Resource guarding is a behavior that can be improved with training and management. Guarding extends well beyond the food bowl. Aggressive displays, both subtle and overt, can happen while the dog is in possession of various items: toys, chews, “stolen” objects, outside debris. Dogs also guard locations: their spot on furniture, space inside your house and yard as well as their valued humans. Some even guard parts of their own bodies.
Dogs who resource guard are typically described as anxious or insecure. They have a higher natural likelihood of displaying guarding behaviors. Early signals can go unnoticed but are indicators where behavioral protocols can be implemented. Best not to wait for teeth and growling.
- Look for body tension when the dog is in possession of an item, resting in a favored place, or becomes aware of an “interloper” in the environment
- Covering an item with a paw or other body part is deliberate, not a random weight shift
- A side-eye glance or gaze is a fear signal/warning
- Removing the item from the proximity of a human can signal discomfort
- Caching (hiding) the item is a guarding behavior. The dog remembers where it is while we humans may forget
- Over arousal behaviors that are directed at objects can be preludes to human-directed aggressive displays
Resource guarding evaluations can reveal useful information about a dog’s aggression threshold. How likely is he to resource guard and what might that look like in real daily life? Unfortunately, many breeders do not perform resource guarding assessments. Neither do most shelters or rescues.
Thankfully, there are behavioral protocols that can reduce tension in guarders. Foundation training, counter conditioning, and techniques to engage cognitive reappraisal are part of a program. We all want our dogs to be safe and calm family companions.