It can be alarming to notice your dog growling, barking, or snapping at you while eating or playing with their toys. You may wonder, "What am I doing wrong? Why are they acting like this?"
Good news: You're likely not doing anything wrong. This behavior is called resource guarding, and it's one of the most common issues presented to trainers. In fact, 15% of dogs aggressively guard their resources.
Keep reading to learn why your dog is growling in certain situations and how resource guarding training can help.
What Is Resource Guarding?
Resource guarding occurs when a dog becomes overly protective of its food, toys, or other important items. Dogs who are resource guarding will growl or bite to protect their possessions. This response can quickly become problematic.
In the wild, dogs rely on resource guarding to survive. Sadly, dogs who come from shelters may bring this bad habit home with them.
Resource guarding is not breed-specific, and any dog may be prone to resource guarding. A dog may also develop resource guarding issues during stressful changes or situations.
Though resource guarding is most often associated with food or toys, dogs may also guard their bed, a specific place, or even a person.
Signs of Resource Guarding
When a dog is resource guarding, he's "protecting" something. Here are 10 signs your dog may exhibit if they're resource guarding:
Stiffening their body
Growling when eating
Giving you a "hard stare"
Baring their teeth
Chasing you or another pet away from the item
"Blocking" the item by moving around it
Pinning ears flat against their head
Tracking anyone who comes near
It's important that pet owners pay attention to the warning signs their dog is giving. You want your dog to feel safe, and there's likely a reason behind why your dog is demonstrating this behavior.
The Causes Behind Resource Guarding
Many pet owners feel guilty when their dog starts resource guarding, but it's likely not your fault. Resource guarding is a natural behavior in animals, so you've done nothing wrong.
Many factors contribute to resource guarding, including:
Lack of socialization
Actions of people/other animals
The dog's physical needs (i.e. they're used to being hungry)
Underlying medical issues
A history of harsh/negative training methods
Regardless of the reasoning behind the behavior, you should address the issue once you know what it is.
How to Stop Resource Guarding
Some parents choose to simply live with a dog who is resource guarding, but we highly recommend you consider how to stop resource guarding. While it may seem harmless at first, the aggressive behavior can escalate and lead to problems in the future.
In addition, you want your pet to feel safe and comfortable in your house. Resource guarding is a sign that the opposite is true.
Take Your Dog to the Vet
If your dog recently started showing signs of resource guarding and it's not something you've noticed before, you should take them to the vet. It's best to rule out any underlying medical conditions before you begin working with your dog.
Once a vet has ensured that your dog is healthy, you can begin training.
Start Training Early
Resource guarding training is vital to ensure your dog's behavior doesn't escalate and become worse. As soon as you notice that your dog is resource guarding, you should begin training. By addressing the issue early on, you're more likely to successfully break your dog of the habit.
Living with an aggressive dog can prove challenging. Although it is possible to deal with aggressive behavior, life will be much easier if you address the problem before it escalates.
Slowly Desensitize Your Dog
Like other dog training techniques, this technique will take time and patience. To teach your dog that their food/toy/person doesn't need to be guarded, you'll need to gain your dog's trust.
Desensitization is a technique that involves starting at low levels of exposure to triggers and slowly building your way up. As you move through the levels of proximity, your dog will get used to you being nearby while near his possession.
For example: If your dog is guarding his favorite rope toy, don't rush at him and try and take it from him. Instead, start by standing in the same room as him while he's playing with the rope. Then, when he's used to you being in the room, take a step closer.
In small increments, you'll decrease the distance between you and your dog while he's playing with the rope. Eventually, you'll be able to pet him while he has the rope.
The secret to desensitizing your dog is to be patient and stick to a routine. While it can be tempting to skip a level of proximity, following a training routine will ensure you don't stress your dog out.
Manage the Environment
Once you've identified that your dog is resource guarding, it's time to make a list of the things that he's possessive over. Is he becoming aggressive while eating and playing with his toys, or only while eating? Is your dog only possessive of a specific toy or all toys?
Write it all out and think about how you can limit access to the things that trigger your dog's resource guarding behavior. By creating a trigger-free environment, you're less likely to have frequent issues.
Over time, you can begin to re-introduce the items, but you'll want to make sure you do so the right way.
Ask a Professional Trainer for Help
The fact that you've read this article means you're on the right track. You want to help your dog! Depending on the severity of your dog's resource guarding, you may need additional support.
If you call a trainer and say "My dog is resource guarding," a good dog trainer will know how to help! Most dog trainers are familiar with the behavior and know how to address it, but if they haven't treated this behavior a lot, find a trainer that has for every dog responds differently and you want a trainer that has a lot of past experiences to draw from.
At K-9 Culture, we're committed to helping your dog develop impulse control which is foundational in addressing resource guarding. We recognize that each dog is unique, and we'll work to find a training approach that works for your dog. Contact us today to get connected with a trainer in your area.
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K-9 Culture Dog Training
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