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Pati Robins

Resource Guarding explined from my expierience

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Resource Guarding - i think each and every one of us experienced it at some point -it is a natural canine behavior, in fact thinking about it it is also human natural behavior - think "personal possession protection as well as jealousy".-Because dogs are really no different that us humans they can take extreme measures to protect their possessions
In some cases Dogs can show extreme resource guarding toward humans and other dogs -it is particularly troublesome when we have another resident dog , and really scary when dog growl,snarl at us sometimes bite or simply dont know how to correct this behavior.It is their instinct to protect valuable resources The goal of any training method is to reduce or eliminate the fear of losing his/hers priced possession..
As a dog owners we need to spot the difference between natural and appropriate "resource guarding" and inappropriate and when to intervene ,stop or in some cases modify this unwanted behavior
Im not by all means a dog trainer -but i had and have my fair share of dogs with resource guarding problems -that resulted in many bites and fights before i managed to modify and redirect their behavior .
Dog natural instinct to protect valuable resources is still intact. The goal of any training method is to reduce or eliminate the fear and conflict so that the dog feels more relaxed with a resource. Using positive reinforcement and counter-conditioning it is possible to change a dog's emotional response and motivation. As a result, the behavior itself should go away.

Most common Types of resource guarding is food , toys or their territory, in extreme cases i heard from is when a dog treat their owner as their possession-not allowing any family members near the owner -But i wont write about the last one as sadly People couldn't resolve this situation.
So how and when does resource guarding start ? Resource guarding can first develop in puppyhood . For those of you who never seen litter of puppies who are sharing one food tray , you can see that the stronger pups will push their way to the food bowl leaving some of the pups behind . This happened with Lilly due to her size she was pushed out of the food source by stronger pups. In some cases puppies who were the ones that were missing out on their food or toys bring this behavior to their new home. It eventual escalates when is not modified .(As i was always curios on how food aggression starts i put my small theory to practice. ( i never had a problem with resource guarding from a puppy ,always with foster dogs with no knowledge of their past history -so i needed to understand the process of this behavior)
So this is what happened to Shy (15 months old resident dog) and Lilly - new 8 week old puppy
Shy being much bigger and faster eater , would finish her bowl of food and proceed to push Lilly out of her bowl . Over the upcoming weeks Lilly was growling and barking every time Shy was near her personal space where her bowl was. Onlookers often said how cute she is - and my first warning bells starting to ring- there you have a pup starting to resource guard.And if leaved her as she is this could go very wrong later in life .

In my opinion one big mistake new puppy owners can make is try and show puppy who is the boss - some methods that people were using is to force puppy in a submission by holding dog on a lie down position holding his/hers head flat on the floor -, people do this to establish their position in the pack order - the strongest person (or in dog world -strongest puppy ) have control over their food- if you try to get yourself in a puppy position -how does puppy feel at this point ?-that his owner is a threat to his/hers resource ,and if the warning growls to protect his food do not work it could eventually lead to biting- to get a human (or another dog) who is indeed a threat to their food away -and here we have an endless circle (back to puppy hood and fighting for their access to food)
Even tho im writing here about food the same process can be applied to their toys or bed space .And what i concluded -resource guarding is simply a product inflicted by fear of loosing their "prize" .

So what shall i do?
Instead of teaching your puppy that his dinner get taken away each time train him to associate the presence of people around his food with even better things happening to him.

(this is for puppies )
I believe that puppies learn faster and easier through play - it will also reinforce their behavior
Some might not agree with me here but i also believe in a good trade -it will also teach your puppy "commands" like: "drop" ,"give" and "leave something" what i mean by this - is to offer a higher value treat for something puppy is guarding - you puppy will eventually learn that you dont take his prized possession , but you exchange for something different - kind of like bribing - but this simple measure will help prevent resource guarding from puppy hood-as well as help your puppy learn few tricks.
So if puppy picks something up that is yours , or not -give him a command like "give" or "drop"and make sure puppy sees a treat -he/she will most likely drop the object for a tasty treat -dont forget to praise a puppy for desired behavior.
when playing with toys -your puppy need to learn to give the toy to you , but offer it back as a reward with few minutes of play - he will associate his toys with sharing -as it will mean play time and fun. This will also reinforce command "give" it is important not to try and pull the toy from a pup mouth instead use your secret weapon- bribes and wait for the moment puppy release his toy -we applied same technique with Shy as a pup at her feeding time - small piece of cheese were tastier than a full bowl of puppy food.
Before any feeding to prevent my dogs from jumping i always made them it and wait few seconds before giving command "eat" - While Shy was a puppy we had few foster dogs with food aggression and while she was brought up differently we didn't have a problem with her .

