Resource guarding is a common behavioural problem that often begins in puppyhood and can escalate quickly.
Expert dog behaviourist Philippa Short is here to teach you the warning signs of resource guarding. Learn how to prevent resource guarding in puppies and know what to do if you think your pooch is starting to guard.
Resource guarding is where your dog has anything of value they wish to hold on to.
It’s normal and natural behaviour that has a good basis in wild dogs. For example, they may need to learn how to hold onto their food from other prey animals or guard their pups.
Dogs resource guard as a reaction to us constantly grabbing stuff out of their mouths. Doing this can make them feel like they need to be protective over their things. The behaviour then escalates and leads to extreme resourcing guarding.
It all begins when they’re puppies and exploring the world. At this stage, everything (known and unknown) goes into their mouth – and that’s completely normal.
But constantly grabbing at their mouth and pulling things away will make them feel:
Always try to look at things from your dog’s point of view:
Having been bred to retrieve things, you may notice that Spaniels and Golden Retrievers have an especially strong need to pick things up.
Of course, it’s different if your puppy or dog has something toxic or harmful in their mouth. In that case, you’ll absolutely need to take the dangerous item away as quickly as possible.
Dogs don’t want to be defensive over their things. If your pup is uncomfortable with you approaching them, they’ll give some early warning signs to let you know. These include:
Ignore the early body signals or continue to challenge your pup; they’ll have no choice but to escalate their response to you. How long it takes for your dog to escalate their behaviour depends on how things are handled.
This is how things escalate:
Once your dog has moved past those early warning signals into exaggerated ones, you need to bring in a canine professional. It’s also important not to challenge a dog who’s actively guarding something. Unless they have hold of something dangerous, leave them be and speak to an expert.
Never let the situation escalate any further than your dog readily growling at you. It can be very difficult to de-escalate a dog who’s been pushed to the point of attempted biting.
As with many things, prevention is better than cure. Building a healthy and positive relationship with your puppy will help them feel safe and comfortable around you.
You can also teach your puppy different cues:
Always be aware of your dog’s environment and keep harmful items out of reach.
It’s the big question asked by many owners – once my dog has started resource guarding, can it be fixed?
First things first, never try and train your dog out of resource guarding behaviour by yourself. Or try to follow a plan created for a different dog, even if they’re showing similar guarding behaviour.
Working with a qualified canine professional gets you a bespoke plan based on the unique needs of your dog’s situation.
To give you an idea of how it all works, let’s take a general look at how a behaviourist may approach resource guarding.
Each case is unique and your behaviourist may do other things to help your pup. For example, they may put them on short-term medication. Or teach them how to reverse out of a space (so you can get past safely if they’re guarding).
Along with following the training plan from your canine professional, there’s other things you can do to manage resource guarding:
You may be able to claim for behavioural sessions through your pet insurance. Check your policy wording carefully to see what’s covered.
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