© By Linda J. Brodzik, Dog Trainer & Behavior Specialist
Dogs may guard food, bowls (even when empty), bones, toys, and locations (such as their bed, your bed, a favorite piece of furniture or a location in the house). Dogs may also guard seemingly unimportant items such as tissue, pens, shoes or other such items they may steal or find on the floor. Dogs may even guard people. Some dogs may also display aggression when physically handled, whether it is for affection, grooming or restraint.
When guarding a coveted resource, dogs may growl, bark, snarl, bare teeth, snap or even bite. These are fairly obvious signs that most people would recognize. Signs that maybe less noticeable to the average pet owner may include eating faster or “punching” at the bowl as someone approaches; they might pause when eating or freeze and become rigid. Staring and watching as you approach or pass by can also be a sign that the dog is anxious and may display other aggressive or problematic behaviors.
Dogs may display resource guarding to every person in the family, a specific person in the family, guests or other non family persons, or other dogs/pets.
Most dogs displaying resource guarding can learn to be calm and accepting of approach, handling and of people taking coveting items away. Treating resource guarding should include management and retraining using systematic detestation and counter conditioning, and/or constructive aggression training. These techniques will work to reinforce the dog for successive levels of calm and excepting behaviors in conjunction with approach when in proximity to a coveted item.
Prognosis for learning a calm, self-controlled and accepting demeanor in conjunction with approach when in proximity to a coveted item is very good. Emphasis must be placed on following a systematic training program that focuses upon teaching expectable behaviors. Punitive and otherwise aversive treatment, challenging and/or threatening the dog often results in a higher level of aggression and defensive behavior displayed by the dog and is not recommended.
Professional assistance should be employed to ensure proper application of training methods and the greatest probability of results.
Although it may not always be possible to prevent resource guarding there is much that owners can do to lessen the likelihood of it occurring with their dog. It is best to start conditioning your dog to physical manipulation, handling of food, bones and toys when they are young and under 12 months.
Remember that the goal is not to challenge or threaten your dog; it is to build their confidence and trust in your approach and handling. A dog that feels safe and trusts your intent is not likely to display aggressive behaviors.
If your dog displays aggression in any situation it is best to contact a qualified professional for assistance as soon as possible.
A very good source of further information concerning resource guarding is the book “MINE!” by Jean Donaldson.
To learn more about my training methods, sign up for a dog obedience class or to schedule an in-home, private behavior consultation, please contact me today.
“Linda is amazing, both as a trainer and a person. Her knowledge base is unrivaled, as is her ability to translate this knowledge into helpful, usable suggestions for her clients. Her training classes not only support her clients, but also their dogs. Her classes enrich and strengthen the vital trust relationship between dog and owner. This step is missed by many less-experienced trainers. Dogs walk away from her classes with a stronger sense of self control, and composure. Clients walk away from her classes with a better understanding of their beloved canine companions, and a more fulfilling, comfortable relationship with their dogs.”
– Amy Fellner, Certified Veterinary Technician
Veterinary Behavior Technician