Live in Abundance to Help Your Dog With Resource Guarding
By Katya Lidsky
Resource guarding refers to the behaviors a dog uses to protect something they find valuable. It’s not just dogs who resource guard, people do too and so do other animals. It is normal and natural to want to protect something we hold dear, yet when resource guarding gets excessive or is taken to extremes, it must be managed before it grows to be dangerous.
Although a dog can resource guard food, chewies, toys, beds, water, people, a lap, their own body or an area, I think in a way it’s always space-related. It’s about control, controlling the environment, controlling access, controlling their stuff and their life. Resource guarding involves a sense of not enough, even when there’s plenty. It’s the need to hoard or hold onto an item as if there’s a threat to its possession even when no such threat exists. We could talk about resource guarding in scientific terms, but there are a lot of articles out there like that. I want to talk about it as insecurity manifested. I want to talk about resource guarding as a scarcity mindset.
How do we Identify Resource Guarding?
It can look different for different dogs and it definitely varies in range from mild to very serious, but in general resource guarding behaviors consist of a dog hiding an object, turning away or moving away with it, freezing, tensing up, giving a hard eye, growling, snapping, and biting (hopefully it doesn’t get to that.) Every dog is an individual and I am not a fan of generalizing them, but it is important to assess how bad the guarding is and what they’re actually doing when they’re guarding.
So ask yourself some of the following questions: What is your dog guarding? When is your dog guarding it? Does your dog give warning signs, and if so, what are they? How much does resource guarding impact your home and your life? Is your dog coveting others’ things or overly worried about who has what? Is your dog overly bonded to you? Is the relationship between you built on shared moments of mutual joy? What would make you trust your dog more? And how can you build your dog’s trust in you?
What Causes Resource Guarding?
There is just so much we don’t know about how a creature becomes who they are. Most things are nature and nurture, and I think the same is true with resource guarding. Many types of dogs have been bred to be guardians, so genetic dispositions may be part of it. But equally meaningful is what the dog learned along the way of their life. Has the dog had to share? What is their threshold to tolerate uncomfortable and challenging situations? How insecure is this dog, and what seems to be their triggers, their fears? Most significantly, what has been their experience with you? Has there been any punishment or confrontation in handling the resource guarding behaviors? Conflict tends to create more conflict. It intensifies insecurity, lack of trust, the feeling of threat abounding, and the need to guard.
All of these factors mix together to tell you a story about resource guarding and even still, no matter how long you’ve had your dog or where they came from, it can’t tell you the complete story because we get the dog we get. Not the dog we think we want or the one like our neighbor’s or even the one we had who passed, but this one. This dog. And even dogs who resource guard can teach us something valuable worth knowing, worth accepting them for.
How Can we Manage Resource Guarding?
How I wish there was a one-size-fits all model but there is not. First and foremost, resource guarding might best be handled with the help of a professional. Research to find a positive-reinforcement based, certified dog trainer or consultant in your area who is recommended and trains using force-free methods. The use of punishment often cultivates more aggression in a dog so I would definitely steer away from that and consider this as helping them get better. Teaching a dog who resource guards is the goal- teaching them that they are safe and teaching them with consistency so they are not confused. So they know what’s expected of them.
And speaking of expectations, let’s discuss your own thinking about resource guarding. It might be useful to look at it as something not to be fixed but to be managed. There is no “cure” for it. There may be spontaneous recovery from resource guarding behaviors, but it’s much more nuanced and complex than simply being an on or off switch issue. A trainer or coach can help you with counter conditioning in order to enhance your dog’s emotional associations, and they can also help with some basic obedience skills, which when practiced regularly get a dog into their cognitive mind. This is essential in a management plan because resource guarding comes out of instinct. Activities that get a dog to think, such as asking for a sit, and games that get a dog to do something, such as catch or wait, these are just a few examples of ways to get a dog focused on you and not on an object. That’s interacting, that’s choosing, that’s an energy of love and reciprocity and security.
Other lifestyle shifts such as feeding the dog separately, or only giving bones in the crate with the door shut, or other parameters that control their access to something they guard can help you create a routine that encourages calmness. It’s about setting our dogs up for success, which in turn sets us up for success. Now, I want to be clear that this doesn’t mean you were failing or failing the dog in any way whatsoever if your dog has been resource guarding! This means you’ve been doing the best you can, and your relationship needs a tune up in order to improve. This means there is no blame. Learning how to get a dog out of hyperfocus, out of instinct-brain, and sort of change the subject for them is a process. The greatest thing about dogs is that most of the time, they adapt. They transform. And so will you! You will feel proud that you saw them through it because of your capability, because of your patience and your faith in them, because of the reverence you have for the bond you share.
Maybe in the end the resource guarding dissipates, those bad behaviors stop being practiced, and your own level of commitment is maintained for the good fortune of your dog. But if you have a family, if there are kids, please give yourself the permission to be honest and do what you must in order to keep everybody safe and happy. There are many people out there who can help; you and your dog are not alone. This article is just the tip of the iceberg, the beginning of a conversation about how resource guarding can be helped, and how both you and your dog deserve the peace that comes from getting a chance to be your best self. Because there is more than enough for everyone. I’m not saying we merely will our dogs or woo-woo them into believing it, I’m suggesting we get to live like that, in abundance, that it can be the vibe in our home. Love always expands. Dogs teach us that.