Master Dog Behaviorist
You welcomed them home, gave them everything they desired, and provided every comfort – and now they have started to become possessive and guard the very things you gave them! This is called resource guarding. Resource guarding is when dogs show aggressive behavior when someone tries to approach something they find valuable; it could be mild behavior, such as growling or running away with the item they love, or it could present as full-blown aggression with attempts to bite the individual trying to come near the object they are guarding. Even though resource guarding can be a little disconcerting, try thinking about it in its simplest form. When a dog starts to resource guard, it is because they do not trust or respect the pack member they are guarding from; seeing it through that prism allows us to come up with a plan to earn the trust and gain the respect of the animal. That, in turn, allows us to work with our dog in a simpler, more instinctual way.
Think about arriving in a new place where you do not know the customs, rules, and habits. Then imagine that you are given everything single thing you want, and are lauded and celebrated, but no one gives you any direction about the rules and boundaries of this new place. Suddenly, someone comes and tries to take some of your newly acquired “stuff” or attention away, and when you protest they get tense or very worked up. Since you do not want to give anything up, you decide to “fight” them, and they give up. You have now become the ruler of said place, and your whims dictate how others behave around you.
This, in a nutshell, is what resource guarding is. The dog does not understand or trust the new environment they are in, or they simply do not respect the human who is interacting with them. The best thing we can do to start working with resource guarding is to go back to basics. The dog is saying they need more structure; they are asking for more direction. One of the best ways to provide this structure is to make sure the dog is sleeping in a crate and being asked to wait until they are calm to come out. Similarly, having them wait a long time (20 minutes+) before being allowed to have dinner. These simple actions start slowing things down and lowering the excitement level of the dog. Another exercise that can help with resource guarding is to giving the dog less access to toys and using them instead as a way to teach the dog to give space. Can you walk your dog on a leash past their favorite toy without them going for it? If not, practice that. Can you place their favorite toy in their personal space and have them not touch it? If not, practice that.
By doing exercises like this, you are asking the dog to give space, even when excited. The lesson is: “move away from something you love when the other asks for it.” They will trust you more since you practiced with them until they learned it and will respect you because of how you chose to teach. Resource guarding can be frustrating, but remember that it is also a way of your dog telling you he needs more direction. Once you choose to see it that way, you will be ready to start guiding your dog to a different state of mind.