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North Hills Monthly

What is resource guarding?

Feb 29, 2020 11:17AM ● By North Hills Monthly magazine

By Veronica Rigatti, Animal Friends’ Canine Behavior Specialist

Have you ever heard a dog give a low grumble or growl when you approach them while they’re eating? Or maybe they turned and ran from you to hide their toy when you came up to them? These are signs of resource guarding, a behavior that dogs display to discourage others from approaching or taking something of value from them. It is a natural behavior and an important mechanism for survival. But, it is normal for all animals to display some level of resource guarding. 

People guard resources, too! You lock your home, your car and you may even swat someone else’s hand away when they try to steal a piece of your favorite food! Just like humans, dogs can guard food, toys, chew items, another animal, a person, a bed, a certain space or anything that is valuable to them. This behavior might be learned from the mom or littermates, or it could be the result of a lack of resources, a change in environment and even competition for resources.  

Resource guarding can vary from mild to severe but not all guarding is concerning or needs to be corrected. This often depends on how valuable the object they are guarding is to them. Perhaps your dog is chewing on their favorite bone and notices you approaching, they may stop what they’re doing and intently focus on you, lunge or even snap at you. It is best to learn how to recognize guarding and when it progresses to a level that needs to be addressed. It is a behavior that will not go away on its own.  

Severe resource guarding—the kind that results in growling, lunging, snapping or biting—should be addressed by a professional, especially if there are children in the house. This is also the case if the dog starts guarding multiple items and even things that aren’t in their possession. If there are multiple dogs fighting over resources, don’t wait to seek help. 

There are simple ways to prevent resource guarding in your dog, starting with leaving them alone when they are eating or have a valuable item like a toy, bone or treat. You never want to punish the dog for guarding; instead, trade that object for something else the dog loves. You should always give items to them—never take them away.

If you are struggling with a resource guarder, contact Animal Friends’ behavior team at Behavior@ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org.