Resource Guarding: What to Do in the Moment
Resource guarding is a naturally occurring behavior in which a dog displays behaviors to protect resources they perceive as valuable including food, bones, toys, and space.
Signs your dog is guarding may include:
- Moving an item away from you
- Stiffening/hovering over an object
- Eating much slower or faster when approached
- Stopping and staring at the owner
- “Whale-eyeing” where you can see the whites of your dog’s eyes
- Displaying defensive aggression such as lip curling, growling, barking, lunging, air-snapping
These signs, if ignored or challenged, may escalate into biting. Because of this, it is very important that owners are aware of how to respond at the moment.
When changing our reaction, it is important to remember these three main steps:
- Move Away
NOTE: These steps may differ if you have a multi-pet household.
When you first notice resource guarding, the safest response is to maintain space or move away from the animal and what they are guarding. Never confront them, approach their space, try to interact with them, or attempt to remove the object from their mouth.
To get a dog to release an object or move out of the space, you can use a variety of distractions to break up the situation such as:
- Ringing the doorbell
- Opening the fridge
- Opening the door to go outside
- Going to the garage
- Grabbing the keys like it’s time to take a car ride
- Putting on your shoes
- Pretending there is someone at the door
- Opening a treat bowl
The most effective method is one that would normally signal to your dog the start of another activity and help reduce focus on the guarded item.
In order to remove the object, it is important to try and replace the item with something of greater value. Once you have a high-value treat or perhaps a better toy, toss the treats/toy away from you, the dog, and the object.
If the dog is a serious resource guarder, we recommend tossing a handful of treats away from you and then using the treats to move the dog into another room or space so the guarded object can be removed from the space.* DO NOT pick up the guarded item when the dog is next to you or, in serious cases, while the dog is still in the room, as this may result in them lunging towards you.
If the dog is guarding space itself such as a couch or a bed, we recommend using a longer-lasting treat such as a kong or a chew stick to move them to a more appropriate space such as a dog bed or crate away from high traffic areas.
*If you have a multi-pet household, avoid tossing treats on the ground, and instead rely more on Distracting and practice the dog out of the space. Reward the dog in a controlled manner by rewarding from your hand or once the dog is separated from the other pet.
- View Fear Free’s Guide on Dealing with Resource Guarding
- View Preventative Vet’s Resource Guarding in Dogs: What to Do (and NOT Do)
- View our article Intro to Resource Guarding
- Read Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding by Jean Donaldson