Five Things to Know about Dog Resource Guarding


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 behaviorThis 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 This outdated training approach frames every interaction with our dog as a competition with a winner and a loser.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.

Positive Reinforcement and Aggressive Dog Training



Most folks just want their aggressive dog to stop. Stop barking. Stop lunging and charging at people. Stop biting. They want that most of all, for the biting to stop. I get it.

But, here’s the deal. When we think in terms of stopping a behavior our mind tends to shift into confrontation mode. We want to suppress and block our dog’s behavior. Worse yet, we get sucked into ideas of dominating our dog and devices to control our dog. At first we may feel like we’re making progress. Punishment tends to reinforce the punisher in the short-term. The trouble is punishment-based dog training and even balanced dog training almost always has side effects. (see Coercion and Its Fallout). In other words, it might feel good to us, but it’s not. Punishment training is flawed, deeply flawed.

Okay, then. How do we make aggressive behavior stop without confronting, suppressing, or dominating? Here’s what I do. Instead of focusing on behavior-stop, I suggest we focus on behavior-change. We set our dog up to succeed rather than lash out. We decide what we want our dogs to do instead of bark, lunge, and bite.  And, maybe most importantly, we help our dog feel differently about his world and the people (and other animals) in it. When we change our focus in this way, we naturally shift from confrontation to collaboration. We start working with our dog rather than working on him. That shift leads us away from punishment and squarely toward positive reinforcement dog training.

Set your dog up to succeed. Dogs who behave aggressively are under pressure. They are emotional. The barking, lunging, and biting is about making that person or other animal go away or stop. See the irony? They are using violence or the threat of violence to make something stop, and it’s not working long-term. It’s up to us to help our dogs in these situations by giving them a break. Make the scene a bit more suited for learning. Often this means training with the person or other animal farther away. Sometimes we start in a setting in which there are no stressors at all. Regardless, create an environment where your dog can get it right over and over. When it’s time we will raise the challenge level gradually, and put his new skills to the test.

Teach this instead of that. Here’s an example of how we train a new behavior to replace an old (aggressive) behavior pattern. Imagine a dog who barks at people who ring the doorbell. A lot of us can relate to this one. The doorbell is the cue that starts the whole thing. The dog charges the door, barks, and gets all worked up. We can actually change the meaning of the doorbell and make it a cue, let’s say, to run to another room where he can wait behind a baby gate. Positive reinforcement in this case would include happy talk from the human (praise) and food – probably a lot of food over time – the good stuff (think: chicken). We’d start easy, when no one is really at the door. Maybe we’d even start by just leading him to the room over and over. Then we’d add the doorbell or a doorbell sound effect on our smartphone. Over time we’d progress to the real deal, reinforcing the new behavior pattern generously every time.

Teach new emotions. Because we are using happy talk, food, and movement (going to the other room) we are actually influencing our dog’s emotions. Specifically, we are affecting a change in how he feels about the doorbell. Think about it. If the doorbell results in a happy human feeding chicken over and over and over again, then that doorbell is going to become pretty good news for the dog. He will know what to do: run to the room. And, he will also be happy about it. Imagine how your dog acts when you take out the leash. It’s the same thing. We trainers call this a conditioned emotional response.

(The flip side of this phenomenon is a nightmare. The dog hears the doorbell and gets a shock on his shock collar (for barking) over and over and over again. In a rather short time that dog’s behavior could actually devolve as the doorbell becomes a predictor of pain, an enemy).

Here’s the win-win of positive reinforcement dog training when it comes to aggressive behavior. The aggression does stop. That offensive behavior pattern gets replaced with one that is calmer and functionally better for the dog and the people involved. More importantly, we are addressing the underlying emotions that fuel the aggressive behavior. Our dog learns to relax a bit around the thing that was scaring him or making him angry. Over time this can lead to what we call behavioral flexibility, the ability to take on other experiences with less rigidity. We get a dog who can go with the flow a bit more.

I think that’s something we can all wish for, a bit more flexibility, not just for our dogs but for ourselves and each other.


Michael Baugh specializes in aggressive dog training. He lives in Houston, TX where he works daily on his own behavioral flexibility.


The Alpha Roll, A Dog Training Fail



Honestly, it sounds like bad sushi. In reality it’s simply bad dog training.

An alpha roll is dog-directed human aggression. It’s when a person tackles, knocks over, or picks up and slams a dog to the ground, pinning him there. Variations include the human showing his teeth, growling, and / or putting his face next to the dog’s. I was once instructed to bite my dog’s neck. She looked at my like I was an idiot, which I was.

Do not do this. Period.

It is dangerous to the dog. Depending on the force used it can strain joints and break bones. It is also dangerous to the person doing it. If you’re lucky the dog will simply think you’re stupid (as mine did back in the day). More than likely, though, your dog will try to defend himself. They do that with their teeth. Your arm and hands are good targets. If you go for the face-near-face version of the move, then it’s your face that could end up bloodied.

Plus, alpha rolls are ineffective. They do not teach your dog that what he just did was wrong. Anger-driven attacks are random and emotional. Effective punishment is consistent, immediate, and measured (Think: video games and red light cameras). Even the noblest attempts at punishment-based or balanced dog training have gaping holes and terrible side effects. At best alpha rolls teach your dog that you are weird. At worst they teach him that you are dangerous and unpredictable, not to be trusted.

Alpha rolls turn us into buffoons. Actually, it’s the trainers who convince us to do them that turn us into buffoons. Question the trainer who has you yell “baaaa” at your dog or pin him to the ground while growling. If it feels ridiculous to do those things, trust me, you look ridiculous doing them. Just don’t. And, if the trainer’s answer is that momma dogs discipline their puppies that way, fire them on the spot. Mamma dogs also eat their puppies’ poop. Case closed. You’re a human being. Not a dog.

What was your dog doing that led you to become a cartoon version of yourself and alpha roll him? Now ask yourself this: what should your dog have been doing instead? That’s real dog training.  Did the dog growl over a toy? Okay, not nice. Let’s teach him to bring the toy to you. I can show you how. It’s totally doable. No need to burden yourself with that dominant dog training nonsense. Just train. You’re smart enough, I promise. Is your dog ignoring you, running away from you, stealing things, eating poop (I think we covered that one), or generally being unruly? Leave the rolls on the sushi cart. Now. Train. Your. Dog.  What do you want him to do? Look at you? Run to you? Fetch your things? Quit the shit show and settle down? Those are all trainable tasks. You can do it with easy (yes easy) positive reinforcement methods.

I like my clients. I want you to look smart. I want you to discover how smart your dog is, too. More than anything I want you and your dog to have a happy, peaceful, and safe life together. Your dog deserves that. And you certainly do.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston TX. He specializes in the use of positive reinforcement techniques to help aggressive and fearful dogs. No actual sushi was harmed in the making of this blog.