We have all heard the stories of dogs protecting their owners in the sign of imminent danger, and we’d probably all love to think that ours would do the same for us. However, it generally takes a properly trained dog to handle such courageous acts, and also to know when the time is right to take action. But how many of you have been visiting a friend or relative only to be approached aggressively by their seemingly friendly pet? Perhaps you have a dog like this of your own. The belief most of these owners hold is that their dog is simply protecting them – but is he really? If a protection trained German Shepherd won’t bite you for sitting next to your uncle on his couch, why will your sister’s Yorkie? The answer, more often than not, is resource guarding.
What is resource guarding?
Resource guarding is the act of aggression to deter another human or animal from taking something that belongs to you or has value to you. Simply put, in a dog’s mind, it’s that I will bite you if you try to take my bone, sit on my couch or touch my human. Not all dogs will follow through with the bite. Some dogs display subtler behaviors such as stiffening, lack of eye contact, or just growling. Typically, however, if left to act this way for long enough, somebody is going to get bit.
A dog guarding his bone or toy from another dog or human is normal, but there should not have to be any knock-down drag-outs in the yard because one dog doesn’t want to share with another. Deciphering how much resource guarding you’re willing to allow really depends on your level of acceptance of the behavior. Again, some level of guarding is normal and expected, as this is an instinctual behavior in dogs. However, it’s generally not acceptable for pets to start guarding things that are not theirs, such as you or your bed, from other animals and humans.
As you might expect, it becomes quite a hassle to have people over or take your dog anywhere when he’s constantly threatening everyone around him. Many dogs will lunge and attack even their owners for getting too close to a couch, chair or toy. You might notice that Fluffy only acts aggressively when people try to get near you – sitting next to you on the couch or socializing too much on a walk in the park. This is where the misconception comes in. When a dog only acts aggressively in regards to others making contact with his owner, people view it as protection. In a way, it is a sort of protection. But Fluffy isn’t protecting the owner from danger – he’s protecting his owner (an item he values highly) from being taken away by someone else. He is resource guarding his human the same way he does his favorite stuffed teddy bear.
How can I fix it?
The first and most important step is to hire a professional trainer – resource guarding can be very serious and result in injuries caused by dog bites. It often takes a lot of convincing on the behalf of dog trainers to get owners to understand that their dogs are not being protective. Fair enough, it’s not always expected or even easily understood why a dog would resource guard something like a person or a piece of furniture. Others just truly want to believe that Lassie is there solely to keep their family safe. It’s a noble thought, but again, most dogs are not inclined to such behavior in the first place. Understanding resource guarding and the causes of it is the first step in getting the behavior under control.
Resource guarding mostly comes from dogs that are allowed a little too much reign over the house and lives of the owners. These pups have little structure and really do start to believe that everything is theirs. This doesn’t mean you need to live a military lifestyle with your pet, but a basic understanding that you are in charge will go a long way in keeping your dog in line. Simple exercises, such as making your dogs sit before going out the door, are steps in the right direction to helping your dog understand the structure in your household.
Another important factor is not to put your dog in any situation that would create the resource guarding. If you know your dog gets aggressive when food is involved, feed your dogs separately, and don’t throw treats or chews down for them to figure out who gets what on their own. If one dog is possessive over a certain toy, don’t bring that toy out when other dogs or people are around. If you’re having company and your dog bites anyone who gets near you or tries to sit in the leather recliner, put him in a crate and keep him away for the night. Protecting others will protect your dog too – you never know how much damage a bite is going to cause, and too many bites can lead to the destruction of your furry friend – something nobody wants to see happen.
Different trainers have different methods of curbing resource guarding – and no one way is the best way. If you do think this is something you need help with, do not hesitate to look into professional help. Resource guarding tends to escalate rather than disappear on its own. Most importantly, be patient. Remember that no good training happens overnight, and the best results are the ones worth working for. Good trainers cost a lot of time and money, but the benefits will last a lifetime.
About the Author
Katie is a professional dog trainer located in Southern California, with a background of experience as a veterinary assistant as well. She has trained and competed with multiple breeds in AKC Obedience and Rally, agility, herding, Schutzhund/IPO, French Ring and conformation. She has been involved in dogs since she was a child, and specializes in protection dogs, working dogs, and aggression issues. You can visit her website, Katie’s Dog Training, to find out more information about her training and accomplishments. When she’s not helping others and writing, she’s out on the field with her Belgian Malinois and Pembroke Welsh Corgi.