Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA
Many dogs hide, cower, freeze, stare, snarl, growl, snap or bite when they are guarding something. For the purposes of this blog post we will call that resource guarding, dogs who claim possession and guard a prized object, place, food related item, or food itself.
Resource guarding is normal dog behavior. This fact surprises a lot of people. We have a romanticized view of dogs including the idea that some are good and some are evil. Ascribing this kind of moral code is a disservice to them and to ourselves. They are animals, as are we. Animals protect valuable resources, as do we. Wanting to keep our stuff is hardwired into us. Yes, we can share. But, you might also have a few things to say to a random dude at a restaurant who pops one of your french fries in his mouth and walks off.
Normal does not mean acceptable. Some dogs do take it too far. I agree. Who among us really wants our dog’s scrap of stinky frayed fabric that used to be a stuffed toy? It doesn’t make sense that he bit Aunt Sally when she reached to pet him while he rested his head on that disgusting thing. Some dogs (and humans) can get weird about their prized places and things. It seems a bit out-of-context, a bit too much.
It can be dangerous. Dogs who guard a lot of things, including random stuff they find, can be hard to predict. Is he guarding that leaf, that remote control, his poop? It can get especially dangerous if the dog bites to protect his vast and changing collection of valued things. One mistake can turn bloody.
Dominance and conflict-based training can make it worse. From the dog’s point of view resource guarding is about a perceived conflict. He’s already gearing up for a fight. Training methods focused on dominance are conflict-based. This outdated training approach frames every interaction with our dog as a competition with a winner and a loser. We end up proving to our dog that his already-inflated sense of danger is in fact justified. That sock is very valuable. This is a challenge. Violence is possible if not inevitable. Every time we approach resource guarding from this skewed perspective we risk the dog escalating his response. We actually make the resource guarding and the intensity of our dog’s behavior worse.
There is hope. We humans have already won the evolutionary race. We have nothing to prove to our dogs other than this: I can help you. This is good news for dogs and for humans. We now have smart, simple, and effective aggressive dog training techniques for quelling resource guarding in dogs. These reinforcement-based methods work and (I promise) do not jeopardize our position as the dominant species on the planet. You can reach out to me or a similarly credentialed dog behavior consultant for help. Or, contact a veterinary behaviorist.
Bottom line: Resource guarding is normal but it is not okay. There is hope. You can have a long and enjoyable relationship with your dog.
Michael Baugh specializes in aggressive dog training in Houston TX.