Explaining Resource Guarding in Dogs! How to Combat Possessive Aggression?

dog possessive aggression

If you’ve ever been faced with resource guarding in your dog, then you will know how scary and quite frightening this can be! 

Resource guarding can also be known as possessive aggression and should make those alarm bells go off in your head when it happens. In fact, you may go and get one of your dog’s toys, and you’ll be faced with biting or growling.  

Believe it or not, resource-guarding behavior can actually happen between other pets too, not only your dog and their toys, there’s plenty more information to help you here! If you own more than one dog, then you may find it guards resources.

If your dogs are resource guarding, then don’t worry! It can be very scary, but there are plenty of ways to fix it. You may be able to sort out this problem yourself!

What Is Resource Guarding?

Resource guarding is when your dog becomes defensive or aggressive in order to protect a specific thing, whether that is a person, toy, or food. 

Dogs develop many habits throughout their lives, but unfortunately, these are not always good. Animals can be very protective over certain things, which is precisely what resource guarding refers to. 

possessive aggression in dogs

Resource guarding is a survival instinct that is very natural to dogs as it was super important in the wild. Unfortunately, this means many dogs will still show that aggression in order to protect their resources when they are in your home.

Items That Trigger Resource Guarding in Dogs

Many things can cause resource guarding in dogs, whether that’s treats or their favorite spot on the couch, but all of them can be divided into two categories, food, and non-food related. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of these and the reason why dogs feel the need to protect these specific items!

Food Aggression

possessive dog aggression

Food aggression is certainly the most common type of resource guarding, as this is what your dog would most likely need to protect in the wild. 

Have you ever noticed the fur on the back of your dog’s neck stand up if you approach them before they’ve finished eating? Well, this is a great example of resource-guarding behavior. 

Your dog might feel threatened by you or is worried you’re attempting to take away the food, which is why this aggressive behavior is displayed. This can also be displayed as barking or growling. 

This is often quite common in large litters of puppies as the bigger ones take the opportunity to take food from the little ones. That natural instinct of aggression in order to protect what is theirs will then kick in in the smaller ones, leading to guarding behavior.

Non- food Aggression

possession aggression in dogs

Food isn’t the only thing that can cause resource guarding so let’s take a look at some of the other things your dog might feel protective over. 

Certain dog breeds can be very loyal to one particular person which can lead to resource guarding. This is your dog’s emotional response and is their way of protecting you. 

Your dog might feel the need to do this because of a lack of trust, which is why socializing your dog early on is super important. 

They might also guard a specific spot in the house, whether that’s a room or a chair, as that is where they feel safe.

Signs of Resource Guarding in Dogs

There are also many signs you can notice in resource-guarding dogs, and many of these include chasing you or another animal, lunging and air snapping, growling, or biting. Remember – these can happen in any dog breed!

If your dog is showing any of these signs at the same time, then it may be time to get your dog some help, as these could be warning signals.

Chasing You or Another Animal Away

dog possession

As previously said, dogs can become very possessive over their owner, which can be shown through them chasing other animals away in order to protect you. Chasing is a simple and easy way to get whatever they feel threatened by as far away as possible.

Lunging and Air Snapping

Lunging and air snapping are used, similarly to chasing, as a way to get the threat to move further away than they currently are.

This is often used as a warning sign that your dog is not happy with the current situation, which is why it is best if you move away if your dog hasn’t had resource guarding training yet. 

possessive aggressive dog

This air snapping can very quickly lead to someone getting hurt as children, and often adults, can either not recognize or not see these warning signs. This could lead to someone getting bitten as the dog realizes the warning signs are not being understood.

Growling

Many dogs show signs of resource aggression in a more vocal way compared to others. Growling is an example of this. Dogs can become very aggressive over food, as mentioned above, and so growling can be a way of presenting this.

dogs possessive aggression

This will almost always be a red flag for most dogs and can happen due to things like touching your dog’s food bowls or another pet approaching as they are eating. 

Again, if this is ignored then both humans and another pet could end up with an injury.

Biting

possessive dog

Biting can, unfortunately, happen due to the dog’s resource guarding when previous signs are ignored or missed. You might think this is just normal dog behavior, but it can be serious, and help from a certified professional dog trainer may be needed. 

Any dog can display this guarding behavior as it is in their nature, which is why keeping an eye out for those early signs, such as your dog’s body language, could prevent you from having to deal with biting.

Why Is My Dog Resource Guarding? What are the Causes?

There are also many reasons why your dog may be resource guarding, and don’t worry, this is nothing to worry about, and it can be easily fixed as it can happen at any age to your dog. 

It tends to be caused by breeders feeding the pups combined and not paying attention to the smaller and weaker pups. The puppies that are most aggressive get the most food and are then rewarded for their behavior, leaving the smaller ones neglected.

If the dog has been abused, it may also resource guard. By being in and out of shelters, they’re forced to fight and mark their spot, and it can bleed into home life once they’re adopted and in their new home, leading to aggressive behaviors. 

A distinct change in behavior could also be due to hidden health issues in older adult dogs. A sicker dog can be a source of stress for itself, and that can lead to aggression. 

What to Do

There are many things you can do to prevent resource-guarding behaviors, so let’s take a look!

Seek Professional Help

dog aggressive with toys

Seeking professional help is something you’ll want to do if your dog is an adult dog, as they can become very protective over their possessions. Before going to train these dogs, it’s a very good idea to get some professional help before doing it yourself. 

You’ll want to do this as a sign of aggression, or a quick change in personality could be because of a specific medical condition you may not know about, as mentioned earlier.

