Resource guarding is a really important topic that I don’t think enough people are aware of – I know I wasn’t when I first started working with dogs.
Resource guarding can occur when a dog feels threatened that you’re going to take an item that they think is of great value away from them. The guarding can include items such as food, items, locations and even people. I highly recommend the book Mine! By Jean Donaldson if you’d like to find out more. Examples of when I’ve seen guarding occur have included include food, a tasty chew, a bit of plastic, a chicken bone someone has kindly left on the floor after a night out (please don’t do it an animal can choke on it!), or even chewing gum (xylitol is poisonous).. check out this article: https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/hidden-dangers-dogs.
Puppies explore the world with their mouths, a bit like toddlers, so it’s natural that they will pop things in their mouth. In our busy human world there’s a host of things that they can get their teeth stuck into (quite literally!) that we may not want them to have such as shoes, slippers, mobile phones, dummies, cushions, the list can go on. Chewing is a very self soothing and relaxing behaviour so many dogs will chew as it feels good. Obviously they don’t know that shoes are your shoes and not your chew toy, to them it’s just an item. It may seem like a simple solution but to set up your dog for success then put these items out of reach – management is important. It’s also important that your dog’s needs are being met so providing outlets for chewing for your dog, these can be yak chews or whimzee sticks. If your dog has something that you don’t want them to have it can be very natural and if it’s very dangerous of course – it’s likely you’ll put your hands in their mouth and extract the item or take it away from them. However the problem with this is the dog may get irritated with things being taken from him and their mouths being man handled (it may hurt a bit), and they may start associating your hand as something that takes away (bad!) rather than something that reaps rewards (giving treats, petting etc). If the dog starts associating your hand with take it away hand then they may start guarding items and growling, snarling, snapping or even biting when hands go near – this is obviously very problematic as you, and others will use hands to pet and check over your dog. ‘The severity of the guarding, ie, growling or biting, is dependent on the value of the item to the dog’ (Jean Donaldson, Mine!).
Prevention is better than cure
Teaching important life skills like ‘leave it’ and ‘drop’ are a great way of helping to keep your dog safe in the rubbish orientated world we live in, if you can’t get to the item in time. Here are some resources : https://resources.bestfriends.org/article/how-teach-dog-leave-it and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndTiVOCNY4M .
In Daniel Mills and Helen Zulch’s book Life Skills for Puppies they describe how in the early days you should go over to the food bowl and drop in something even tastier than what the dog is currently eating – do this a few times regularly so the dog associates your hand next to the food bowl as something that gives not takes away. It’s always advisable anyway to move the food bowl once the dog has finished eating and moved away from the bowl. Jean Donaldson reminds us that resource guarding isn’t ‘abnormal and if a dog had to fend for themselves then they would have the survival and reproductive edge over non – guarders’. Rather than labelling dogs as dominant or little madams I think it’s more sensible and logical to look at things from the dogs perspective and recognise that ‘biologically, like any animal (including us.) will respond aggressively if we feel afraid or threatened to defend resources’. Dogs can’t speak to us through verbal language “I actually liked that tissue!” but do so through body language. If you’d like to find out more about preventing resource guarding and also learning key skills to prevent it, please look at our puppy programme.
If your dog or puppy has existing resource guarding please seek the help of a certified clinical animal behaviourist.
Mine! Jean Donaldson
Life Skills for Puppies, Helen Zulch & Daniel Mills
‘How to teach your dog to drop’ Chirag Patel
‘How to Teach a Dog to Leave It’ Sherry Woodard
‘Hidden dangers to dogs’ Blue Cross