Resource Guarding in Dogs - Part I
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Canine Behavior Associates
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Trail Manners - September 20, 2017
Learn how to walk your dog off leash, read body language and predict possible problems 
1 pm to 4 pm - $45.00

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It's Mine!  All Mine!

Resource guarding is called the hidden behavior problem...and for good reason.  Many dogs who have possession issues come across as fully social, appeasing, sweet animals - until they have something they think you - or another dog - wants!    Or, in rarer cases, you have something they covet. 
Resource guarding actually comes in different forms, from very subtle and controlling to freaked out and hysterical.  The most commonly seen manifestation is around something very tasty, like a bully stick, bone, or bowl of food.  But dogs can guard toys, people, beds, homes, horse poop, dead gophers, and even tissues!

The severity of the problem also varies greatly.  Some dogs just freeze, stare at the object and will you to back off.  Others will growl, stare at you and then retreat.  Still others will growl, stare and lunge or bite.  In some cases, a dog will give very little warning.  Much of the behavior has to do with their temperament and history.  

Another tough thing about resource guarding is that it can seem unpredictable.   A dog will let you have an object at one point, then an hour later, will snap if you walk close to it.

Many behavior specialists don't think of resource guarding as particularly problematic, but if you have a dog who aggressively guards objects or people, it can be a huge issue, putting you and yours in danger.  It also can be difficult to address, particularly when your dog guards more than one type of resource, or tries to take objects from children, adults or other dogs, and then refuses to give them up.

Resource guarding is a natural behavior in many species – including ours.
Imagine you’re at a restaurant, eating a delicious meal.  The waiter comes over, intending to take your plate.  You tell him you’re not finished and he leaves.  Two minutes later, he returns.  Again, you tell him you’re working on your meal.  The third time he comes, you lose your temper…and attack him with your butter knife!  Of course, we know that won’t happen, but indignant anger can arise pretty much instantaneously, only to be held in check. Some dogs don't have that same inhibition and might actually bite. 

Here are some examples:


Stella is a cute Labrador mix.  At the age of six months, she began growling over her food bowl.  Barb and John were instructed to hand feed her, dropping treats in the bowl to teach her that no one is trying to take her "stuff."

They also were advised to do a lot of obedience before she was fed, and to separate each feeding into three or four portions, making her work for each.  She has gotten worse, and now guards the entire kitchen when she is eating.  She also won't let go of the ball or other valued toys.    

Chuck is a little Spaniel - cute as a button, about 10 months old. He's highly social with his family, loves the eight and ten year old children and will play ball for hours.   But when the game is over, he might take his ball to his chair, and growl at anyone who gets close.  He's worse with his bone. 
If family members chastise him or try to take the ball or bone, he will freeze over it, cover it with his body, stare and growl.   If they keep going he will snap.  No one has been bitten, but no one has tried to actually take it except Ken, the husband and dad.   He tells Chuck to knock it off, and will grab the item.  

Champ, a three year old Labrador, is generally a happy go lucky fellow.  But he becomes vicious around his crate, food and balls.  His owners now tread carefully wherever he is, because they can’t quite predict his behavior.   And when he does go into protection mode, he is extremely scary.

Emma is a French Bulldog – a little bundle of pure muscle.  At a year of age, Emma really likes her food, and does not like it when Mom interferes at all.  Then she hovers over the bowl, stares into it, and growls ferociously.  She doesn’t guard anything else, and indeed plays with her companion Frenchie for as long as the older dog can handle it, as well as with her human buddies.     

Then there’s dog to dog resource guarding.  Besides food and toys, areas of dispute often include beds, doorways, and people.  This is actually a fairly common problem for multiple dog households, particularly when one dog is aging.   While most dogs respect what another dog has, not all will -- and some will actively and aggressively try to take it.  Or they'll leave the object they have and attack a passing dog. 

As you can see, there are many different possibilities for this hidden behavior problem.  Shelters, rescues and breeders aren't likely to see it unless they test for it, and even then some possession issues are so specific that you'd need to know the dog's history.  (For instance, there are dogs who only guard one particular toy; this would be impossible to predict unless you had that particular item). 

Sharing with one another is something that must be learned, and it starts in puppyhood, when pups seek milk from their mom.  In order to get enough, the puppies compete for a nipple, then hang on for dear life.  They don’t give up that nipple until they’re satiated, or it runs out of milk…at which point they might try to force another puppy away from theirs!  The other puppy objects, and Puppy Number One retreats. Or Puppy Number One learns that he can intimidate Puppy Number Two, who will decide that discretion is the better part of valor and leave.   

There are many different ways to handle possession issues, depending on the type of guarding you're dealing with.  If a dog is protecting just one thing, it’s easier to work on.  If she guards multiple things, not so much.  Generally, the best approach is to teach a dog that he or she doesn't need to guard anything, that there's plenty of 'stuff' to go round.  However, that doesn't always work.

Next month we'll discuss various tools and techniques to help modify guarding issues. 

If you or someone you know would like a consultation, or to see a topic covered in this newsletter, or if you have expressive dog photo's you might like us to use, please email
Trish King
Tricia Breen

Art by Robin King
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