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A "resource" is anything valuable or cherished. 
Something protected for fear of losing it. 


We all resource guard.  If you lock your doors when you leave your house or car, you are resource guarding. 

We lock up our house and its belongings to keep them safe.  We keep our wallet close and conceal our pin number in the check-out line at the grocery store.  We might even become violent if someone tries to harm something we really value, like our children.


Dogs also act to keep valued resources safe from theft.  They naturally want to keep food and high value chews, bones, toys for themselves and become stressed if another person or animal tries to steal a prized possession. 

If pushed, you might clutch your purse closer, call for help, or dial 911.  Some people run away, some people fight back.  Some carry guns.

Normal dogs passively ask, "Please don't touch."  They pause and turn away.  It's a polite request.   Most will take the coveted item and move away to avoid conflict.  (This can turn into a game of keep-away if pursued.)


Not all dogs who take items are resource guarding.  Playful dogs use objects to invite others to play by parading by and then running to engage the housemate or person in a fun game of chase.

Like this dog:

Archie, the famous YouTube video dog thief, does what he does due to a combination of genetics and learning history.  His compulsion to have things in his mouth is the "retriever" part of his heritage.  His family thought it was cute and encouraged it.  Through learning history and lots of practice, they have perfected his behavior of finding and presenting items, but not delivering them.  It is a strong, resistant to change, generalized to many types of items, learned behavior.   They could have taught him to clean the house if they'd added "put what you find in this basket!"

The dog who is always worried that everything is going to be stolen lives in a constant state of stress.  This isn't healthy.


How serious is the issue?

How valuable is the thing to them?  How serious a problem depends on the individual, the degree of intensity and willingness to do harm in order to keep it, and how much risk depends on your environment and the people and animals in it.  

Dogs naturally want to keep things of value to themselves and keep something someone else tries to take away.  Some are more competitive than others.  Playing keep-away, snatching a ball when you reach to pick it up, are all pretty normal canine reflexes.  In most cases, the dog just needs to learn to perform a happy, Willing Trade.  Me, too!  Puppies naturally push in when another dog gets attention or a treat.  They just need to Learn to Share


Whether it's normal behavior that just needs training or a potential safety issue is a matter of degree.  Some are dead serious about keeping a possession or defending a person, place, or thing, using aggression.  The behavior display can range from minor stress, negotiation signals and signs of avoidance, all the way to active attack and injury.  It can be learned defensive strategies because they have been caught and physically punished.

Does the dog have good bite inhibition?  If he bites, does he bite hard and leave holes?  Some dogs guard things fiercely but have good bite inhibition and no one gets hurt.  Others inflict damage.  People and other pets get injured, sometimes severely.  This question is often the answer to "should we proceed with behavior modification?"  If management and training fail, how bad could the damage be?

How predictable is the dog's reaction?  If it's very specific - if he's willing to lay down the gauntlet over a smoked knucklebone but nothing else - he never growls over anything BUT that - his threshold of what is so amazing that he "wants it enough to fight for it" is very specific and so is the solution: just never buy those bones!


Is the trigger predictable and the dog's body language easy to read? 

  • Can you list the specific items, places, or things that he's worried about? 

  • Is the level of reaction and type of response predictable? 

  • Is there no history of injuries?  

Prognosis is good. 


  • If it's every day, multiple times per day, from any person or pet

  • Not just over his full dinner dish while he's eating, but even when anyone walks by the dish when it's empty

  • Over every crumb, toy, or dropped Kleenex

  • If he hunkers down to guard places where those things happen, were, or might fall

  • If it's been going on for a long period of time at high frequency

  • If he has been regularly challenged and physically corrected for guarding

  • If there have been injuries

You have a much more serious and difficult issue on your hands.  

Risk-assessment is essential.  Is the risk too great?  Do you have children?  Are you frail or elderly?  Is this a large, powerful dog with a bite history?  Or a young dog who is just showing the first signs of possessiveness?


Should you proceed with behavior modification?  How capable are you in managing the environment and people in it to avoid risky situations and prevent rehearsal?  Do you have the time, dedication, and money to devote to training?  Or are you looking for a quick fix?  (There isn't one.)

What do they guard?
Food, toys, bones, resting places.  Some dogs are possessive of their people (fear of losing the commodity of attention) and will interrupt hugging and keep another family member from coming to bed if they are already sleeping with the other one.  They may guard places like bedrooms or cupboards where food is kept. 