(Adult dogs displaying food aggression with important points to read anyway )
someone once said that "Aggression is caused by cumulative stress that pushes a dog over his aggression threshold"- and i can fully agree with this statement .
One Scary thing i learned while having a deaf pup in from of a dog that displays any signs of resource guarding is importance of training simple commands like -come, stay, sit ,leave (give and drop-are handy too) - it might sound like a lot - but if your dog deaf or not knows them it can prevent many accidents .Also i needed to get the dog that was guarding his resources to "relax" ,and my other dog not to try and steal other dog food or toys .We often focus on the dog that have a problem but in order to manage and redirect we need to remember to teach other resident dog some manners . Even if you separate the two dogs by a child gate - least you want at the beginning is to the other dog aggravate the "guarding" dog with his presence when he sits right by the gate- it will not help at all. Imagine if someone who tried to steal your possessions before was starring constantly through your house window straight at you - would you relax ?i dont think so.

The first step we need to take before we make a plan on how to manage the situation or a "problem" we got on our hands is to asses the situation and what trigger and contribute to our dog guarding behavior , its hard to explain but on many occasions just by watching dogs body language (i try and write next blog post on this if i can) we can feel the tension and that things are just about to blow up -its important to react and know how to react (send one girl in bed and other in sit and stay position) - this may also mean removing any food or toys away from the both dogs before we start "redirecting their behavior"
While training with both dogs when its safe to do so - i would advise to leash both of dogs for their safety and if things start heating

I had my fair share of bite marks on my hands while trying to retrieve an empty bowl or simply while moving away after putting bowl down .I also came to realizing that using harsh discipline and removing the source wont fix the problem -and in some cases can aggravate the problem.
I started by sitting my dog down and hand feed him- keeping my other dog at the begging away from the "distressed" dog -i needed a calm environment - it took us a while , then i started to teach him to wait for his food i started to feed from the floor -and slowly progressed - i was constantly talking and eventual started touching the dog while eating - then i increased the "traffic" in the area my dog was eating , eventually started to feed other dog in the same room as the "guarding dog" - it took us a long time- it wasn't weeks it took us few months.
With any resource guarding and aggression
I also use techniques i used when training my dogs as puppies learning to reinforce behavior through play is essential - so were the treats i used
i always started 1 on 1 and made sure dogs know and respond to their essential commands before adding another dog .

It takes time and patience , and if you are lucky enough to have a puppy my little write up helped you in any way and your puppy or a dog will grow to be confident , happy and relaxed

Please let me know what you think about it
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Updated 01-23-2014 at 06:08 AM by Pati Robins



  1. ddnene's Avatar
    Great information Pati… I have never had to deal w/aggression issues, but I always believed in training early on. I also made sure my kids learned as well, and to have respect for the animals living in our home. Hand feeding is a great tool and I have even let my 2 year old grandson hand feed our dogs. Love you pics as always…
  2. 2BullyMama's Avatar
    GREAT info..... thank you Pati! You have a talent with great patience
  3. JennieS's Avatar
    Excellent information Pati. Ruthie is possessive of her toys, but only with a black lab that our friends have. I will putting your tips into practice.
  4. Texas Carol's Avatar
    Thank you for sharing excellent knowledge and ways anyone can use to
    effectively train their dogs to be well behaved. Ahhhh, a peaceful home!
  5. dolphin's Avatar
    This is fantastic. Great job Pati!!
  6. bullmama's Avatar
    Wonderful information Pati!!!