Tag Archives: Resource Guarding

When is resource guarding between dogs not a good thing

Resource guarding of anything that a dog considers valuable is normal dog behavior. It goes back to- you guess it, evolution. Dogs are opportunistic feeders and scavengers.  In other words, in the wild, dogs do not know when their next meal will appear so they eat when food becomes available. In addition, they are scavengers which means they can feed off of other’s left overs.  This is, by the way, one of the main traits that apparently got dogs and people together in the first place.

For our modern-day dogs, or better said, for dogs that live life as pets in the comfort of someone’s world with pretty much meals around the clock, guarding might be not that relevant. But try to tell that to the dog that covets food, toys, bones or any other item such as a bed, and even a person. Yes, indeed, dogs are complex beings. Besides genetics, dogs are learning all the time so it is possible that the guarding is a result of learning.

Say, for example, that a dog learned that when he is enjoying chewing on something of interest someone comes by and forcefully removes the item.  Now, the dog decides that what is his is his and he will fight for it because otherwise it will be taken away from him.  What a slippery slope!

When it comes to dog & dog guarding the scenario is very similar to the above.  Sure, dogs often want different things at different times; after all they are individuals.  But what happens when more than one wants the same stuff?  Here is where problems might arise.

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Ideally dogs have not been reinforced either by a person or by the environment itself for guarding to the point of escalating displays of aggression or full fledge aggression. Also, ideally dogs learn to diffuse conflict instead of going all out because they want something now!  If you have dogs that jump the gun at any provocation, you are in for a lot of fighting, my friend!

The trick, of course, is to know when the guarding is “appropriate” that is; no-one is getting injured physically or even bullied emotionally- in the case of another dog and when it needs to stop before things get very ugly.

There are several things people can do to make sure their dogs or their dog and a visiting pal don’t get into trouble.

1. Manage the heck of resources that are typically desirable. This includes: anything edible and toys.

2. Make sure there is ample to go around.  So, that the message the dog gets is that he too will get the goodie thus no need for competition.

3. Teach your dog manners!  You have no idea how long this strategy will go! Dogs need to learn that pushing their weight around is not the way to get what they want. You will be surprised how quickly they can learn this if you are consistent in delivering consequences for poor behavior such as bullying another.

4. Supervise around coveted stuff until you learn if there are any such items that the dogs will compete over. If so, just deliver these individually.  Good news is the time alone with a favorite toy or chewy is an excellent way for your pups to spend some “alone” quite time.

Some dogs are quite good at sharing certain things as in the case of my two dogs.  However, things can change quite rapidly so it is important to keep this in mind and make any necessary changes to keep the peace at home. Sigh.

When it comes to dog guarding a location, say a sofa, or your bed, you could just teach the dog (in short sessions used for this purpose) to get off the furniture on verbal cue.  Again, I urge you not to physically force your dog off stuff.  Adversarial approaches do have consequences and most of them are exactly what we do not want. Instead teach this in the form of a game by tossing treats on the floor that your dog gets to have when you say off and he complies.  Also, this can double for a nice round of cardio when the weather is not nice to go play outside!  “Up, off, up, off, up, off”… you get the picture. So, whenever your dog guards a location you ask your dog to get off as he just lost the privilege of a comfy place.

Paying attention to how your dogs relate around resources are one of the most salient and easy things you can do to avoid most fights in your home.  If your dog is already a compulsive guarder do not label your dog as a “bad”, dominant or even a stubborn dog because he is just responding as a dog. Instead, pay attention to the items that are at the center of the problem and teach your dog (s) that waiting politely for goods is the best way to access them.

If the guarding or even posturing continues, c-a-l-m-l-y escort your dog outside.  The goal here is to teach your dog consistently yet gently that manners matter and that if he cannot be polite he misses out. That is all.  One of the best kept secrets about dogs is that they do what works. Period. They are savvy creatures that have perfected – if you will, the art of staying alive and thriving. If you teach your dogs what you want them to do in order to access resources you will see your dogs following your lead.

Finally, if your pups are already fighting over resources, please get professional help. Find someone that has experienced with aggression and behavior modification.  Equally important- avoid, avoid at all costs harsh methods to “fix” the problem or you just made the situation much worse for everyone involved.

Resource Guarding Between Dogs

I am having dinner while both dogs are chewing on their nightly chewy. Rio is sort of waiting for Deuce to finish his so that she can go explore to see if there is anything left that she can have. I notice this from the corner of my eye as Deuce comes into the kitchen with the chewy in his mouth. My eye then catches a pouncing Rio. With the speed of thunder, she grabs the chewy that Deuce has in his mouth and claims it for herself.

Deuce and I remain motionless and incredulous! Rio has never attempted something like this before. She is now lying on one of their beds chewing the item as fast as she can.

I go to her and she is clearly guarding the stupid pig’s ear from me: keeping an eye on me and my movements from the corner of her eye while blocking the item with her shoulder and ready to jump into action should I try to remove the bone.

I know better than to forcefully remove the item from her so I stand there thinking of my next move. I ask her to go to her crate, which she refuses to do.

