Understanding and Managing Resource Guarding in Dogs

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Understanding and Managing Resource Guarding in Dogs

Resource guarding in dogs refers to behaviours exhibited when a dog feels the need to protect certain items or spaces. This could include food, toys, or even their favourite resting spot. Although resource guarding is a natural dog behaviour designed for survival, some dogs are more predisposed to resource guarding than others. It can also be heavily influenced by learning, such as how accessible resources are in the nest and how humans and other animals act around resources. Teaching puppies they don’t need to guard because humans don’t confront them around resources is important to prevent escalation along with planning and managing the dynamics of a multi-pet household to reduce competition. Addressing resource guarding is crucial for maintaining a harmonious household and ensuring the safety of all family members, including the dog who is guarding.

Identifying Resource Guarding Behaviour

Common signs of resource guarding include growling, snapping, or a stiff body posture when approached while in possession of an item. It’s important to differentiate these behaviours from playful ones, as misunderstanding them can lead to incorrect handling of the situation. Some dogs will play keep away with resources which can simply be because they enjoy the human chasing them more than the actual resource, but others will play keep away due to resource guarding. Other dogs will swallow items quickly to keep them when humans approach, and this is often because the human is attempting to keep the dog safe by removing something that could be harmful.

For more in-depth insights on identifying resource guarding behaviour, consider consulting accredited dog behaviourists from Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC).

Understanding the Causes of Resource Guarding

Psychological factors, such as pain, past trauma, or a lack of early appropriate exposure often contribute to resource guarding. Environmental influences, like competition with other pets, incorrect training methods, or inconsistency in feeding routines, can also play a role. It is important to note that the dominance theory has been debunked and your dog is not resource-guarding to try and dominate you. Between dogs, resource guarding is complex and can be due to competitive behaviour used to control & access more of their environment. This is heavily influenced by many other factors such as genetics and previous learning however and is not as simple as a dog being ‘dominant’. More on this can be found on the Dogs Trust website.

Impact of Resource Guarding on Dogs and Owners

This behaviour can lead to serious behavioural issues and strain the relationship between the dog and its owner. It is one of the most dangerous behaviours in a dog and human household, particularly where children are present and is a common reason for dog bites. It’s essential to address these behaviours early to prevent escalation.

Preventing Resource Guarding in Puppies

Early appropriate exposure and positive reinforcement are key in preventing resource guarding in puppies. Teaching them to feel secure around resources as well as when and how to leave them by using reward-based methods is an important part of preventing problems. Be aware of outdated advice that recommends taking items off your dog, touching them when eating or putting hands in food bowls. These recommendations can appear to work initially as they are confrontational and dogs will usually initially do everything they can to avoid confrontation, but they commonly cause or exasperate problems with resource guarders. Any conflicting emotions around resources such as feeling confronted or punished can lead to dangerous responses, even if they are not seen straight away.

Strategies for Managing Resource Guarding in Adult Dogs

For adult dogs, high-level management is initially needed whilst we prevent practice and identify the cause(s) of the resource guarding. Behavioural approaches focusing on desensitisation and counter-conditioning can be effective when the dog is ready. Still, they can sensitise the dog further and cause more issues if not done properly and at the right time.

Professional Help: When to Seek Assistance

In serious cases, professional help from an accredited behaviourist is advisable. Recognising when the situation is beyond DIY solutions is critical for the well-being of both the dog and the owner. If your dog is showing behaviours like growling & snapping around resources, hiding with resources or swallowing items, you should contact an accredited behaviourist from abtc.org.uk

Safety Measures and Precaution

Ensuring the safety of family members and other pets is paramount. Creating a safe environment, where the dog feels secure and not threatened or stressed, can significantly reduce guarding behaviours.

Role of Diet and Exercise

A well-balanced diet and appropriate exercise can positively impact a dog’s behaviour. Nutritional imbalances, digestive problems and/or inappropriate physical activity can exacerbate guarding tendencies. Commonly people try to increase exercise when behaviour problems start in the hope of a dog’s behaviour improving when they are tired. Appropriate exercise is important for feel-good neurochemistry, health and resilience but take care not to over-do it or increase exercise too quickly, as over-tiredness and physical discomfort can increase frustration which is a primary emotion when a dog resource guards.

Long-term Management and Care

Managing resource guarding is an ongoing process. Consistent training and support are key to maintaining progress and preventing relapses. Depending on the course for resource guarding, many cases can be treated successfully and with ongoing support, a dog can learn new coping strategies for stressors in future. Some dogs may be more likely to continue practising resource guarding in certain situations and will need more management and help, but can still live with success in a household that is able to meet the needs of the dog.

Role of Medical Issues in Resource Guarding

Common underlying medical issues can contribute to resource-guarding behaviour. Addressing these health concerns is a crucial step in the overall management strategy and can be difficult to identify in dogs, which is why a behaviourist should always work alongside your vet.

Conclusion: Embracing a Positive Future

In conclusion, understanding and managing resource guarding in dogs requires patience, consistency, and sometimes professional help. Embracing these challenges can lead to a harmonious and safe environment for both dogs and their owners.


  1. What is resource guarding?

    Resource guarding is a behaviour dogs exhibit when they feel the need to protect certain items or spaces from perceived threats.

  2. How can I tell if my dog is resource-guarding?

    Signs include growling, snapping, or showing stiffness when approached while in possession of an item. Other signs such as running away with resources or swallowing items when approached can also be signs of resource guarding.

  3. Are certain breeds more prone to resource-guarding?

    While any breed can exhibit resource guarding, some breeds may be more predisposed due to their historical roles or genetic traits.

  4. Can resource guarding be completely cured?

    With consistent training and management, resource guarding can be significantly reduced, though some dogs may always exhibit mild guarding behaviours.

  5. What should I do if my dog shows aggression during resource guarding?

    Seek professional help, especially if your dog has shown dangerous behaviours such as using aggression or swallowing items. Avoid confrontation and focus on management initially before finding correct help with training and behaviour modification techniques.

TL;DR: Key Points Summary

Understanding and managing resource guarding in dogs involves:

  • Identifying behaviours
  • Understanding causes
  • Implementing preventative measures
  • Exploring strategies for both puppies and adult dogs
  • Seeking professional help when needed
  • Ensuring safety measures and precautions
  • Recognising the role of diet, exercise, and medical issues
  • Committing to long-term management and care
  • Embracing a positive future through patience and consistency

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