Resource guarding is a term used by those who study dog behavior to describe a set of behaviors that dogs display when trying to communicate that they have something they really want to keep and don’t want you to take away. These behaviors can be displayed around their food bowls, bones, toys, sleeping spots, and even people. The reason that we, as trainers, talk about these behaviors a lot is that dogs who are willing to threaten or even harm you while protecting their favorite things can be quite dangerous to live with.
I think most people recognize the obvious signs of resource guarding. Few people would be surprised if the dog pictured at left bit you if you tried to take his bone away – he’s being pretty obvious in his communication.
But there are many signs of low-level resource guarding that many people do not recognize. One of the dogs in this video is demonstrating low-level guarding.
In the video, both dogs receive a treat, but my lab, Tucker, simply takes his and lies back down to eat it. (Try not to notice the sloppy treat delivery – it’s hard to do while filming!) The little dog, Hobo, jumps up to grab the treat and then runs away with it before eating it. Although many people wouldn’t classify this behavior as resource guarding because neither Tucker nor I were harmed or threatened, it’s a very important clue to Hobo’s state of mind. It shows that he is uncomfortable eating near both of us. He took the treat away to where he felt safe, and then ate it.
I know from living with him that Hobo would, in fact, become more threatening if I tried to take the treat away from him. It’s very intentional that he moved away with his treat.
• Eating faster if you approach (if it’s in his stomach, you can’t get it!)
• Moving to put his body between you and object
• Hovering over or putting a paw on top of a toy or bone
• Stiffening up when you approach
It is important to be aware of the clues that your dog is giving you, even if your dog has never growled, bared his teeth, snapped, or bitten when you took something away. If you ignore the signs that your dog doesn’t feel comfortable, your dog may feel like he needs to be more clear. In fact, addressing this behavior before it has progressed from merely uncomfortable to obviously threatening makes the prognosis for modifying it much better. This blog has a great protocol for making sure your dog doesn’t ever need to worry about your approach to his resources.