Resource Guarding

From a post I wrote in 2009 on Resource Guarding

“Resource guarding” is the term we use to describe a sort of aggression that occurs around “possessions.” The possession might be a food dish, dog bone, a soft space on the couch, or even the dog’s human. Sometimes new dogs here do that. They figure out that I dole out treats, so they start to growl or threaten when other dogs approach me, as though saying, “hey, that’s MY treat dispenser.”

Needless to say, nobody likes resource guarding. It can be a bit dangerous, for example, if a dog is guarding a bone from another dog, and the handler intervenes, there is a chance the handler might get a redirected bite.

So, for some reason, a familiar guest arrived showing a bit more intense resource guarding this visit than last visit. I definitely don’t like to see resource guarding escalate. Generally it is a sign of insecurity, where the dog feels he needs to defend his stuff, as otherwise, he fears someone might take it. It’s not the worlds most horrible thing when a hissy fit is directed at another dog, but when they are a bit startling, it’s time to address the issue.

So, what I’ve been doing is practicing “trade ya” to make sure this dog is happy about giving me his bone or whatever, and flooding the environment with delicious chewable things, and giving him lots of safe secure un-threatened opportunities to chew. So, out there today are two beef bones, four pig ears, zillions of toys, and I keep passing out dog biscuits and dental chews. This is the opposite of what you might hear about resource guarding, where you have to keep toys and treats picked up. In this sort of situation, where a young dog is just starting to resource guard and it is not an established aggressive behavior, but more of a game that is just a little too serious, I think it, it’s best to FLOOD resources onto the floor, so the dog gets a sense of abundance, and gets used to having so many resources available, that the perceived need for guarding is reduced.

It’s working. He is finding out that he can chew on a pig ear, and the other dogs aren’t going to bother him, because they have their own pig ears. Pig ears are beginning to seem a little less over-the-top exciting. In fact, there are so many good things to “chews” from that he is laying here at my feet, maybe his mouth is exhausted from chewing, not at all worrying about the fact that Tigerlily is chewing on a beef bone a few feet away.

We need to teach dogs that sharing “their” stuff is fun, and painless, nothing to worry about. We can do that by reinforcing the dog’s sense that giving up any object is a low cost (there’s plenty of objects! I’ll trade you this one for that one!), and highly reinforced ( I’ll pay you for letting me have it) behavior.

In 2017 what I can add to this is, play lots of retrieving games where you exchange one ball for another, or where you trade a piece of cheese for a ball. Retrieving games are all about sharing resources for fun and profit! Make it fun! Any time you take anything away from your dog, pay him with something that he really wants! Then you will have a dog who is happy and eager to share.