Resource Guarding simply means that a dog gets uncomfortable when we (or other humans or dogs) are around him when he has “his stuff.” He’s nervous that we’re going to take it away, so he tries to warn us off in a variety of ways, ranging from simply consuming his food faster, to an all-out bite.
Resource Guarding “is a perfectly normal survival skill that allows smaller, weaker, and lower-status dogs to keep possession of a highly valued object even when that object is the target of a larger and stronger dog’s desire.
Food guarding seems to be the most common kind of canine guarding behavior, and is present if the dog “threatens” or bites when:
• Approached while eating from his bowl
• The owner tries to take back a food item the dog has grabbed
• Approached after he finds some kind of food item in the gutter or on the street
Location guarding is also common in modern, dog-loving households. This would describe the following:
• A dog who does not allow owner or spouse into the bedroom or on the bed once the dog is on the bed
• A dog who is grumpy if jostled while on furniture, or when someone tries to move him
• A dog who threatens passersby while he’s in his crate, car, or favorite rest spot
The severity of resource guarding depends upon the value of the item, and who is approaching. In the case of location guarding, the dog might allow “the wife” on the bed, but not her husband.
Owner Guarding seems to occur fairly frequently when other dogs are present.
Occasionally, however, the dog will guard his person if the dog is on leash with the person, or near her. Some people interpret this as “protectiveness.”
Protection dog recognizes a legitimate threat to his person and acts to deter the threat, or waits for instructions from the human to act.
A dog who is guarding his person – in the sense of resource guarding – covets his owner as a possession that he’s not willing to share with other dogs, or sometimes other humans. He sees the approaching dog/person as a threat to his enjoyment of his resource, rather than a physical threat to the person.
Owner guarding can also become somewhat muddied if the owner has in his possession some resource – food or a bone, for example – that is valuable to the dog. He may react if his human carries treats or a bait bag. In this case, what really, is the dog guarding: item or owner?
Many dogs that guard their owners are actually very insecure, and might feel empowered to act out because their humans are there. Or, the dog is on leashes and cannot escape, so her resorts to an impressive display to keep the stranger away. Were he without his handler, or not on leash, we might see a different reaction.
How to work with these types of behaviors first stay POSITIVE no shouting, stomping, or using physical corrections on the dog will only make matters worse.
Experts agree that the best route to take in dealing with resource guarding is to use a combination of management and behavior modification.
Essentially, management entails intervening in (or anticipating and preventing) a situation so that the dog cannot repeat inappropriate behavior. For example, we keep food and toys picked up around a resource guarder so that he cannot engage in guarding. Management does not necessarily or teaches the dog anything: he simply has less opportunity to practice an undesirable behavior.
The most important tools in the behavior modification toolbox, though, are systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning.
Desensitization involves exposing the dog to whatever it is that previously evoked his fear or anxiety, but at a distance and intensity that does not produce a response.
Counter- conditioning is a process in which we replace a dog’s involuntary, undesirable reaction (such as fear) with a more desirable response-one that is incompatible with the undesirable old response (such as the eager anticipation of a tasty treat). We create a positive emotional response by association an event (your approach) with something good (a reward), this methodology has been proven to work, and is relatively easy and pleasant for both human and dog.
With counter-conditioning, you don’t exert your “control” over the dog in any way, but instead, transform your presence around the dog’s possessions into a signal that even better things are coming. One event becomes a reliable predictor of another event, and the subject develops an anticipatory response to the first event. By pairing good things (extra scrumptious treats) with the formerly bad thing (your approach or presence near whatever he is guarding), your proximity starts to become a better thing-a predictor of what is to come (treats).
The goal is to transform a food guard who becomes tense or upset when a person approaches him while he’s eating into a dog who is happy to be approached while eating, as this reliable predicts the delivery of even more food or treats.
The need to work at a low threshold; if at any point the dog shows the original reaction, you have gone super-threshold, and it is necessary to back up and start at a point where the dog does not react.
When working with a guarder, we need to be sure that the first event (the threat to the resource) must come before the deliver of the counter-conditioning treat. In other words wait for the response than redirect the dog with a counter-conditioning treat.
Exercises to practice: Give and Take Cue, Food Bowl Desensitization.