What is it?
Behaviors in dogs to keep possessions close.
The term Resource Guarding, describes behaviors in domestic dogs related to keeping others away from specific items. The behaviors range from staring to standing still to growling to biting.
It's a survival strategy.
Survival is a self-preservation instinct in all organisms, including humans. To survive we need certain items (resources) to meet our basic needs. Basic needs are the things we must have access to in order to stay alive.
When we are concerned others may take our basic needs or things we think are needs, we’ll take action to stop them. Our lifestyle and individuality have bearing on what we perceive as needs.
In nature, with wild animals and all other organisms, self-preservation behaviors are considered normal. Animals communicate through vocalizations and body language, that they intend to keep control of specific food, space, mates and offspring. If appropriate body langue is ineffective, they may fight or chase intruders away to keep resources that have value.
In our domestic dogs, resources to survive are given to them freely. There is no need to fight. Sometimes, convincing our dog's DNA that their era of fighting is over, is a sizable task. Genetics create a strong chain that’s not so easy to break.
Basic needs vs perceived value.
There are two words that help sort some of this out. Perceived and Value. Basic needs are things that we actually do need, to, not die. Food, water, shelter, oxygen, and sleep.
Perceived value is the importance of an item to us, as individuals. Some things are worth fighting for, if our perceived value of the item is high.
Water and oxygen are basic needs, but dogs don't normally fight over those things, so it's really all about perceived value. You can have all of the food in my kitchen cabinet, but keep your paws off of my grandma's black berry jam.
In our home
Dogs with Resource Guarding, perceive the value of things they’re protecting, as important enough to justify expending energy to communicate to the intruder to back off.
These actions can be referred to as distance-creating behaviors.
The resulting behaviors have the potential to be dangerous to our family.
Communicating is appropriate.
It's how dogs express their personal boundaries. Dogs, pets, children and, adults need to recognize when a dog is saying no.
On a case by case basis, we'll decide if the way a dog says no is within our boundaries.
It’s a challenging dynamic. Dogs sometimes see us as a threat to their survival, and we see their behaviors as a threat to our safety and potentially to our survival.
The resulting behaviors have the potential to be dangerous to our family.
A dog gives a low energy signal that his bowl has high value to him. His most likely asking for more personal space.
Whatever the reason dogs protect things, it’s not pretty. As the perceived threat approaches, he or she begins to feel anxious.
Heart rate changes. Hormones activate, neurotransmitters fire and the dog must decide what level of intervention is required to keep valuables safe.
It's important to be conservative with energy in case they need to fight or run away with their possessions. Dogs start with simple, low-energy signals by displaying specific facial expressions and/or moving their body into different positions to create a boundary.
Basic body language in dogs
Resource Guarding Behaviors
Low energy behaviors
A dog may stand close to the item he or she is resource guarding.
They may rest their chin on the guarded item.
Dogs may place a paw between an item and the perceived threat.
They may freeze for a second.
They may lower their head over the item being protected.
They may give a low growl.
The dog may give a hard stare and track the threatening person's movements.
You may see the whites of their eyes, as they try to watch their things and keep track of the threat.
Medium energy behaviors
They may show their teeth by curing a lip upward.
Ears may be pinned flat against their head.
They may show all teeth.
They could bark.
High energy behaviors
They may move to block the item with their body.
Stand over an item.
They may eat faster.
Growling, snarling and showing more teeth.
They may pick the item up and carry it further away.
Higher energy behaviors
Lunging at the thing they see as a threat.
Air snapping toward the threat.
Chasing the intruder away.
Nipping the thing they see as a threat, making contact with their teeth, causing small punctures
Highest energy behaviors
Grabs and holds with teeth.
Bites causing punchers in the skin.
Dog can attack, the thing they see as a threat, causing high level of injury.
Do pet dogs really bite people? Yes.
There are thousands of dog bites per year. Many to children. In children the most common body part for dogs to bite are faces. Many dogs are not comfortable with humans looking into their eyes.
Children are more at risk because children are eye-level, with a dogs teeth.
A warning snap, directed toward an adults blue jean covered knee would tell an adult to stay away. The same bite pressure can cause injury to a child's skin.
The severity of dog bites can be described with levels. There are more than one set of bite levels out there. Here are two.
