Resources on resource guarding in dogs

After Sunday’s scuffle* between Rainer and Pyrrha over a toy, I’ve been refreshing my memory on resource guarding and associated training tips.

BEHAVIOR UPDATE: As of today, Rainer/Pyrrha relations are going quite smoothly. An interesting observation is that they continue to get along perfectly outside in the yard; they play like they’re best friends (chase, lots of play bows, happy and goofy faces). Indoors, they are still a little nervous with each other, but I think this has to do with the tight quarters.

Gimme dat toy
Georgia and Pyrrha with some of Georgia’s toys.

For those who may find themselves in a similar position with their dog(s), here are some great web resources on this common canine behavior:

There are, of course, many other blog posts and articles written about this behavioral issue, as it is a pretty normal, natural canine quality. But it obviously gets dogs into trouble when they start lashing out at people, children, and their fellow dogs.

I think both Rainer and Pyrrha are at fault here. Rainer takes possession of too many things, but Pyrrha also doesn’t know how or when to back down. Instead of taking a hard stare from Rainer as a cue to get lost, Pyrrha sees it as a challenge. From Pat Miller’s article, this is exactly what’s been happening in our house:

Now We’re in Trouble, Part II: Dog B [Pyrrha] is socially inept – Dog A [Rainer] is chewing on (insert valuable resource). Dog B approaches. Dog A gives “the look.” Dog B is oblivious, and keeps blundering forward, until Dog A feels compelled to escalate the intensity of his message, to aggression if necessary, to get his point across.

This clearly makes for a messy domestic atmosphere! We are taking all of these tips to heart and working on this behavior every day in our house.

Have you had to deal with resource guarding among your dogs? What tips or techniques helped you?

(*Thanks to Carolyn for properly identifying the altercation as a “scuffle” instead of what I initially termed it, a dog fight.)

7 thoughts on “Resources on resource guarding in dogs

  1. I’m not a person with much advice on this subject, fortunately, but I’m curious to see what advice you get, because you never know when it might be an issue for you!

    And yes, female Shepherds can be ridiculously prissy!

  2. I struggled with this with my own dogs. My case was different than yours in that I had one dog who was all-victim and one dog who was all-bully. It’s probably not common that it is that clear cut, but that was definitely my situation. The piece of advice that helped me out so much wasn’t even advice, just a question: What are you doing when this happens? I changed my behavior, became much more alert, and was able to get the bully dog to stand down.

    Patricia McConnell is going to have a post about resource guarding out soon so stay tuned to her website this week.

  3. I agree, it sounds like what happened was much more of a scuffle than a fight. However, being the pet parent in a situation like this can make it feel so much more dramatic! I am a believer that with some dogs, unfortunately, situations like this are almost a necessity at first. Some dogs need clearer cues when it comes to the boundaries set by other dogs. Our Gaige was this way. For us, these issues resolved themselves once she learned what their limits were. However, we also make an effort to manage toy use. We have learned that if we step in to oversee these interactions, the dogs realize that they are not responsible for defending their toys. For example, if Georgia has a toy, and we see Gaige attempting to take it from her, we tell Gaige no, and redirect her to another toy. This works well in our house, and over the months, has resulted in dogs that very rarely try to take toys from one another, and therefore rarely have to defend their own toys. I like to think that we are teaching them to respect one another without resorting to aggression or defensive body language.

  4. We had to deal with food guarding/aggression with our youngest, Doodlebug. She was 6 months old when she joined our family but had come from a cruelty/neglect case and was severely malnourished. As a result she would show aggression towards the other dogs when I would give out treats or put together their meals. Even when we started feeding them in their crates she would growl at the other dogs. I used to feed her first, hoping to avoid the problem then one day I decided to give her dish last. And wow, no more growling! I don’t know if the change in order made the difference or if it was just time.

    Another problem was our bed; she would claim the territory as her own, especially if me or my husband were in the bed at the same time. What worked for this issue was NILIF.

    Keep doing your reading and research. What works for one dog/family doesn’t necessarily work for another. Looking forward to reading about your progress!

  5. I wanted to add another great resource for you. Jean Donaldson’s book, “Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs,” is fantastic.

    1. I was just going to post the same link. One of the interesting points she makes is how little (almost none) scientific research has been done on this issue. So even the experts don’t know why one dog guards and another doesn’t.

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