Resource Guarding


Stay away from my toy

Photo by Keith Cannataro |

Resource guarding is when a dog controls access to food, objects, people and locations that are important to him through defensive body language or overt aggressive display. This is a relatively common canine behavior and is influenced by a number of environmental and situational stimuli, including a dog’s natural instinct to survive.

The dog that has first access to food, for example, has nutritional advantage over others and even though thousands of years of domestication have changed the dog in many ways, instinct can remain deeply rooted. Dogs have most likely evolved from scavengers and scavengers do not need pack members to survive. In fact in this scenario, other dogs are competition for food and threaten survival, so guarding access to scraps becomes extremely important.

Are Dogs That Guard Resources Insecure?
Guarding resources is usually a manifestation of the dog’s deep-rooted insecurity and inability to cope well in a social situation, even with people and other dogs he knows.

  • An insecure dog can see anyone as a potential threat to a resource whether that resource is food, toys, space, a mate or access to a person.
  • A resource guarder will not tolerate competition and will guard the resource to maintain priority access.
  • The threat of losing the resource and the good feeling that the resource provides make a dog more vigilant, angry and irritable.

 Territorial Aggression Dogs that guard large spaces and areas such as houses, property and locations through aggressive displays are practicing 'Territorial Aggression' – a close behavioral cousin to resource guarding. Dogs will naturally protect areas which allow them to feel safe. If that safety is compromised, the dog has no choice but to defend access to areas which he perceives are crucial to his safety and survival. Read more about territorial aggression here.

Should I Punish My Dog for Guarding Resources?
Because people often misunderstand why their dogs guard and why there is social competition, many owners of resource guarders often get angry and confrontational with their dogs. Confrontation, however, increases competition and causes the dog to guard the contested resource even more. Using physical punishment on a resource guarding dog is the exact opposite of what you need to do. Instead, make sure you understand the canine experience and work to instill more confidence in the dog so that he feels less threatened.

When working to rehabilitate a dog that aggressively guards his resources, he should not be 'dominated' into submission, nor should he be challenged or physically punished. It is much safer to attempt a 'bloodless coup' without the dog ever realizing you are doing so.

How to Stop a Dog Guarding His Food Bowl

  • Begin by changing the physical picture and provide a new bowl and a different location for your dog to eat in.
  • Vary feeding times so that your dog never has the chance to become tense when his body clock tells him it is time to eat.
  • Utilize the empty bowl method. Pick up your dog’s bowl and make it look like you are filling it with his food.
  • Place the empty food bowl on the ground in front of him. Wait for him to investigate, see there is nothing there and look at you. As soon as he looks at you, praise him and add a bit of food into his bowl.
  • After your dog has finished eating the food wait for him to look at you again and add more food into his bowl.
  • Repeat this until all the food has been eaten. Walk away from his bowl and then back and add a little more. This shows your dog that your approach and presence at his food bowl means he is going to get more food and you are a positive part of his feeding experience.
  • Feed your dog in this manner for a week and as your dog becomes more relaxed with your presence close to his bowl, gradually add larger handfuls of food until you get to the point where you can put down a full food bowl and he can eat with you standing right next to him.
  • The next stage is to practice walking by an empty bowl and throwing a piece of high value food such as chicken into it. Every time you approach your dog’s empty bowl your dog will see your approach as something good.
  • The last stage of this training is to throw a delicious treat into your dog’s bowl as he is in the process of eating. By this time he should be much more relaxed with your presence and able to accept you being close to him as he eats.

Resource guarding can be a very dangerous behavior to work with so bring in a qualified, humane trainer in your area. Children should never take part in this training.

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58 thoughts on “Resource Guarding

  1. @shleyandra

    I am having the same issue with my collie. Did anyone give you advice . I just wanna know how to correct him from guarding everyone someone new walks in or knocks. He bit me today trying to get him outside . Now he's locked out and I haven't given him any contact. Don't know what to do next ?

  2. Annie

    My dog is the only pet in the house, and was always left alone while eating. The problem is he only eats a nibble and then wanders off to sleep. Sometimes he doesn't eat at all. Sometimes this goes on for 48 hours. No health problems says the vet. I can't leave his food out all day, it needs refrigeration to stay fresh. I've tried different foods but nothing helped.
    Started putting food down for 15 minutes and then taking up whatever is uneaten. Now the dog is insecure and guards his food. If the food is down he will be on edge constantly. If anyone in the house gets up or moves while the food is down he dashes back to his bowl and stuffs his face for a few minutes, then he wanders off and goes back to sleep. I've tried the dropping treats in his bowl while he's eating, but he's just learned that he can 'fake' eat by licking his food or the side of the bowl and wait for me to drop something better to him. Now he does this repeatedly, holding out for treats while fake eating and guarding. He's trained us well.

  3. Petlover

    I don't exactly have this issue with my dog.. he can eat next to me, doesn't growl or attempt to bite me.. he did a total of maybe 4 times in his life (he's 10 now) and I may not of done the right thing at the time, researching now, and would take the food from him in that moment and I'd put it back down and move my hand around in the food or even put the food in my hand for him to take.. my issue is he leaves food around the house after I put his food down..currently he's the only animal in the house. Previously, he'd take the cat toys or dog bones and just sit with them and when one wanted it he'd show his teeth a little or if he walked away from them but still a few feet away, he'd run back to them and pick them up and move them.. he's always had this issue and with a baby on the way I want to nip this in the butt... I never fully understood why he did this.. he's a husky collie mix..maybe some Australian Shepard mixed in.

  4. wmpk

    I see this as good communication between the dogs. Please don't take away their growl. That IS their communication. If you take that away, the next step could be biting. As far as I see, you are seeing very correctly dog communication. Great job!

  5. Lizi Ferrier

    I have the friendliest wee cocker spaniel pup and he loves all humans and dogs. He did guard his food when really little and I started getting kids to give him his meals and treats and he is no longer as bad. However just last night and we have had other times where he has been sitting in a corner or in his bed and of approached he gets aggressive and barks and snaps. Las night he was lying with me on the couch. Nice and sleepy. My daughter woke in and he woke up. I petted his head as was right beside him. My 10 year old daughter approached slowly saying his name and when she got close my pup turned on her. Got her arm in his mouth biting her and I pulled him off shouted no. I don't think this was the right thing to do. This is such unpredictable behaviour as he was so calm and not guarding anything. Do you have any advice please I'm desperate as I'm a childminder and really worried that I will need to rehome the pup who is a six month old working dog

  6. Positively

    Hi AV,
    I recommend a consultation with a qualified trainer to give you some tips on how to manage or change this behavior. It is impossible to give you good advice without seeing your pup's behavior, I'm afraid.
    For immediate help, I recommend that you visit our website and plug in your zip code or city to see if there is a VSPDT local to you. If there isn't, there is always the option of doing a phone consultation with one of them.
    Here is the link to search for a VSPDT:
    Here is the link to request a phone consultation:
    Either way, you should be able to get some very much-needed help.
    The Team at Positively

  7. Dawn James

    My rescue Akita Husky cross is extremely stubborn. If you approach him when he wont come in or get off the sofa he becomes aggressive and has snapped at people. I believe it is a fear thing and also that he may have been over disciplined in his last home. Or not disciplined at all. Any advice on how to stop this behaviour would be greatly appreciated.

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