"It's Mine"...Resource Guarding - the common misbeliefs and how to avoid the problem from developing
Conflict over resources is a common reason for altercations between dogs in the household and for aggression towards family members. Conflict may only arise at times when a particular resource is available, with no problems at any other time.
Aggression maybe directed towards an individual that approaches the dog when it is near, or in possession of something it values. This maybe a toy, food item, location or family member. The guarding response is usually characterised by aggressive signalling, which may begin with very subtle responses such as yawning and lip licking, followed by the dog freezing or becoming more intense with the item (e.g. ripping at the toy or quickly eating the food). If the dog continues to perceive the presence of the person/dog as a threat, it may growl, show its teeth, display threatening body postures, snap or as a last resort bite. Depending on the context and previous learning experiences, some of the more subtle gestures may not be shown and the dog may immediately growl, snap or bite.
The video link below shows a dog who is guarding what looks like a bag full of dog treats. The owners in this situation are provoking the dog by continuing to try and remove the items and this is leading to an escalation in the dog’s arousal and anxiety.
Previously resource guarding was correlated to status control and “dominance”. However, it is now understood to be induced by conflict (i.e. a perceived threat over resources). The individual feels threatened and potentially frustrated by the actions of another, which may be (correctly or incorrectly) perceived by the dog as a potential threat. The level of response from an individual dog will be influenced by the dogs emotional state and perception of the situation.
There are many reasons why resource guarding may develop but some of the most common reasons and ways to avoid them include;
Repeated removal of the dogs resources e.g. by unsupervised children or people ‘testing’ their dog by removing items of value such as the dogs food.
How to avoid it:
It is essential that your dog is left in peace to enjoy it’s dinner or any treats. Imagine how you would feel if every time you sat down for a desert, someone came along and took it away?! If owners want to try to ensure that their dog is happy if someone approaches them while they are eating, it is better to drop even tastier pieces into their bowl, instead of removing what they have.
Owner’s response to oral investigation, especially puppies (i.e. if the owner immediately dives on the puppy to remove the item, the puppy may then perceive this item to be valuable. If this is repeated, the puppy may then begin to guard the items it finds, or even swallow the items to prevent the owner from removing them.
How to avoid it:
Ensure that your puppy or dog is provided with lots of appropriate items to chew and destroy. Teach a ‘leave it’ or ‘swap’, so that if your puppy finds something that it shouldn’t, you can exchange the item for something safer or more appropriate like a treat.
Changes to routine or accessibility of desirable resources e.g. the dog is suddenly prevented from going in the owner’s bedroom once a baby arrives, or a new sofa means the dog is no longer allowed to use it as its bed.
How to avoid it:
If you are aware that there will be changes to your dog’s environment, ensure that you have gradually reduced access to these before the ultimate change occurs and always try to offer an equally desirable alternative.
In any cases where resource guarding is suspected, a veterinary examination should be conducted to rule out the potential for a medical problem. Resource guarding may arise in animals who are suffering from diseases which alters their appetite or their threshold for aggression. Due to the potential seriousness of the problem, it is then essential to ask your vets to arrange a referral to a professional behaviour counsellor.
In the short term all punishment should be stopped as this will only increase the dog’s anxiety. All items the dog guards should be removed (when the dog is not present!) and if they happen to find an item, to leave the dog alone and distract it away from the item (e.g. by shaking a biscuit tin, getting the dogs lead out or ringing the doorbell). Once the dog is safely shut away from the item, this should then be removed without the dog seeing.
If you have any questions about the information above or concerns about your dog’s behaviour, please do not hesitate to get in touch on 07738817775 or by visiting www.dogbehaviourconsultant.co.uk.