys.

Please note, you should always consult your vet before beginning any training program with your pet. Many dogs need a diagnosis and potentially medication before beginning a behavioral modification program.

Relaxation techniques can also be very effective for resource guarding. The key is to teach your dog to relax and feel comfortable away from the spot or item they’re guarding. While you’re implementing relaxation exercises, you can also teach your dog to go to a place, such as a dog bed, at your command.3,4

Small dog growling as a result of resource guarding

Resource Guarding: Frequently Asked Questions

Can resource guarding be fixed?

Like most behavioral issues in dogs, resource guarding can be treated at some level with training and behavior modification. The key is to make your dog feel more comfortable in their environment so they don’t feel like they have to compete for resources. While it’s better to train your dog when they’re young to eliminate these behaviors, behavior modification and relaxation exercises can help older dogs overcome resource guarding as well.

Is resource guarding normal?

You might be concerned about your dog resource guarding, but it’s actually somewhat normal behavior that you shouldn’t worry too much about. Dogs may guard resources because of their genetics, or they may do it as a result of experiencing resource scarcity as a puppy. If you are concerned about resource guarding, you can take your dog to a vet who can teach you how to fix resource guarding in dogs.

Happy dog holding ball in mouth

Final Notes

Resource guarding is a behavioral problem a lot of dog owners may worry about, especially if it leads to aggression. For the most part, this behavior is normal but it can become a problem if your dog is growling, barking, and biting around food. Fortunately, behavior modification can help your dog stop guarding resources.

If you need help getting your dog to stop resource guarding, you should talk to a vet. With telemedicine for pets from Dutch, you can get the help you need from the comfort of your home. We can help you decide on a treatment plan for conditions including allergies, anxiety, and more. To find out more or get started, contact Dutch today.

References

  1. Jacobs, Jacquelyn A., et al. "Factors associated with canine resource guarding behaviour in the presence of people: A cross-sectional survey of dog owners." Preventive veterinary medicine 161 (2018): 143-153. 

  2. “Resource Guarding in Dogs: What to Do (and What Not to Do).” Preventive Vet, https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/resource-guarding-in-dogs

  3. “Resource Guarding in Dogs: What to Do (and What Not to Do).” Preventive Vet, https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/resource-guarding-in-dogs

  4. Karetnick, Jen. “Resource Guarding: What to Do When Your Dog Steals and Guards Items.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 11 May 2020, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/resource-guarding-why-does-my-dog-guard-objects/.