How To Stop Your Dog From Resource Guarding

Teach him to share ❤️

dog resource guarding

Is your pup all fun and games up until you try to touch his favorite ball?

If playtime always ends up with growling and snapping, or if you can’t go near your dog’s food without him trying to bite you, then your pup’s probably resource guarding his stuff.

Even though resource guarding is actually a pretty common behavior in dogs, it should be addressed by a professional before the behavior becomes more aggressive.

The Dodo spoke with several trainers to find out why dogs resource guard, what it looks like and how to stop the behavior.

What is resource guarding in dogs?

Resource guarding is when a dog pretty much refuses to give up a resource (aka a food, toy or even you!) that he views as high-value.

“Resource guarding [is] a species-normal behavior in which a dog protects, to a greater or lesser degree, things in its world that it feels it needs,” Janice Zazinsk, a dog trainer and owner of Janice Z Dog Training, told The Dodo. “Your dog literally thinks he will die if he does not guard this resource — he must remain in possession of it to survive.”

Your pup might display threatening behaviors in order to get the person or animal that he thinks is trying to take his item to back off. “A dog may escalate their behavior as a means to communicate and get other individuals to increase distance when they are guarding something of importance,” Jessica Gore, a dog trainer and owner of Competent Pup, told The Dodo.

This could mean anything from simply putting his paw on an item to full-blown aggression.

It’s a pretty common behavior in dogs, since it’s part of their natural instincts left over from trying to survive in the wild. So you don’t need to be totally freaked out if you notice the beginning signs of resource guarding. “Resource guarding is a very natural occurrence,” Gore said.

Keep in mind that it’s super important to get professional help to address the issue before it escalates, however, to prevent your dog from turning to more aggressive behaviors.

Signs your dog is resource guarding

“A dog who resource guards usually gives subtle signs that escalate if its guarding is ignored,” Zazinsk said.
Here are some signs that your dog is resource guarding:

  • Freezing over the object
  • Putting a paw over an object
  • Staring
  • Has “whale-eye” (aka the whites of his eyes are showing)
  • Curling his lips
  • Growling
  • Lunging
  • Snapping
  • Biting

If you notice these early signs, you should back away from the object to prevent your dog from escalating and getting aggressive (and then seek help to improve the behavior).

What causes resource guarding in dogs?

Resource guarding is actually something humans engage in pretty regularly, too, but to a less obvious extent.

“Ever have your sibling borrow something without asking or eat something special you were saving to enjoy?” Zazinsk said. “It’s a similar bad feeling, without the human rationalization that you won’t literally die.”

“Many — if not most — individuals on this planet resource guard,” Gore added. However, “predatory animals, such as canids [aka canines], may not know or be able to anticipate where the next meal or cozy space is coming from. It is practical and pragmatic to protect useful 'things' when we have them.”

This behavior was especially useful for your pup’s wild ancestors, who had much more limited resources available to them compared to our very spoiled BFFs. And even though that was thousands of years ago, these behaviors are still present in domesticated dogs.

“Today’s dogs still have the software of their undomesticated forebears and are programmed to resource guard,” Zazinsk said.

What resources do dogs commonly guard?

Wild dogs and wolves guard food, water, resting places and access to mates. Domesticated dogs, on the other hand, will guard pretty much anything they can get their paws on or that they value highly, including their owners!

Dogs can guard food, toys, resting places, people, spaces in the home, each other, and the list goes on,” Zazinsk said. “Sometimes the software becomes ‘buggy,’ and dogs will guard odd things, like used tissues.”

Do dogs grow out of resource guarding?

If your dog’s resource guarding, he won’t just grow out of the behavior. And in many cases, you’ll need help from a professional to stop the behavior. “Dogs don’t grow out of it, and it usually can get worse if not treated with a behavior modification plan by a certified dog behaviorist,” Zazinsk said.

How to fix resource guarding in dogs

It’s actually super important that you get help if your pup’s resource guarding, especially if you have young kids or other pets. This behavior can quickly get aggressive, so you’ll really want to prevent your dog from ever getting to that point.

While you can try training your pup at home, the best way to stop your dog’s resource guarding is by working with a certified dog behaviorist, since it can be such a serious issue and can be tough to break without professional guidance.

Manage your dog’s environment

“In order to prevent resource guarding behaviors from occurring, it’s best to keep the environment clear of any and all objects that the dog would deem guard-worthy,” Joan Hunter Mayer, a dog trainer and owner of The Inquisitive Canine, told The Dodo. “Keep in mind that each dog is an individual. As a responsible pet parent, they’ll want to pay attention to their dog’s likes and dislikes to help determine what he or she is more likely going to guard.”

“If the guarded item is a person or location, awareness is key. Owners will need to keep locations free from anything [that] might set the guarding in motion, including the use of crates or other types of barriers,” Mayer said.

How to train a dog to stop resource guarding

When working with a dog behaviorist or trainer, they can use several techniques to stop the behavior.

Desensitization and counterconditioning

“The desensitization process works by exposing your dog to objects or situations that they fear so that they get used to them, while the counterconditioning process helps associate the situation with certain rewards,” Amy Davis, a certified trainer and owner of My Cat Needs This told The Dodo.

“We need to teach dogs that we are not a threat and it’s good to share or relinquish forbidden items because it’ll pay off for them,” Mayer said. “For training, pet parents need to perform counterconditioning and desensitization exercises to help change their dog’s emotional state from being ‘I’m upset’ to ‘Yippee!’”

According to Mayer, this mainly involves asking your pup to give you the item he’s guarding in exchange for something even better. “I take your empty food bowl, I put yummy food in your bowl, I give you an extra juicy piece of steak, I then give you your bowl back,” Mayer said. “Remember you always want to trade up! You’re asking your dog to trust you, so help keep that bond of trust.”

Once your dog is comfortable trading up, you can start adding distance and changing up the exchange items, the guarded items, the location and the people involved. This will help reinforce the behavior across several scenarios.

Keep in mind, though, that stopping the resource-guarding behavior completely will take time and patience.

“When it comes to counterconditioning and desensitization exercises, slow and steady win the race,” Mayer said.

Training your dog to ‘leave it’

Training your dog to “leave it” can seriously help with resource guarding, since it teaches your pup to ignore whatever has his attention at that moment.

The training process basically involves rewarding your dog whenever he actively ignores treats or other valuable items being presented to him, to the point where he starts doing it on purpose once you give him the verbal cue.

How to prevent resource guarding in dogs

You can absolutely prevent resource guarding in dogs. However, this will only work with dogs who aren’t already resource guarding.

If your pup’s already resource guarding, consult a certified dog behavior specialist.

Understand your dog’s body language

Becoming familiar with your dog’s body language will help you identify any early signs that your dog’s starting to resource guard. That way, you can nip it in the bud before the behavior gets worse.

Never remove resources by force

If your dog’s enjoying something, try to avoid taking it away from him unless you’re going to give him something better in return.

“Notice subtle signs of body language, and never forcefully remove resources from your pup,” Gore said.
If you do need to take something away (like if your dog has something dangerous), try to trade up by exchanging it with an object he’ll like even more. “They can learn that your approach to their stuff, such as a food bowl or other objects, means something better is coming along,” Zazinsk said.

Although resource guarding is a super common behavior in dogs, it should definitely be addressed before it escalates.

Your best bet is to enlist the help of a professional who can correct the behavior properly. And if your pup isn’t resource guarding, consider yourself lucky and be sure to follow the steps above to help prevent it!