Resource Guarding in Dogs

Pet care & safety
pug playing with toy ball

A very favorite toy, a must-have treat, and a close bond with their person are fundamental to every dog’s quality of life. But if your dog has started getting possessive or aggressive over these special things or people, their enjoyment may have devolved into resource guarding.

A dog who is resource guarding isn’t happy just enjoying their item anymore, they become so insecure that they feel they must protect their resources or risk losing them to another person or animal. While resource guarding can be a tricky behavioral issue, it is generally manageable or can be resolved through positive reinforcement training.

What is resource guarding?

Resource guarding is an aggressive behavior where a dog is guarding a person, toy, food or treats, a sleeping spot, or other possessions. This aggression can be dangerous for people or animals that trigger the dog’s resource guarding. If a dog’s resource guarding is mild, they may stiffen or become nervous when they feel like their treasured item is at risk. More severe cases may result in a dog growling or even biting. Let’s break down a few common types of resource guarding:

Food aggression: Guarding food or treats is also known as food aggression in dogs, but a dog who feels it necessary to guard meals may also feel it necessary to protect other things as well. Bone aggression is very common, and rawhides, kibble, and treats are also valued resources that your dog feels they need to protect.

Toy aggression: Toy aggression in dogs may be less obvious. For example, playing tug of war when your dog snaps or bites you for touching the toy or hiding/hoarding toys. Toy aggression is dangerous with children in the home because dogs may select a child’s toy to guard, or a child may be injured if it tries to play with the dog’s favorite thing.

Person guarding: People are a highly valued prize for most dogs, and  sometimes dogs will chase or bite others who come too close to their BFF. To some, the dog seems devoted, but it can escalate quickly and should be addressed at the first sign. A dog’s person guarding can worsen if the person is sick or pregnant, and dogs sometimes focus their guarding on children. While a stable dog is observant of real threats, a dog with guarding tendencies will find threats even when they don’t exist.

Why is my dog so protective of me?

Some dogs protect the person that provides them with the most food or affection. In other cases, the dog may feel an individual needs protection, even if they really don’t. Here are some signs that your dog may be too protective over you:

  • They place themselves between you & others (people or animals) & stays close

  • They bark, growl, or snap when another person comes into the room or tries to get close to you

  • They become agitated when someone hugs or touches you

  • They express protective behavior even when others are a part of the household

How do I resolve my dog’s guarding behavior?

If your dog’s resource guarding isn’t severe, you may be able to safely manage it in your home by giving high-value treats or toys while they are in their crate or room with the door closed. Children should be kept away while they’re indulging in these things.

More severe cases call for positive reinforcement training. Don’t yell at your dog because it will only make them more insecure. Instead, try these steps:

  1. Use a leash or tether to keep your dog where they can’t reach you. Give them their food bowl, bone, or valued item.

  2. Enter the room from a good distance, maybe 8 feet, and throw some high-value food to them when you walk by. If your dog shows signs of warning or aggression, you’ve gone too close. Try again from further back.

  3. Repeat this casual treat throwing walk a few times. Once your dog seems relaxed and excited for their next treat, step closer and do it a few more times. Give your dog verbal praise when they show you happy, relaxed behavior.

Repeat this process often, with different items in different places. If you can, allow other people to start throwing treats too. Hopefully, your dog will start to associate your presence with good things instead of worrying that you’re coming to steal their stuff.

If your dog has already bitten or shown severe aggression towards someone, consult with a trainer right away. It’s worth the trainer’s fee to avoid a serious injury or lawsuit later on.

Resource guarding is a very common yet treatable behavioral issue. With a little positive reinforcement to help them through their worries, you can both be happier and safer.