Dog-Dog Resource Guarding

Does your dog snarl and growl if another dog approaches her when she’s eating or gnawing on a tasty chew? Does she freeze and look sideways when her canine friends try to join her on the bed or couch? How about starting fights at the dog park when there’s a ball in play?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you’re not alone. When a dog acts possessively over an item, place or person we call it “resource guarding” and it’s more common than you think.

What you may not realize is that despite thousands of years of successful domestication, dogs are still animals. All animals have instincts and resource guarding is one of them. Dogs have to guard or protect their resources in order to ensure survival; if they don’t, they lose their dinner, their sleeping quarters, their mate, etc… Looking at dogs today, this may seem like a somewhat useless instinct as we provide our dogs with life’s necessities, but then again, what use is prey drive if they’re fed twice a day by us? What use is turning around three times before laying down to sleep when there is no tall grass to flatten on their cozy bed?

The bottom line is that these are all instincts that are pre-programmed into our dogs whether we like it or not. We can either punish them when they follow these instincts, or we can teach them to control these instincts and defer to us instead.

Resource Guarding is classified under the “aggression” umbrella but don’t let that scare you. Aggression is actually a perfectly natural part of a dog’s world; it is us who have decided that it is unacceptable. There are varying levels of resource guarding and I urge you to familiarize yourself with these levels so that you can deal with it appropriately.

Level One is where you’ll find a perfectly acceptable level of resource guarding; your dog gives a growl, a sideways stare, a stiff body, even a bark as a warning to another dog approaching while she is in possession of a high value item (toy, bone, chew, food, etc…). The important thing is that the warnings remain as warnings and the other dog obliges and creates distance. Management and a watchful eye is advised here. You may consider contacting your trainer for assistance.

Level Two is where you’ll find a dog who gives the appropriate warning and then the other dog instead of creating distance, he decides to take action and “fight back” in order to gain control of the other dog’s resource. The dog with the resource will be bullied into letting the resource go and no conflict will take place. This is not ideal but it’s better than a conflict taking place. Management and a watchful eye is advised here. You may consider contacting your trainer for assistance.

Level Three is where things get a little riskier. The dog with the resource gives the appropriate warning and then the other dog instead of creating distance, he decides to take action and “fight back” in order to gain control of the other dog’s resource. The dog with the resource will engage in the conflict and a snarkfest ensues where no damage is done and the situation is quickly resolved. Management and a watchful eye is required here. You should consider contacting your trainer for assistance.

Level Four is increasingly dangerous. The dog with the resource gives no warning signals – instead, he instantly aggresses towards the approaching dog and the other dog is quick to retreat. No fight or damage ensues. OR instead of retreating, the other dog engages in the conflict and a snarkfest ensues where no damage is done and the situation is quickly resolved. Management and a watchful eye is required here. You should consider contacting your trainer for assistance.

Level Five is nearing the most dangerous level of resource guarding because we have a dog that has no warning system, aggresses instantly but luckily his bites are inhibited, meaning he may cause minimal damage but does not severely injure the other dog. Contact your trainer immediately and put in place all management techniques immediately. Do not delay.

Level Six is the most dangerous level of resource guarding because not only do we have a dog that has no warning system, but we also have a dog (or two) with uninhibited bites. This is where we see the most damage done as the dog with the resource has been pushed past his threshold and has learned that aggression works. The damage done by these dogs tends to be more serious in nature, requiring veterinary care. Contact your trainer immediately and put in place all management techniques immediately. Do not delay.

Warning Signals
A bark, snarl, growl, stiff posture, tongue flick, accelerated consumption of the item, or a lunge towards the threat – these are all warning signals. You may not like these behaviours but keep in mind that these signals are clear communication from your dog. It’s a warning system and it’s important to allow your dog the opportunity to communicate and warn others when he is uncomfortable or threatened. If you choose to punish these warning signs, your dog learns not to use them, therefore he jumps to the next best option; a bite. Never punish a warning system. Instead, listen carefully and jump straight into management mode until you can meet with your trainer to devise a behaviour modification plan.

Management
Management is key as resource guarding is rarely “cured” in an animal. In order to manage, you must be hyper-vigilant. Keep all high-value objects secured and out of reach when other dogs are around. When visiting the dog park, ask others to put the toys away until your pup has left the park, or simply opt for a leashed walk until the toys are out of play at the park. If you have a multiple-dog household, feed dogs in separate rooms or in their separate crates. Whatever you do, avoid allowing your dog to be pushed past his/her threshold at any time; don’t set them up to practice the behaviour!

Behaviour Modification
There are a few different ways to modify this behaviour, but none of them should involve punishment or harsh methods as this can make resource guarding much worse, much faster. The bottom line is that you want to teach your dog to use his/her warning system first and foremost. Then you want to teach them that when other dogs approach them while they have a resource in their possession, great things happen and the resource isn’t lost. The modification plan will vary from dog to dog but enlisting the help of an experienced, positive trainer early, is key.

Resource Guarding is often caused and/or exacerbated by stress, so do everything you can to decrease the stresses in your dog’s every day life. Have a vet examine your pet for any health concerns that might be causing this increase in aggressive behaviour as well.

Note: If your dog guards resources from people, please contact your trainer immediately as there is a different management protocol and program for behaviour modification.

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