How to Prevent Resource Guarding in Dogs

dog food aggression with other dogs is dangerous

How to identify resource guarding in dogs and how to fix it

Resource guarding in dogs can be dog to dog OR dog to human. Resource guarding between dogs can lead to a dog fight while resource guarding with humans can lead to a bite. Resource guarding in puppies is fixable so do not fret- dog food or toy aggression training can be done at home or with a trainer. Resource guarding does not always escalate to biting but it can – Signs of resource guarding include eating very fast, growling, biting, moving away or freezing while playing or eating something.  Resource guarding in puppies can include guarding of food, territory, humans, or toys.

Why is dog resource guarding dangerous?

Resource guarding was one of our biggest fears going into puppy raising.  As a young couple without any children in the house, we knew that the puppy wouldn’t have a continuous flow of sticky hands trying to take his things.  Our fear was that one day, Calvin would snap at our future children if they got close to one of this “things”.  Most adults know that it’s best to leave dogs alone while they are eating so we were most afraid of it being an issue with children.

Calvin never developed any form of resource guarding, and is even open to sharing his best bully sticks with other dogs.  We are unsure if this is as result of his character or our precautionary measures.  We get a lot of questions about Calvin’s sharing skills (particularly with his friend Oscar). Oscar is another example of a pup that has not developed any resource guarding and his humans tell us they worked with him from a young age to teach that nothing is his property, but actually belongs to the humans first and foremost. Here are some of the steps we took to try and avoid resource guarding.

Note: This is a preventative guide aimed at puppies – we do not have any experience with resource guarding once it has actually set in and cannot provide guidance on reversing it.  Please speak to a professional for that issue.
train your dog not to guard against items and food

What is Resource Guarding in Dogs?

Resource guarding is when a dog shows signs of aggression, reluctance, uneasiness intended to keep a human or dog away from a particular item.  This includes but is not limited to treats, food, beds, people, locations. Although this could be just a growl, it can be as severe as nipping or biting to protect the resource.

Steps to Prevent Resource Guarding in a Puppy

Hand Feeding Your Puppy
We hand fed Calvin about half his kibble for the first few months after he came home. We wanted Calvin to understand that this kibble was related to his food bowl, so we did this while hovering over the food bowl.

Petting While Eating
While Calvin eats his food, we periodically touch his face and pat his head and have done so since he came home. This gets the dog used to being handled while near food.

Taking Away Food Bowl
While Calvin eats, we often take away his food bowl, give him a yummy treat to reward him for being good when we take his food, and then give the bowl back to him.  To this day, we still do this a few times per week.

Putting Hands in Food Bowl
If the puppy is fine with you being around his food, you can take it to the next level.  If your dog has absolutely no resource guarding issues, you should be able to quite literally put your hands near his face while he eats and then hand feed him some kibble.  We don’t do this anymore since it seems like overkill.

Wait Before Eating
Have your pup learn to “wait” before eating their food.  This builds up their impulse control and reinforces that your pup can’t just eat whatever is placed in front of them.

Giving and Taking Meat Chews
Antlers, Bully Sticks, Bones, Tracheas ect are some of the highest value treats to a pup.  Although we never noticed serious resource guarding over these items, we did notice that Calvin would sometimes turn his head the other way to eat them.  In response, we would trade him the meat chew for a yummy treat and then give him back his chew.  He began to associate his food being taken away with more food and grew up to be able to share all his high value chews with others.

Don’t Lose at Tug
Some animal behaviorists claim that it is not a good idea to let your pup win at tug because it reinforces that they have dominance over their handler and own the toy.

Socialization with Toys
During puppy socialization, it’s a good idea to teach your pup how to share toys with others.  Start early and encourage your pup to engage in games with other pups.

Furniture Boundaries with your Dog
Furniture boundaries do not mean the dog is never allowed on furniture – we all know that Calvin loves cuddling in bed. To us, furniture boundaries mean that Calvin is only allowed onto the furniture if we are already sitting on the couch or bed AND only with permission. Sometimes he breaks this rule, but we try to correct it as often as we can. We use the command “up” to invite him on the furniture.  This reinforces that the furniture is not his property, but rather something that he is granted with permission. Furniture boundaries are likely not an issue for most pups, but if your dog has any territorial tendencies it could become an issue if they think they own the furniture.

Take this example: You have a great dog, the sweetest little chunk with mild territorial issues.  Your friend comes over to visit and your dog is sleeping on the couch. Your friend is unaware of the mild territorial issues and decides to go sit on the couch.  Your dog bolts up and growls/nips at your friend as she gets onto his “property.” Things get awkward. Oops.

Sharing is Caring!
-Your Pal Cal


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