Downeast Dog News
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RESOURCE GUARDING: BITING THE HANDS THAT FEED YOU

By Christine D. Calder DVM DACVB | May 01, 2021

What is Resource Guarding

Resource Guarding is a common behavior in dogs often directed towards people or other animals when the dog has something they perceive to be of high value. Guarded items include food, toys, people, pets, or places.  While some types of resource guarding are considered normal (food, toys) other types (people, pets, places) may be rooted in anxiety. All resource guarding behavior is rewarded when the human or other dog backs away from the guarded item. With practice, the dog soon learns that aggression is a very effective strategy to manage this anxiety resulting in a predictable pattern of behavior.

What Age Does Resource Guarding Start?

The age of onset for most resource guarding is before 16 weeks of age (directed at people) but can also peak at social maturity at around 1-2 years of age (directed at other dogs) unless the dog has an underlying medical condition contributing to the behavior.

How is Resource Guarding Treated?

Early identification and treatment of this behavior can result in a favorable outcome although lifelong management may be needed. If triggers are identifiable, active behavior modification can be helpful. Sometimes anti-anxiety medications are needed as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.  Punishment (yelling, scuffing, holding down, etc…) is not recommended and often leads to an increase in anxiety and aggression.

Resource Guarding General Management Plan:

  • All situations in which your dog is likely to guard should be avoided.
  • Doors should be closed and access to valuable items restricted.
  • Pets should be fed separately and in their own area.
  • A predictable feeding routine is important.
  • All higher value items, Kongs, toys, etc… should be given only when the dog is in their safe haven (behind a gate, in a crate or ex-pen)
  • If your dog retrieves an item you have 3 main choices:
  1. Let them have the item if it is not important, valuable, or dangerous to your dog.
  2. Trade up for a higher value item (more often food)
  3. Wait until your dog drops the item and then reward
  • The above teach your dog that “bad” things do not happen when you approach. In fact, good things will happen when your dog drops the item.
  • Long term solutions involve teaching “drop”, “leave it” and “take” or pick up items on cue.

How do I reduce resource guarding of food?

With dogs, that resource guard their food and food bowl, it is important to make sure that your close proximity to the bowl only predicts “good” things and not “bad.” Tossing a high value or special treat into the bowl as you approach can really help your dog learn that you near their bowl always means good things.

What if my Dog Guards Resting Areas?

Resource guarding of resting areas could be an indication of pain in your dog. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to examine your dog. If this behavior occurs while in bed at night, your dog should sleep elsewhere. This applies to the couch as well. Remember to call your dog away before sitting down instead of physically pushing or pulling your dog off furniture.

What if my dog resource guards people?

Resource guarding of people can be more complicated. Many of these dogs have underlying anxiety disorders that need to be managed and treated. Predictable and consistent interactions with your dog in a cue-response-reward fashion (cue a behavior, get a response, give a reward) can help increase predictability and consistency of human interactions and reduce anxiety when other’s approach “their person.”