Resource guarding is a behavior a dog uses to protect what he thinks “his”. It is not confined to food. He may want to protect a favourite toy, or even to object to being moved from a favourite chair. In your dog’s mind, a resource is anything that he considers to be of high value.
It is a natural behavior for dogs. Ancestral dogs lived in packs and it was essential for them to protect their share of any food they came across. It is a display of aggressive body language warning another dog to keep away. Mostly this display is enough to get the message across and the second dog will move away. From time to time this will develop into physical interaction.
Problems With Resource Guarding behavior
Problems can occur with resource guarding if you have more than one dog. If one of them is more dominant it can lead to the second dog never getting a fair share of anything.
A more serious problem occurs if a dog threatens to bite his human family. If there are young children in the house this behavior creates a real risk. It is hard to get children to understand that they should leave the dogs property and food alone. A child's face is closer to a dogs face than an adult’s. Resource guarding behavior which gets out of hand occasionally leads to serious facial injuries in children.
what you can do about a resource guarding dog
The first thing to remember is if a dog growls or snarls at you when you approach his food, or other high value item, he is giving you a warning. Don't punish him for this because you may be conditioning him to avoid giving warnings but instead go straight to the action phase.
You have to get him to accept that from time to time you or other members of your family will be taking things away from him.
You will need to teach him the drop command using the words “drop” or “leave it “
Related Article: Teaching your dog the drop command.
The next thing to do is to get him to accept that when you approach him while he is eating, that doesn't mean he's about to lose his food.
You need to condition him to understand that when a human approaches , this could lead to a positive outcome. Start by dropping a delicious treat into his bowl. Do this without speaking or bending down. Repeat this process and over time, he will begin to associate a human’s approach with a positive outcome.
During your training for the drop command, your dog has been taught to give up a particular item in exchange for an item of higher value,usually a delicious treat. He then finds that he gets the original item back.
When your dog is reliably displaying the correct behavior on the drop cue and has also learnt to accept you approaching his food bowl, it is time to teach him to let you take away his bowl.
Of course, as you are taking his bowl, you will be giving him a tasty treat. You then give him back his bowl.
This training will take patience and persistence. It will be counter-productive do try to progress too quickly. If something isn't working, go back a step.
If you believe your dog’s resource guarding behavior presents a serious danger to your family and you don't feel capable of training the dog yourself, get the assistance of a dog behaviorist.