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Preventing Resource Guarding Behavior In Dogs

Preventing Resource Guarding Behavior In Dogs

Transforming a Natural Instinct into Trustworthy Behavior

As I walk through the front door, my eyes immediately land on my Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Sookie, contentedly chewing on her favorite bully stick. But as I approach to say hello, her posture shifts – her body stiffens, her eyes widen, and a low growl rumbles in her chest. Uh-oh, it looks like I’ve triggered her resource guarding instincts.

Resource guarding, or the tendency for dogs to possessively protect their belongings, is a natural canine behavior that can become a real problem if left unchecked. It’s something I’ve dealt with firsthand with Sookie, and as a certified dog trainer, I’ve helped countless other pups and their humans overcome this tricky issue.

The good news? With the right approach, you can actually prevent resource guarding from ever taking hold in the first place. Let me share the proven strategies I’ve used to help my own furry friends, as well as the dogs I work with, learn to feel safe and secure – no growling required.

Understanding the Root of Resource Guarding

To effectively prevent resource guarding, we have to first understand where this behavior comes from. At its core, resource guarding is a self-preservation instinct that has served dogs well throughout their evolutionary history. As Cathy Madson of Preventive Vet explains, dogs needed to be able to find and protect their food, water, and other valuable resources in order to survive. This drive to safeguard their possessions is hardwired into their DNA.

Of course, in the modern world where our canine companions are well-fed and cared for, this primal instinct can become problematic. A dog who guards their food bowl, toys, or even their favorite human poses a real threat to the safety of the people and pets around them. That’s why it’s so important to get ahead of resource guarding before it ever rears its ugly head.

Laying the Foundation for Trust

The key to preventing resource guarding? Building a foundation of trust between you and your pup. When a dog feels secure in the knowledge that their needs will be met and their belongings won’t be taken away, they have no need to defensively guard those resources.

As Cathy Madson emphasizes, “The most important thing is teaching your dog that they can trust you. That you aren’t arbitrarily going to take things away from them. And that if you do take something away, they’ll get something equal or better in return.”

This is where counterconditioning comes into play. By pairing your approach to your dog’s resources with the delivery of delicious treats, you can help them develop a positive emotional association. Instead of seeing you as a threat, they’ll learn to see you as the bringer of good things.

Start by tossing treats a few feet away when your dog is enjoying their food or a favorite toy. Gradually work your way closer, all the while showering them with yummy rewards. The goal is for them to realize that your presence near their possessions predicts something wonderful, not something to be feared.

Avoiding Rookie Mistakes

Of course, building that foundation of trust isn’t just about what you do – it’s also about what you avoid doing. Unfortunately, many well-meaning pet parents inadvertently exacerbate resource guarding by engaging in behaviors that undermine a dog’s sense of security.

For example, The Humane Society warns against forcibly taking items away from a guarding dog. This can reinforce the belief that their belongings are truly at risk of being stolen, causing the behavior to escalate. Similarly, dog trainer David Codr advises against using punishment-based training methods like pushing a dog’s rear end to teach a sit – these techniques undermine trust and can worsen resource guarding over time.

Instead, focus on positive reinforcement. Reward your pup with treats and praise when they willingly relinquish an item, rather than trying to yank it out of their mouth. And be sure to never deprive them of access to their food, toys, or other resources as a form of punishment. Doing so will only exacerbate their anxieties and strengthen their drive to guard those possessions.

Setting Multi-Dog Households Up for Success

Of course, the prevention strategies I’ve outlined so far are equally applicable to homes with multiple canine residents. In fact, Cathy Madson emphasizes that ‘the majority of dog-dog aggression is triggered by resources’ – whether that’s food, toys, or even attention from their human caretakers.

The good news is that with some careful management, you can set your pack up for peaceful coexistence. Start by feeding your dogs in separate areas, ensuring that each one has the space and privacy they need to enjoy their meal without feeling threatened by a canine housemate. When it comes to playtime, provide ample toys so there’s no competition, and keep a close eye out for any signs of possessiveness.

And don’t forget the power of positive reinforcement – try playing the “trading game” where one dog is rewarded for ceding a toy or treat to the other. Not only does this build a sense of trust, but it also teaches an incompatible behavior to resource guarding. After all, a dog who’s been conditioned to willingly share their belongings is far less likely to feel the need to defend them.

Catching It Early, Treating It Right

Of course, no matter how diligent we are about prevention, there’s always a chance that a puppy or rescue dog may already exhibit some resource guarding tendencies. In those cases, Cathy Madson emphasizes the importance of addressing the issue as early as possible. The sooner you can intervene, the easier it will be to reshape your pup’s behaviors and attitudes.

That’s why I always recommend that pet parents work with a certified positive reinforcement trainer, especially if they notice any worrisome signs of resource guarding. These experts can provide tailored guidance and support, helping you navigate the complexities of this tricky issue. And the earlier you start, the better – as Cathy notes, “Treatment of resource guarding is much easier if addressed at an earlier age, as a young dog hasn’t had as much time to practice the behavior.”

Of course, no matter where you’re at in your journey, the most important thing is that you approach resource guarding with patience, empathy, and a commitment to building trust. With the right strategies in your toolkit, you can transform that natural canine instinct into a well-adjusted, secure, and happy pup. And that’s a win-win for both you and your four-legged companion.

Ready to get started on preventing resource guarding in your own furry friend? Head on over to to explore our wealth of educational resources and expert-approved training tips. Together, we’ll make sure your pup never has to worry about their favorite things being taken away.

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