Resource Guarding

It’s that growl that warns us.  If we’re lucky, it’s just a warning – but often dogs skip the warning and go straight for the bite.  That’s when it becomes a problem. This is Resource Guarding.  Your sweet dog has something it considers to be important, and will protect it with their life.  Sometimes it is a rawhide or a toy.  Oddly enough, it can be you!

It’s a tough habit to break. For an undomesticated animal, this behavior is a necessity. If a wolf has hunted its prey and is about to sit down to a delectable dinner, they are not about to share it.  The wolf will growl, showing they are not interested in a table for two.  When dogs are domesticated, however, they may still possess some of their natural traits.

Explaining how to correct this behavior is next to impossible.
All dogs are unique and specialized techniques apply to each.

My experience stems from Toffee, a dog I had once adopted.  I never knew she had a dark side.  She ate her food gently and didn’t complain when we removed a toy.  She didn’t show aggression until I gave her a rawhide and then tried taking it away.

Snapping my hand back, I observed my angel growl and squint her eyes as I corrected her, the bone still dangling out of her mouth.  Realizing I couldn’t let her “win” this argument, I distracted her with another object and safely retrieved her bone. While a disaster was averted, I realized I had a hazardous issue on my hands.Correcting her behavior was a long process, but one that I constructed for Toffee alone.

I knew that I had to gain her trust before I could concentrate on anything else.  She and I trained.  Several times, every day without rawhides.  I taught basic commands and enjoyable tricks, rewarding with quality treats.  I made her realize that eating the bone was a social thing.  She had to sit by me while eating it, instead of running off to devour it.

Next, it was time to take the bone away. I couldn’t show fear, so I figured if I gave Toffee another “valuable” object as a trade, she would oblige.  I grabbed a milk-bone.  Her eyes caught on mine and I held it out to her.  I used the word, “TRADE” indicating that if she wanted the milk-bone, she’d have to give up the rawhide.   No growling.

This took over a year to perfect.  And I wouldn’t suggest this method to anyone without seeking the advice of a professional and capable trainer.

Here’s why.  And this is important.  First, I’m not a professional trainer.  Second, Toffee was forty pounds and didn’t have many teeth.  If she DID bite me, I might’ve had a bruise, but I would’ve been fine.  A bigger dog can do an IMMENSE amount of damage.

Resource guarding is not to be taking lightly.  If your dog shows signs of aggression, it’s wise to seek help with someone who has had experience with this behavior.  And have patience.  Finding a capable trainer is the first step, but patience and understanding are two top ingredients for success.  

Elizabeth Parker – Author of Finally Home, Final Journey, My Dog Does That!, Bark Out Loud!, Paw Prints in the Sand,Paw Prints in the Sand: Mission Accomplished, Unwanted Dreams, Phobia, Evil’s Door and Faces of Deception. Available on!