I get it, she is not going to let me have her precious possession, but I cannot just let her get away with taking the chewy from Deuce as she just did. I am very aware that she can try and bite me if I attempt to take the bone away, so I don’t. This is just a slippery slope. Instead I ask her now to sit on the other bed, which is adjacent to the one where the pig ear is. After a few forceful requests, she does. She is still very agitated and keeping a watchful eye on the treat. I kneel close to the item and I keep telling her to stay. I do not attempt to lift the pig ear, but at the same time I need to have her do something for me so that I can then allow her to chew on the item.

She stays put and as I move the bed with the chewy a bit closer to me, she controls herself and remains in place. I tell her to take it and then I remove myself from the situation.

I direct Deuce to his crate and shower him with other chewies to enjoy. Once Rio has finished her second chewy she acts as if nothing has happened, but I am not happy! I ask Rio to go to her crate again in a more forceful tone of voice than the one I normally use with them. She complies and immediately goes to her crate.

By this time Deuce is done chewing his goodies and I let him out of the crate. Rio, of course, wants out… just in case there are more tasty morsels she can have. She is in the crate and I leave her there giving her a few minutes to settle as the whole previous event was arousing enough for the three of us.

Once out of the crate I decide to give her a bit of a cold shoulder. I do this for the remainder of the evening. The idea here is not so much to “teach her a lesson” as time has gone by between the event and now me giving her the “cold shoulder”, but more than anything because I am angry with her and I now need the time to cool off.

I realize this event cannot repeat itself. Rio needs to learn not to jump at Deuce in the hopes of getting his chewy and she must learn not to guard the stupid chewy from John or me. This type of work is tedious; definitively not my favorite type of training, but it must be done.

Part of the protocol involves trading the valuable object for something at least equally valuable or better yet, more valuable. The ultimate goal here is to teach Rio that surrendering the precious item when asked to do so does not mean she will not get to enjoy it.

As a general note, guarding between dogs is normal dog behavior. Now, it does become a problem when a fight or even a possible fight over a resource might take place. In addition guarding from people is NOT what we want. It is possible to teach dogs to share and depending on what is being guarded, how involved and lengthy the protocol. Some dogs are consummated guarders so in effect every single item (food, bowls, toys, locations, bones, etc.) must be worked on individually. If we do not teach the dog that he needs to relinquish the coveted item and that after doing so he will get it back, he will continue to guard.

In the case of Rio, there are just a few items such as high-value chewies and marrowbones that she guards. For the time being very tight management will take place when they are enjoying their nightly chew as I work towards teaching her that Deuce’s chew is not fair game.

Owner Resource Guarding

This morning I am hanging out with the dogs. Deuce comes over to me and wants my attention. I began by gently stroking his ears, which he enjoys. Rio, whom is close by, pushes her body onto Deuce hoping to stop my interaction with him and getting some of the affection. Deuce turns towards her and sort of chastises her by kind of pecking her on the nose as he emits a high-pitch whine – his way of telling Rio that he is not “happy” with her.

Initially I am not sure why Deuce is acting this way, but I piece together what has happened. Rio sometimes can get a bit pushy and wants attention at all cost. For the most part it’s not a problem either for Deuce or us, but this morning it was not so and Deuce let her know that he had enough of her antics.

It is not uncommon for dogs to compete for their owner’s attention in the form of petting or some other thing that the dog wants. In the case of my dogs we are lucky that it has never created any problems between them.

Other folks don’t have it that easy; their dogs can get into outright fights because of this.

Attention seeking from owners or guarding of the owner come hand in hand many a times. When a dog guards anything it thinks of it as a valuable possession and naturally does not want to share with others, sometimes another dog but it can also be around people.

The best antidote for owner resource guarding is for the person to completely ignore the dog by moving away from any interaction the second the dog begins to guard him/her.

The message we want deliver to the dog is that we are not “theirs” to guard so we will remove what the dog wants (affection, interaction, etc.) from the equation. The other good reason for doing this is that we can potentially diffuse a sticky situation that may well escalate into a fight.

Our next goal is to teach the guarding dog that the proximity of either another dog or another person to the person he is guarding will only mean one thing: More good stuff (in the form of treat, attention, etc.) will come his way!

I like to teach the guarding dog that he/she has nothing to be concerned about. Think about it: If the dog is guarding because he is afraid it will have to “share” with others the coveted possession we need to prove him wrong.

Some folks have been ill advised to teach the dog a lesson by forcefully removing the item – when it comes to an object being guarded – from the dog. The problem here is that we had confirmed the dog’s ultimate fear: someone else is competing for the resource! Ouch.

When instead we choose to diffuse – by removing ourselves from the interaction AND we pair the interaction with another dog (or person) with a high-value something our guarder learns that having someone (or dog) around what they consider their possession means excellent news for him.

In my professional view the more we can diffuse potential aggressive behavior the better. Once dogs learn that fighting for what they want pays off it is so much more difficult than to teach dogs to learn to “share” since not wanting to share is absolutely normal dog behavior!

It also behooves us to teach our dogs that polite manners and patience go a long way in getting what they want. Some dogs are naturals at being polite – that would be Deuce and some others – like Rio, must learn some very much needed impulse control. When it comes to us humans we must make sure that we are aware of these potential issues before they become a problem and that we exercise “fairness” by making sure no one is left out from our affection and whatever goodies we are dispensing.