Extreme cases guard where food or toys have been before but aren't now.  Some guard water.  For most the space bubble is a few feet from where they are currently enjoying the thing and only triggered if a person or another animal is clearly desiring their stuff.  Others become paranoid, guarding much larger areas from people/animals who are actually paying no attention at all - they don't even know there is an issue. 

Dogs who resource guard show escalating levels of reaction:

  • Eat faster or try to swallow a non-food item in order to keep it

  • Take the item and move away

  • Go still and give a side-eye stare or warning growl 

  • Escalate to snarl, air snap but no contact (a warning)

  • Make brief contact with little or no injury (a muzzle punch or nip)

  • Worst case, a full-on crushing bite - or multiple bites

  • Some guard space- going after anyone who comes within quite a distance from an item or even where an item was previously.

  • If challenged, the dog may go belly up, or he may fight back

  • If history has proven that asking nicely is of no use, the dog who has been repeatedly challenged or treated roughly may skip subtle requests for space and go straight to biting. 

  • When warning ceases to work, they go straight to the level necessary to defend their stuff.

BL snarl_tall_tug.jpg

Avoid Confrontation or Punishment


Unfortunately, we make resource guarding worse by scolding and chasing our dogs to get stolen items back.

Many cases of extreme resource guarding and ingestion of non-food items (swallowed socks, etc.) is LEARNED.  It's the result of chasing dogs down, wrenching things out of their mouths and punishment which only destroys trust, creates avoidance, and escalates the matter.  Dogs become more defensive when they have to defend themselves.  Don't follow recommendations from anyone who recommends that you "have to be the pack leader" or "show him who's alpha."   Making a point of bothering a dog when it is eating or taking things away "because I should be able to whether he likes it or not" just creates an adversarial relationship.  Now, whenever the dog sees you coming, he prepares for the worst. Instead, teach your dog that he is safe and there's no need to worry or defend his possessions.  Teach him to want to bring you the things he finds.

BLstony snarls at gidge-KathyDuchesnevia

Build Trust, Reduce Stress. There's nothing to worry about!

Food bowl guarding

  • DON'T make matters worse by bothering your dog.  Sticking your hands in his bowl and messing with him when he's eating and then taking the food away if he becomes defensive is a sure way to create tension and create problems, not prevent it.

  • DO let him enjoy his meals in peace.  Give your dog a place to eat that is away from other animals and traffic patterns. 

  • ADD, DON'T STEAL.  He's worried you are going to take his stuff.  Don't prove that it's true.  Your proximity to his bowl should mean MORE and BETTER is coming!


If the situation has escalated and there is any aggression over the bowl, do NOT attempt to do this yourself. 

Contact a positive reinforcement trainer to help you. 


The following is a protocol for puppies to help build a positive association of you being near while he is eating, to AVOID future problems of food bowl aggression.  

  • STEP ONE - when he's finished eating and stepped back from his empty dish, say his name and approach with something awesome.  Maybe a piece of cheese for dessert.  Drop it in his bowl.  Say his name and drop another.  Stay at this level until you get a head lift and a happy tail wag when you approach.  No other animals or people should be in the room at the time.  His only distraction around the bowl is you.  If he lifts his head, his ears perk, and he wags his tail when you say his name, you are ready for Step 2. 

  • STEP TWO - when he is finishing the last bite, say his name.  When he lifts his head, approach to drop a piece of cheese into his bowl.  He should wag his tail as he lifts his head in anticipation of the cheese.

  • STEP THREE - repeat as above when he has has finished but is still licking the bowl clean.  Ask for a sit before you drop the cheese.  If he doesn't already know the cues,  work on "sit' "wait" and a "release" cue separately from the food bowl.  If he is comfortable waiting calmly as you drop the cheese in, praise and release him to eat it.

  • STEP FOUR - repeat as above, saying his name when he  still has a couple of pieces of food left.  Do not approach until he lifts his head.  (He may finish those bites before he does, but you should see his tail wag because cheese is coming.) 

  • STEP FIVE - By now, he should begin to step back from the bowl and sit in anticipation of your approach and the cheese.  Any sign of worry means you are pushing ahead too quickly and need a trainer to help you.  Pick up the bowl and  put the cheese in and then put it down for him to eat.  Hands coming to the bowl are never stealing, they are adding.


One of the most sure-fire ways to increase resource guarding, keep-away and swallowing items is to chase the dog down and extract what he has from his mouth.  DON'T!

Read this article:

Here is a great video on how to teach your dog to "drop" something he has.

Read this article by Pat Miller from Whole Dog Journal: 

How to Teach Your Dog to Trade

Positive dog training techniques for getting back items you don't want your dog to have.


By Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

January 24, 2017

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