Dog Training: Working past dog resource guarding
What is Resource Guarding in dogs?
We’ve run into a few instances of resource guarding in the store. A dog picks up a toy or treat, another dog approaches and it degenerates into a growling mess. Not as depicted in the photo.
Resource guarding is a natural instinct for dogs and most animals. As humans, we practice resource guarding. We don’t like it when people walk into your house and claim it for themselves.
In the dog world, you’ve probably come across this in parks when a ball or a human with treats become the resource that dogs guard. At home, this may happen when feeding a dog and it means immediate danger to all humans or other dogs in the house.
- Let’s take a typical scenario. A dog is chewing a bone and you approach, the dog indicates through growling or some other signaling behaviour that the interrupter (other dog/ human) should back off.
- The best scenarios would be if the dog chewing the resource deescalates by either ignoring the interruption or dropping the resource for the interrupter to pick up.
- Alternatively, the interrupter could also calmly walk away and then there is no confrontation.
- When the interrupter keeps barging in despite the warnings, it can result in a confrontation; interrupter is acting inappropriately. In other cases, the dog guarding the resource could be guilty of aggression if it escalates without giving any signaling indication (hair raised, growling etc) or waiting for an appropriate response from the interrupter.
How to deal with resource guarding
Depending on the situation and the severity of resource guarding, we find there are 2 approaches that we try to use in the store. Note that we are not certified dog trainers but have to make quick decisions to ensure dogs are not hurt.
- The first thing is to identify who is being inappropriate. If your dog is a resource guarder and is being inappropriate, you need to either manage the situation by ensuring the trigger (toy, ball, stick) is not around during a play session.
- The second approach regardless of whether it is the resource guarder’s fault is to modify the behaviour by trading something of perceived higher value than the resource your dog is guarding.
- You could use their favourite treat (e.g. tripe seems to work very well although it smells awful) to trade.
- Never take away the resource that your dog is guarding without a perceived better exchange or it may reinforce the tendency to guard.
- Start at home by trading higher-valued items with things your dog is less likely to guard.
- Gradually work towards things they are more likely to guard, all the time ensuring that your dog does not get to ‘aggression.’
- You could use words like “Drop it” as your cue word for trading and over time modify the environment to include another dog etc with the aim of showing that sharing is awesome.
What if the dog interrupting is at fault
Although our focus has been on the resource guarder, what if your dog is the interrupter and behaving inappropriately? Punishing your dog by pinning it down as we have sometimes seen may just lead to confusion or the dog shutting down and not exhibiting regular cues of discomfort.
We’d still recommend owners to train their dogs to “Leave it” as a cue to get your dog to focus on you interrupting the instance they may behave inappropriately. For our dog trainer friends or dog owners who’ve dealt with these situations, how would you train these situations?