CynoCentric Training & Behavior

Resource Guarding

Resource guarding prevention exercises should be done with all puppies, even those who are currently showing no signs of a problem.

In one large epidemiological study 20% of dogs had growled or snapped at their owners over food or objects​.

Many dogs learn to expect a bad outcome when approached by their owners, becoming defensive when approached.

Prevention exercises teach puppies to expect a good outcome when approached, so that they don’t become defensive, and instead, feel safe, comfortable, and happy to have you nearby – even when he has a valuable resource (bowl, chew, toy, favorite resting place, etc). These exercises help teach your puppy to

  • Welcome your approach
  • Be comfortable with you touching his stuff
  • Be comfortable with you taking his stuff

The above video shows resource guarding prevention exercises with a pup who is chewing on a stuffed frozen Kong. The trainer is reaching for the Kong (generally with an empty hand) and then quickly tossing treats to the puppy. She also occasionally picks up the Kong, adds a little squeeze cheeze, and gives it right back. The trainer also demonstrates approaching puppy from a distance while he is chewing his Kong. She is always showing puppy that she is only there to make his life better. She does not cause him to have any reason to think that they are in competition for the item he has.

You can do these exercises throughout the day any time you notice that puppy has settled down to enjoy a chew. As a bonus, you are also rewarding nice settled behavior. If you have a puppy, like this one, who would be happy to sit by you and chew his toy while you pet him, by all means spend some quality TV watching time this way!

All families should help puppy learn that people approaching her food bowl are nothing to be concerned about. Regularly practice the food bowl guarding prevention exercises we performed in class.

Remember, your approach should always predict something good for puppy. You want her to look forward to hands near her while she is eating, not be afraid that you will mess with her food.

Learn the early signs of resource guarding

  • The puppy stops eating as you approach and stiffens/holds her head in or over the bowl
  • The puppy eats faster (gobbles quickly) as you approach
  •  The puppy blocks the bowl from you as you approach (by turning her body so that it is in between you and the bowl as she eats)
  • The puppy pushes or picks up and takes the bowl or item to another part of the room, further away from you, as you approach
  •  Defensive/avoidant body language (can you recognize defensive and avoidant body language? Take the Quiz!)

The puppy in the video was comfortable and relaxed throughout these exercises. Had he shown any early signs of resource guarding, defensiveness, or avoidance, the exercise would have been dialed back to a level at which he could be truly comfortable.

While you should regularly practice resource guarding prevention exercises with your puppy as she grows, most of the time you should just leave puppy in peace while she chews or eats. Once you feel confident that you have done these exercises well for a few times each, and that puppy is comfortable when you approach her while she has a valuable resource, it is only necessary to do these exercises on occasion. Two or three times a week, pick up puppy’s bowl, add some chicken or cheese, then give it back. Two or three times a week, approach puppy while she is chewing, pick up her chew, wipe some peanut butter on it, then give it back. For a puppy who is showing no actual signs of guarding (like the puppy in the videos) this is enough.

What if puppy is already showing signs of resource guarding?

If puppy is showing signs of resource guarding to human approach at mealtimes or while chewing, it is important to address the problem now. She will not ‘grow out of it’ without help from you. Luckily, for many puppies, some level of resource guarding is not cause for serious concern, and resolves quickly with appropriate training.

Indications of a more serious problem would include any of the following

  • puppy is growling, stiffening, snapping or biting
  • puppy is guarding many types of objects, not just his favorites (socks, sticks, mulch, etc)
  • puppy showed guarding behavior as young as eight weeks of age
  • puppy’s early signs of resource guarding are not resolving quickly with appropriate training

If this is the case, the prevention exercises outlined in this course will almost definitely be insufficient to adequately address the issue.  There are a number of different steps and exercises that would be useful in your situation. We recommend that you schedule a private lesson (sooner rather than later).

Resource guarding at 8 weeks is a red flag for future aggression to family members & suggests a strong genetic component. Resource guarding is not outgrown.

NOT-SO-GREAT TECHNIQUES: Some older information still available may advise you to mess with puppy’s food while she is eating (take it away, force your hand in, push her away from the food, etc.) This sort of harassment can easily result in puppy wanting you to stay away from her food and stuff. Yikes! Not recommended.

Mine! by Jean Donaldson is a thoughtful and practical guide for owners coping with resource guarding of any kind, including food bowl, object, and location guarding (plus handling intolerance). The step by step instructions will help make it clear how to break down the exercises into small enough parts. At the very first sign of resource guarding we highly recommend this book.