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!"
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 may:
Eat faster or try to swallow a non-food item
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, but little or no injury (a muzzle punch or nip)
If challenged, the dog may go belly up, or he may fight back
Some will take after any who come within quite a distance
Worst case, a full-on crushing bite - or multiple bites
If history has proven that asking nicely is of no use, the dog who has been repeatedly challenged or treated roughly in the past might go straight to biting.. When warning ceases to work, they go straight to the level necessary to defend their stuff.
Unfortunately, we make resource guarding worse by scolding and chasing the 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 the item out of their mouths and punishment which only destroys trust, creates avoidance, and escalates the matter. 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.
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 If 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 problems of future 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 by Pat Miller from Whole Dog Journal:
Positive dog training techniques for getting back items you don't want your dog to have.
January 24, 2017
Here is a great video on how to teach your dog to "drop" something he has.