The professional trainer you could get help from could be an animal behaviorist, veterinary behaviorist, or certified behavior consultant, and they’ll help you with behavior modification.

These people can put a plan in your hands. The treatment given may not be for the dog directly but for other people in your household like children. A professional trainer may also suggest treating your dog with something like hot dogs or chicken! 

Manage the Environment

possesive dog

It is also vital that you manage your environment sensibly so you can tackle resource aggression, and this can all start with a simple list of the items that your dog may be possessive and protective of. 

Once you’ve made this list, then think about how your family can change its environment to help decrease your dog’s aggression. For example, if your dog is aggressive over food then it’s probably not the best idea to remove the dog’s food bowl but have a think!

If your dog is protective over things in one room in particular, then maybe it’s worth closing that room off to ensure that it has no access to anything in there. By managing the environment, different commands can then be used to teach, and installing a baby gate or dog guards may not be a bad idea! 

Let Your Dog Eat (and Chew) in Peace

Of course, there are many things you can’t remove from your dog’s environment like the food bowl! However, if your dog is protective over this then setting up a separate area for it to eat may be an idea. 

dogs possessive

Letting your dog eat in peace will help resource guarding and is vital if you’re eager to stop resource guarding. Using a gate as mentioned previously may also be a good idea, as well as blocking them off from other dogs in your house. 

It’s also a good idea to remind anyone in your household that your dog is eating or chewing so they leave them alone during this time as this could result in unnecessary dog aggression. 

Start Desensitization and Counterconditioning Training

Sometimes, desensitization is a great way to conquer this issue. You can carefully trigger your dog in a particular way to help them understand that there is no risk of threat. 

Standing outside their reaction zone, which refers to where they’re guarding, whilst they’re having a treat, can help them realize that you’re a friend and no threat is present to them. Make sure you go through every process with a trainer! 

dog possessive

Remember, the whole purpose of desensitization and counterconditioning training is to change the way your dog sees the item and make them think that something fantastic is going to happen when you come over rather than needing to protect themselves! 

What NOT to Do

Here is a list of things you need to avoid:

Don’t Punish the Growl

The worst thing you could do, both for you and your dog, is punishing the dog’s growls as this could actually encourage a bite which wouldn’t be good. If you take away the item they’re guarding then chances are, next time they’ll bite you straight away. 

If you ignore your dog’s warnings, usually a growl, you will witness a behavioral response next time. Take these things into account because all they’re trying to do is communicate with you. 

Don’t Leave Out Items That Your Dog Might Guard

If you leave out an item that your dog tends to guard then you may find yourself dealing with a situation you don’t want to be in. If you don’t leave these things out then you won’t have to deal with your dog’s behavioral response – easy!

dog toy aggression

A way to do this is by keeping your laundry basket up in a high place and ensuring that you pick up the dog’s bowl between meals, especially if it’s guard food. Toys and high-value items are something to make sure you keep hidden especially if they’re protective over them.  

If you do end up leaving an item out such as a laundry basket or valuables then it’s definitely worth assessing the situation around you, or you’ll most definitely be faced with a low growl. Offering to change the toy for a tasty snack is always a good option!

Don’t “Play” With Their Food and Chews

Playing with your dog’s food and chews is not the best plan for behavioral issues as it may result in dog bites and more aggression. Using positive reinforcement will result in a dog that doesn’t guard its food and doesn’t bite when faced with conflict. 

Whatever you do – don’t stick your hand in their food bowl and don’t play with their toys if they’re a resource guarding dog. 

Preventing Resource Guarding from Developing in Puppies

After taking in all this information, you might now be wondering how to prevent resource guarding. It’s a lot easier than you may think. 

toy aggressive dog

Your new puppy might show some behavior that you’re not familiar with as your other dog never did it. These are the things you should keep an eye out for as this could be your puppy starting to guard resources.

Here are some simple ways to stop resource guarding before it can even begin. 

  • Make sure your dog sees you handling their things regularly. Whether that’s picking up their food bowl to fill, moving their bed, or picking up their toys, make sure you can hold their things without obvious signs of aggression.
  • Playtime with your puppy is a great way in teaching them that they don’t need to fear you. If you have a multi-dog household then simply ask your other pups to ‘give’ their toys as you’re playing with them. 
  • You can then repeat this with your new dog and offer them treats or praise when they give you the chew toy. This will help them learn from an early age that not only do they need to listen but they also don’t need to guard food or possessions.
  • Handle your pup’s food bowls from the very beginning and look out for low-level signals and more subtle signs that they are uncomfortable. Food is one of the many things your dog loves and will try to protect. 
  • Holding their bowls and using positive reinforcement is the best way to ensure your dog learns these are not limited resources, and they don’t need to protect them.
  • This behavior more often than not comes from a lack of trust which is why early socialization, learning how your dog shows they are uncomfortable, and changing the situation when your dog’s body language changes are important.

Conclusion

So, if your dog is resource guarding then fear not! You may find that family members could trigger resource guarding as well as various foods and so it’s important to keep these things in mind!

Is your dog giving a hard stare? Ensure that you assess the situation, take that final step, stop moving, and walk away if your dog begins to get aggressive.

Emma Davies
Emma has loved all animals but especially dogs all her life. She was smitten from the first puppy to enter her life at just 5 years old. Over the years she has had her heart stolen by one particular breed and that's the German Shepherd! She has used her love of dogs and animals, in general, to create a successful writing career for herself over the last 6 years. Emma has written in a variety of niches but especially loves those that are centered around dogs and animals. When she's not writing you can find her enjoying the great outdoors with her family and beautiful German Shepherd Faith.

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