Bite level numbers by Sophia Yin
Bite level numbers by Ian Dunbar
Is it reasonable behavior?
Can all dogs do this?
Yes. All dogs are capable if they perceive an item is worth the energy to protect.
Dogs that are provoked can display these behaviors too. Once the dog's survival instincts kick in, its body starts a hormonal cascade, that gives them the energy needed, to fight-flight-or-freeze.
If a dog has been abandoned in a house with a sack of dog food and another animal crawls in to share. The abandoned dog is in his/her right, to defend himself and protect the food.
If a dog's meal is routinely interrupted by other household dogs stealing her food, eventually that dog is likely to create distance between her food and the thieves. This is appropriate behavior, however, if we take responsibility to realize the dog is experiencing a dilemma and take action to prevent harm, that would be a much safer solution.
It's our responsibility to reduce stress in our dogs, so they don't need to resolve the problem with their teeth.
When we listen to and respect our dogs, we will back-off when they tell us they are uncomfortable. Take note, then call Brainy Dog. There are many ways to unintentionally make the situation worse. Call as soon as possible.
When dogs employ the appropriate amount of communication to create distance between their things, and a perceived threat, then all is good. Again, we should be aware of and attend to the situation, before the dog has to.
It's unreasonable when your dogs behavior cause fear or avoidance in humans or pets.
If you feel fear and are notice yourself being careful, while feeding your dog because you've seen growing, snapping, lunging, biting or other behaviors, that's an indicator it's time to look further into resource guarding.
Avoiding your dog while she's eating is a good thing if you're concerned about getting bit. Avoiding will keep you and your dog more safe, however, convincing your dog there is no need to growl in the first place, will be less stress on all involved.
In our homes, there are enough food, water, shelter, and other resources. If our dogs knew this, in mind AND body, perhaps they would not guard.
It’s a challenging dynamic, and important to change because if the behavior continues in a human home the consequences can be dire for humans and the dog who exhibits the behavior.
Ignoring guarding behaviors can put your dog and family at risk. Tip-toeing around your dog is not a solution because there are just too many opportunities for misunderstanding while living with dogs.
Dogs’ teeth are made to tear flesh.
Dogs can easily misinterpret our actions,
Children are more at risk,
because they don’t know dog body language, and their face is at the same level as dogs’ teeth.
We are so busy with our lives; we don’t take enough time every day to be careful around our dogs’ resource guarding.
We bring them into our home and expect them to act like humans, instead of wild animals, they may no longer be wild (for the most part), but they are animals and have the ability to act wild.
Prevent resource Guarding from happening
Don't tease your dog
Don't corner your dog to catch him.
Make sure your dog has enough food.
if your dog seems too hungry, check in with your vet.
If your dog growls, don't approach.
Keep in mind, there is no guarantee.
In part, it's a matter of your own values and how much risk you are willing to take.
My personal feelings are if you are the type of person that can follow a program, you have support from your family, and you promise to keep safety protocols in place, then go ahead and start the program. A veterinarian will be advising you as well.
Whether or not you end up keeping your dog, at least the pup will have some training so he or she will be more likely to be successful in a new home.
You are not required by law to keep a puppy that bites more than normal puppies.
It is a lot of work to treat resource guarding, if, that's what it is.
I do feel strongly that it's important to start the program so we can determine IF it's a real problem or IF it's just normal puppy biting and easily resolvable.
If you take the time and energy to investigate reasons for your dogs resource guarding, you are my hero and more importantly, you'll be your dog's hero.
You can quit the program at any time.
If you feel you have a dog that is not appropriate for your family, separate the animals or/and humans that may be in danger. Now.
Best to be safe. I'll be straight with you in sharing my opinion and helping find a safe solution, which may include:
Weekly training sessions to change behavior.
Suggesting a second opinion.
Helping you find a Board-Certified Veterinary Behaviorist.
or/and discuss other options.
A Veterinary Behaviorist has achieved the title of Veterinarian plus has continued education to specialize in the field of behavior.
A check by a veterinarian will be required, to treat resource guarding.
I am not a veterinarian, I'm a dog trainer very interested and experienced in serious behavior issues in dogs. I continue my education, pay attention to new scientific studies and at least once a year consult with a veterinarian to verify my methods are appropriate.