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How to Handle Resource Guarding in Dogs

Resource guarding is a natural canine behavior where a dog protects their valued resources, like food, toys, and even its favorite spot on the couch. However, if not properly managed, it can lead to aggressive behaviors that might become problematic. Here's a deep dive into resource guarding and effective ways to prevent it.

What is Resource Guarding in Dogs? 

Resource guarding is an instinctual behavior originating in wild dogs that had to compete for scarce resources. In domestic dogs, it may manifest as growling, snarling, or snapping when someone approaches their food or a prized possession. 

Understanding that this is a survival instinct rather than a sign of dominance can aid in addressing and correcting the behavior.

How to Recognize the Signs

Recognizing the signs of dog resource guarding early on can help prevent it more effectively. They can vary significantly, from subtle to obvious, but can include the following:

  • Vocalization: Growling or snarling when someone approaches their food, toys, or favorite spot.
  • Snapping: Biting or snapping at anyone who tries to take away their resources.
  • Stiffness: Displaying stiff body posture or showing the whites of their eyes (known as whale eye) when someone approaches their resources.
  • Eating food quickly: Gulping food or eating at an unusually fast pace, as though they're trying to consume as much as possible before it can be taken away.
  • Hiding: Hiding or burying food, toys, or other objects that they consider valuable.
  • Attention: Intense focus on their resource when someone is near, with minimal attention to anything else.
  • Possessive behavior:  Licking or hovering over the resource as a sign of possessiveness.
  • Access: Blocking access to the resource by placing their body between it and the perceived threat.
  • Aggression: Aggressive behaviors, such as chasing or lunging at someone who gets too close to their resource.
  • Behavior changes: Sudden changes in behavior when they have a resource and someone approaches, such as going from relaxed to alert and anxious.

Identifying these early signs is crucial to addressing and preventing any escalation of the behavior. If you notice it early on, it’s less likely to become a severely aggressive trait of the dog. The longer you allow it to go on, the more this behavior is reinforced.

4 Steps to Stop a Dog From Resource Guarding

There are several steps you can take to prevent resource guarding in dogs, including:

1) Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning

Desensitization and counter-conditioning are powerful techniques often employed to mitigate resource guarding in dogs. Desensitization involves gradually exposing the dog to a stimulus (like a person or another dog approaching their food) at a low intensity and, over time, increasing the intensity. 

For instance, one might start by standing at a distance from a dog while it's eating and gradually move closer over several sessions, always respecting the dog's comfort level. If you get too close and notice the dog reacting, take a step back. Then, continue the process over again.

Counter-conditioning, on the other hand, is about changing the dog's emotional response to a stimulus. In the case of resource guarding, the goal is to help the dog associate the approach of people or other animals with positive outcomes rather than perceived threats. 

For example, when approaching a dog that's eating, the owner might toss an even tastier treat to the dog. Over time, the dog learns that someone approaching while they're enjoying a resource isn't a threat but instead a sign that better goodies are coming.

These techniques should be conducted carefully, patiently, and ideally under the guidance of a professional, as incorrect execution might reinforce undesired behaviors. Plus, if your dog has reached a dangerous level of aggression, it could be dangerous for the average person to approach the dog.

2) Use Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a key strategy when dealing with resource guarding in dogs. The goal is to reward good behaviors and reinforce the dog's understanding that sharing resources can lead to positive experiences. Let's say your dog is playing with a toy and you approach. 

If your dog remains calm and doesn't display any guarding behavior, you can reward this positive behavior with a treat, praise, or a favorite activity. The same principle applies to food - if your dog allows you to come near while eating without showing any signs of guarding, a reward is in order. 

By consistently rewarding non-guarding behaviors, you encourage your dog to associate the approach of people with positive outcomes, reducing the likelihood of resource guarding. It's crucial to remember that positive reinforcement should be employed in a calm, patient manner. 

Abrupt movements or trying to push too much too soon can cause a setback in progress. Always ensure the interaction is a positive experience for your dog to promote trust and successful training. 

And, if the dog shows negative behaviors, rather than punishing the behavior, simply ignore it. Your dog will notice when they are exhibiting bad behavior, they don’t get a reward. But, when they show the desired behavior, they get a treat.

3) Avoid Punishment

Avoiding punishment in dog training is crucial for several reasons. Punishment can often instill fear and confusion in a dog rather than understanding, leading to increased anxiety and potentially exacerbating unwanted behaviors rather than reducing them. It can also harm the trust and bond between you and your dog. 

Punishment doesn't teach a dog what they should do; it only tells them what they should not do, which can be confusing and stressful for the dog. Rather than learning to behave appropriately, they may simply learn to avoid punishment by hiding their actions or becoming secretive. 

Punishment, particularly physical punishment, can escalate into aggression. A dog that's punished may feel threatened and react defensively, which can lead to a bite or other aggressive behaviors. Instead of punishment, focus on positive reinforcement methods that reward good behavior and offer clear guidance on what actions are desirable. This creates a positive learning environment and strengthens the bond between you and your pet.

4) Teach 'Leave it' and 'Drop it' Commands

These commands can be invaluable in managing canine resource guarding behaviors. Start training with less valuable items and gradually work up to more valuable resources, always rewarding compliance with a treat or praise, i.e. positive reinforcement. 

How CBD Can Help

Cannabidiol (CBD) has gained recognition for its potential health benefits, including its calming effects, which could be beneficial for dogs exhibiting resource guarding behavior. 

Resource guarding often stems from anxiety, fear, or stress, as the dog feels the need to protect its valued resources. 

CBD, like that found in Canine Cush, has been observed to help alleviate anxiety in dogs, promoting a sense of calm and relaxation. This could potentially decrease the dog's perceived need to guard their resources. 

CBD may also improve a dog's overall well-being, which can positively impact their behavior. However, it's important to remember that CBD is not a stand-alone solution for resource guarding and should be used as part of a comprehensive behavior modification plan.

Use What Works

Resource guarding is a manageable behavior with patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement. Remember, every dog is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. Understanding your dog's behavior and seeking professional advice when needed are the keys to successfully preventing and managing resource guarding.

Read More:

Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

Factors Associated With Canine Resource Guarding Behaviour in the Presence of People

Defining and Clarifying the Terms Canine Possessive Aggression and Resource Guarding

Treatment of Food Guarding in a Pet Dog

Photo by Destiny Wiens on Unsplash