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Resource Guarding in Dogs

Posted on 12th February 2024

Cavapoo laying on floor, playful with mouth open
  • Have you ever got defensive when your friend wanted to share your food? 
  • Did you ever shielded your test answers from someone who wanted to sneak a look? 
  • Have you ever stopped eating or eaten faster when your partner asks, “what you eatin’?”
  • You may even have hidden something so someone else in your house doesn’t find it? 


Resource Guarding – it’s normal. 


We all want to keep hold of something we find valuable. Dogs are the same. 

This is because our primitive brains link the object (food, toys, space) to our survival. It literally thinks – if I lose it, I may die. 

Our dogs have the same survival instinct. This becomes a problem when defensiveness turns into dangerous ways to keep you away (biting and aggression). 


Why does resource guarding happen? 

There can be several factors that make a dog more prone to resource guarding including:

  • Breed – some breeds are more prone to resource guarding (Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Cockapoos)
  • Early learning (with breeder) 
  • Size of litter 
  • Weaning experience
  • Tummy issues and poor nutrition
  • The way we deal with it
  • Pain and discomfort
  • Punishment 
  • Environment 
  • Mental and emotional under stimulation

It can start as early as when the puppy starts to eat solid food. 

Largely, the dog sees a human approaching and thinks that we are coming to take what they have. 

They communicate some low-level apprehension and we then end up taking the object. 

So now they see us coming again and think “last time I lost the valuable thing so this time, I need to guard better and harder”. The level of defensiveness increases until we end up getting bitten. 


What are the lower signals that the dog is guarding? 

  • Eating faster
  • Lying over the item
  • Freezing and staring
  • Weight shifting
  • Turning their head or moving away
  • Showing or parading the item

For a visual demonstration of these behaviours have a look at The Canine Ladder of Aggression.


How do we prevent and treat Resource Guarding? 

Early prevention starts with the breeder making sure they are feeding the pups from separate bowls, having lots of environmental stimulation and teaching active approaches of humans. 

Once home, we can prevent resource guarding by

  • Tidying up so the dog doesn’t steal things left lying around
  • Teaching drop, leave it and swap 
  • Not taking things away but adding value to our approach instead
  • Providing sufficient legal resources
  • Learning to read our dogs body language
  • Seeking help if we think there may be a pain or tummy issue 
  • Getting a qualified behaviourist on board as soon as possible when signs of low level guarding are seen 

If you think your dog may bite someone, then expert help is definitely needed. Ask your vet to refer to a positive reinforcement behaviourist in your area who also works under vet referral. 

Alternatively, fill out my contact form here and see how I can work with you remotely.

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