Resource Guarding in Dogs

Last updated: January 24, 2013

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Animal Training and Behaviour Centre Growling dog.

Thank you for being responsible and addressing this serious issue.

Aggression over a valued resource, like food, can happen quite commonly in both adult dogs and puppies. Such behaviour can have its origins in a number of causes, including hunger, fear of competition or loss, anxiety and dominance aggression. If a dog is being aggressive over food, either with you or towards other animals then follow the guidelines below in an attempt to resolve the problem. If the problem persists or seems severe or atypical, then please seek more specific advice from a veterinarian or behavioural trainer.

Resource guarding in puppies does not fix itself with time, it gets more severe with practice. It needs timely intervention.

First of all it is important to establish why the behaviour is occurring. The pup or dog could be hungry, they will certainly be stressed, may be frightened and maybe a bully. The procedure below helps you to work through the possible reasons, and to correct the problem.

  1. Avoid giving the animal an opportunity to practice the aggressive behaviour. This only makes the behaviour worse over time. Feed the dog on its own, preferably in a quiet area. This should reduce the stress and reduce the fear of competition.
  2. If taking the food away from the dog makes them become aggressive, then do not do it! Once you have placed the bowl on the ground wait until the dog has finished eating and then remove the bowl. Do not purposely take food away: this serves no positive purpose, and only heightens stress and anxiety
  3. At feeding time start hand feeding the dog. This needs to be done for a few weeks depending on how long the behaviour has been displayed. This way the dog will associate you with being in charge of what, when and how much he/she is eating. Then repeat letting the dog eat out of the bowl in your hands. Next step is to repeat this whilst putting the bowl on the ground but still holding it. Stop and remove yourself at anytime the dog growls, bares teeth or acts threatening in any way.
  4. While your dog is eating out of the bowl walk past the food bowl and add a few very tasty treats. Do this from a distance the dog is comfortable with. This will teach your dog that a person approaching the bowl is a good thing as they are adding something good instead of taking something away.
  5. As your dog gets more comfortable with this move with your hand closer to the bowl and keep adding high value treats to the bowl with your hand as your dog finishes the food. This will teach them that a hand approaching their bowl isn’t bad.
  6. Once your dog is accepting your presence while eating normal food we start concentrating on high value treats such as rawhide chews and bones. Offer your dog a rawhide chew but do not let go of it. Hold on to the treat while the dog chews on it giving it to the dog only at the very end to eat up. We want the dog to think that this treat is yours and you are nice enough to share it with the dog.
  7. Next step is to exchange the rawhide treat with something much tastier i.e. bone (raw chicken wing, chicken neck, marrow bone, etc). This will teach the dog that you are not taking away food but you are giving the dog something much better instead.
  8. If the aggression is directed towards other dogs you will have to feed all animals separately so the dog that is resource guarding cannot rehearse the guarding behaviour. Reward the dog for relaxed behaviour around the other animals, when no food is present.
  9. At no time should another dog / puppy be placed in a situation that may cause it harm either physically or mentally.
  10. If the resource is not a food item but a toy use the same approach as above but replace the food with a toy.
  11. If the resource is people it would be advisable to contact a behavioural trainer.

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RSPCA animal training courses are available across Australia:

  • Queensland: call the RSPCA Animal Training & Behaviour Centre for further information in regard to courses available on (07) 3426 9928.
  • Victoria: for any information on training and behaviour in Victoria call Amanda Murcutt on 92242521.
  • West Australia: call the RSPCA PawsCentral Adoption Centre for further information about courses available near you on (08) 9209-9309 or visit the RSPCA WA website.
  • NSW: Information is available on the RSPCA NSW website.
  • Australian Capital Territory: Information is available on the RSPCA ACT website.
  • South Australia: Contact information is available on the RSPCA SA website.
  • Northern Territory: Contact information is available on the RSPCA Darwin website.
  • Tasmania: Training is available at the Hobart Animal Care Centre in Mornington. Go to the RSPCA Tasmania website for further information.

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